Police Psychology | Can You Be a Virtuoso?
Police Officers have noted it way before others and police psychology has to deal with it when they talk to anyone on-the-job. There is a major difference between “rookies” and the cop that has been on the job for awhile. That difference is the same in the rest of the population regardless of what job they work.
In the book The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born, It’s Grown, by Daniel Coyle, he talks about the 10,000 hour rule. In short, he explains how everyone needs 10,000 hours in order to bring oneself to the next level of skill. This is based off of a study done by Anders Ericsson in 1993, in which he studied the amount of practice time young violinists invested into their music. At 40 hours a week, it takes roughly 5 years in order to gain proficiency, or ten years at 20 hours a week. Others measure acquiring a new “level” in yearly increments: the older you get, the more you grow, mature, and develop, thus assuming more experience and skill. Interestingly cops are constantly saying a cop is still a rookie for around five years before the talent code was ever printed.
Police Psychology | What School Teaches
From the time you start school, you tend to measure advances in schooling and classroom time. You finish five years of elementary school, three years of junior high, then four years of high school, four years of college (although some take longer)…the progression is nearly endless. The hours are long, homework piles up, reports and tests seem never-ending…and yet we all do it. Some of us even continue onto getting higher education in graduate school or medical school. Every year we get burned out, yet went back for more. My daughter is only in 3rd grade, and she has already announced (approximately 1000 times from June 1st to June 2nd) that she has had just about enough of school. Yet she couldn’t wait to get back there after the summer. Remember that thing called summer vacation you used to look forward to all year? Yeah well, I don’t either, let’s go on.
How do you sustain the effort to go that long in any one thing without getting stressed out or burnt out or just plain giving up? How can we sustain the energy of each activity, class, or job throughout the years? Is there something specific that can help keep people going with an energy that parallels the beginning of a new year or a new job? How do you sustain the effort to continue working in business, in policing, in school, or even as a stay-at-home parent?
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the different things that make people stand out in a crowd. Outliers are people who stand apart from the rest of the group in some way. Most leaders are outliers—there is something about them, something different that makes them unique and exceptional. What does it take to become that special person aside from clocking a certain number of hours for each activity? Is it really enough to expend 10,000 hours doing repetitive and sustained activity in order to make you stand out? If we struggle to get through a day at work, how do you expect yourself to spend 10,000 hours improving just to reach a goal that is so far away?
Police Stress | Fortitude: The Key to Expertise
Essentially, an outlier is someone who has fortitude, mental toughness—grit. Perhaps even fortitude that borders on obsession. The reason fortitude may seem so difficult is because it often involves tolerating a certain degree of discomfort. No one can consider himself or herself brave or courageous or tough if they’ve never faced adversity. Fortitude is congregating your mental and emotional strength in order that you are able to overcome or persist doing something difficult or even undesirable. Everyone experiences moments in which it seems a whole lot easier to give up. Especially today where it seems more and more people feel they have the right and the tools to criticize everything you do or plan to do. How you deal with that criticism will determine the direction of your life. The pot shots and behind-the-scene things that are said about you, are only from very sad people who you can guarantee will never excel at anything. Adversity can harden your resolve, and actually helps you sustain effort. It is actually your best friend to develop an expertise. And you need to see it that way. Adversity is the gift that keeps you from burning out. It is the gift that help you through long hours of practice or the mundaneness of life? Adversity is the gift that gives you the fortitude to sustain effort! Whether you like or believe in Donald Trump and what he is saying or not, people have tuned into his fortitude and resolve and that is why he is leading in the polls at this time. Any effort stimulates adversity. As those of us in police psychology will tell you, the current adversity in law enforcement will help you do a better job. Learn from the resolve you see in others and make yourself become the expert you want to be.
There are a number of strategies you can implement in order to increase your fortitude and thus extend your mental effort. Here are some steps you can use in order to sustain effort enough to be an expert—something most people just don’t do.
- Think positive. The first thing you need to do is erase all negative thoughts. When you make exaggerated generalizations about yourself, you are limiting your potential. Saying things like, “I can’t do anything right,” or “I’m worthless,” or “I mess everything up,” can have an extremely detrimental effect on your mental toughness. Practice positive self-talk, or productive self-talk. Replace all your negativistic declarations or judgments about yourself with uplifting, or at least encouraging ones. If you hear yourself moving in this negative direction, stop yourself immediately. You can use the formula I discussed in another blog post: negativity—stop—think. One of the biggest obstacles to sustained effort is the mental blocks inside your own head. Often, the only thing standing in your way is you. If you can remove your own impediment, if you can change the way you think about yourself and your abilities, you will build up a wall inside you that can help you defend yourself from external adversity.
- The Marshmallow Test (also known as delayed gratification). A few years ago, some studies were done with children who were given a marshmallow and told they had two choices: they could eat the marshmallow now, or if they waited 15 minutes, they would get an extra marshmallow to eat. They were then left alone in a room for 15 minutes and their activities during that time were recorded. Some children were able to wait and some weren’t. Ultimately, the experimenters concluded delayed gratification was a personal choice: you can choose to forgo your instant gratification for a later date, and in return you will get a bigger reward. People who have the fortitude to become an expert understand this phenomena. Sustaining your effort is not without mental and emotional expense, but this expense is in the short-term. Ultimately, the payoff for delayed gratification is much greater than any superficial benefit you will gain from giving up. If you accept and understand this, you are in a good position to sustain any discomfort you may feel while trying to reach your goal.
- Understand your values. Explore your values and hold true to them. Not everyone can become an NFL expert quarterback. Not everyone can get become a doctor. Not everyone can be a world-famous musician. Not everyone can be the #1 mom or dad (because I already have that award). When your values are not in line with your actions, you experience cognitive dissonance. If you take some time to think about what you truly value, you will gain a greater understanding of what activities are worth sustaining effort and overcoming adversity. This is a very personal journey; it will be different for everyone, and only you can know what journey you need to take. When you find the thing you will do, don’t let anyone talk you out of it and spend the time on it. You will become an expert in a few years.
Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.
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