Posts Tagged ‘stress tip’

Police Psychology:  Randomness in Life

by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.  ABPP


We can use the idea behind a coin toss to help manage our mental health.

In police psychology, as well at other divisions within psychology, we are always looking for innovative ways to make a point to our therapy clients that is not only memorable, but can be applied to their lives across numerous situations.   One of my favorites uses the coin toss research that is probably as old as psychology itself, or perhaps as old as mathematical probability at least.  I remember reading it as an undergraduate, but didn’t think much of it at the time.  Since then, the simplicity of the research has amazed me.

The researchers tossed a coin in the air and record whether the outcome is head or tails.  The research team tossed the coins 100 times, 1000 times and even 10,000 times.  At the higher numbers, a strange phenomenon occurred. (more…)

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Get Your Butt Moving


Police psychology: inertia

Much like with trains, inertia is required in order to increase efficiency in your life, particularly with police psychology.

You don’t normally think of Isaac Newton or Galileo Galilei when you think about police psychology, but that is a mistake. These two weird-looking men while daydreaming under that apple tree or looking up at the stars came up with a theory that explains much of police psychology and much of life.

Inertia is the idea that objects will resist any change in their motion. In other words, an object at motion will stay in motion, going in that same direction at the same speed unless a force is applied. Further, an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by a great enough force.

People have a tendency to think of trains when contemplating inertia. I don’t know why, but let’s go with it. Picture a large train, chugging down the tracks, hooting cheerfully when it gets to the platform stations (you don’t need to be picturing a cheerful train like Thomas—any hunk of metal with wheels will do). Trains, like any moving object, operate due to the laws of inertia and it takes a lot of friction to slow them down and stop them. There is a lot of power as it moves faster and faster and you won’t want to get in the way. That power is inertia, and we can all understand that. We didn’t need two bearded old guys named Newtie and Gally to tell us that.

 Inertia Can be the Enemy Also

But when the train is at rest, it gains inertia also. The longer it is at rest, the harder it is to get moving. Yes, read this carefully because it will explain a lot. A train sitting for two days is harder to get moving than a train sitting one day. Trains sitting for months will be much harder to get moving. This is not so obvious, and why Newton and Galileo have been around for five or six centuries. Trains can begin to rust. Rust can settle in the mechanism, corrupting the engine, corroding the wheels, and consuming the body of the train, until it is left as an empty shell of its former self. Or perhaps the metal become less likely to go into motions for other reasons. Whatever the reason, negative inertia builds up and makes the train want to sit. It also can create a friction that totally stops a train even once it does start to try to get into motion again.

 Psychological Inertia: Be the Train

People live life according to these same principles. For example, when people are moving, when they are motivated, very little can stop them. They are productive. They are driven. They have a plan and a goal. Picture any moment in your own life when you felt this way. Chances are you felt really good about yourself, knowing how productive and accomplished you’ve been that day. This is the concept of inertia. You are in motion. You are moving in a certain direction, at a certain pace, you will tend to keep up that momentum.

But there is the danger of non-movement, and it is a very real danger for people too. When you are not moving, when you are sitting on the couch with a butt print already engraved on the cushions, with a bowl of chips in your lap, guzzling down beer…you’ve reached a point where you are beginning to rust. Or, perhaps you are worrying about some drama around the office instead of being productive. You’re building negative inertia. This inactivity, this lack of drive, this motionlessness is corroding your body and your mind, until you will be left with a hollow person, a mere shadow of your former self. This can be extremely dangerous, and it is hard to fix once you have gotten there. The lesson we can learn from inertia is to make sure we are moving

Change builds inertia. Movement builds inertia. Productivity builds inertia. It feeds itself and keep you moving. The trick is to start small, to do something—anything—that gets you to move forward in life. Once you start, inertia will take over and propel you in that goal-oriented direction.

procrastination2Three SIMPLE STEPS to Get Movement

Here are three steps for helping you get movement started:

 Start Motion in any Form. When I handle a client, whether it be a couple looking at numerous problems in their relationship, or a business person looking at some insurmountable task, sometimes I ask them just to create motion on the first day, even if it isn’t moving toward the goal. “I need you to be in the same room, even if you don’t talk for an hour a day. Just don’t sleep and don’t argue.” “I need you to get your desk cleaned off to prepare for the fight ahead.” Don’t approach the problem, just start movement. Get started. Overcome entropy. Remember a train in motion will have a much easier time with movement than a train sitting still.

 Stop Friction. Friction can stop movement before it starts going. If problems creep up while changing your relationship, deal with them later once motion is started. If issues at work are causing drama, let people know keeping motion is most important. Be careful of not starting someone emotionally pinballing when you are doing this.       Tell them you will simply put it first on a list to deal with once motion is started.  If at all possible you must keep motion going once you’ve started. There are tons of inertia breakers that are just not that important. You may slow the train at some point, but never stop motion.

 Build in Inertia Stimulators to Keep Movement. If you are not excited about the goal you have set, it will be very hard to stick with it. In order to create excitement, it helps to talk to others about it, read about it, create a routine to remind yourself daily of what success will look like for your specific goal. It can be a healthier, hotter body, or a better GPA in school, or positive attention from your boss leading to a potential raise or promotion. The more excitement you can engender into the task, the easier it will be to start doing it.

Use these tips to help you start the movement because once you started, the momentum will take over and completing future tasks will be even easier.

If you have any other tips, or if you want to share your own story, comment below! I would love to hear from you.

Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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Keeping It Simple


Police Psychology has many facets.  This is one I learned quickly working with officers.


Keep life simple in order to increase happiness and reduce stress.

I sat and dutifully listened to a story I had heard many times from my parents and now from my friend’s Brooklyn relatives. It seems that people who were children of the forties and before remember a time when there was no refrigeration in their homes. To compensate for what seems a necessity nowadays, people had ice blocks delivered to their homes from a centralized ice house. These blocks were put in an ice box with all the perishables that needed to be kept cool. This process led to one of the world’s simplest pleasures, and a pleasure that I have envied since the first time I heard this story.

As the iceman would travel down the street on a hot summer day, a pack of children followed his truck. As he chipped off a hunk of ice from the big block to fill each order, small pieces would break off. These small pieces of ice were given to the children to cool themselves down in the summer heat. Each small piece of ice was cherished, bringing immeasurable pleasure to the overheated children-who are now misty-eyed adults remembering the gleeful event seventy years later. Imagine, a piece of ice – frozen water. Is there anything simpler?


Simple – Then and Now

Today, when ice cream comes in thousands of flavors, with exotic names like double-fudge-upside-down-magic-cookie-cream-monster crunch, I would still bet that those simple pieces of ice brought more pleasure to those kids. In fact, I would be willing to venture that most of us will never know a pleasure comparable to that simple “piece of ice.” It is sad to realize that in a time so filled ·with the “riches” of life – IPAD’s, smart phones, Facebook, YouTube and the rest – we actually live in great poverty for the pleasure of simple things, like that simple piece of ice.

In an attempt to better meet our perceived needs, we are denying our basic needs. In an attempt to make life easier, we are complicating our lives. In an attempt to create some kind of lasting happiness, we are setting the conditions for happiness to be transient. Happiness was around long before we intervened. Happiness was, and still is, achieved by focusing on the simple pleasures in your life.


Happiness is Simple

ice truck 2

Happiness is in the simple things, in limiting the clutter in your life.

Do you really believe that people in or society are happier than the settlers on the Western frontier who had very little? Are our children today happier playing on their IPADS than the children of the thirties following that ice truck? We have been made to believe that technology will provide the hope for mankind. We’ve been made to believe that a psychological understanding of our inner selves will transform us. The hope for mankind does not lie in scientific advances that add to “more.” It does not lie in the creation of bigger and more complicated toys. Happiness does not lie in any complex techniques of psychology designed to give you new insights into the inner self. The hope for mankind lies in the focus on the “simple” things in life. The hope for mankind may actually be a step back in a time when science is propelling the world forward at a phenomenal pace. The hope for mankind is learning again how to make things simpler amidst a tornado of technology, nasty news stories, and information.


Beginning to Simplify

Three things you can do now to begin to simplify your lives.


  • De-clutter: Get rid of the clutter around your house, in your basement, in your room and in your children’s room. Be careful to keep the few things you do use, but remember that cluttered cages cause animals to be sick. Overcome the entropy that can turn your life into a landfill. De-cluttering is the ultimate start to make things simpler.
  • Deprogram: Get rid of the complicated thoughts and patterns you have in your thinking that create an avalanche of misery. Let people one up you, let people have differing opinions. Get rid of the concept of self-esteem. Learn to focus on your efforts, not others opinions of you. Learn to focus on your self-talk, not the talk of others. Fight to not get too upset about the randomness of the world. People who don’t try to control the actions of others are much happier in their lives.
  • Desire: Make the goal of life to live experiences, not collecting things. Teach your children this early by concentrating your money on giving them fun experiences. Take them to a horse race, or a show, or a vacation. Worry about managing your time, not your possessions. Toys get discarded — memories never do.

Start the journey to make your life more rewarding now. You will never look back and regret it.


Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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Toxic Games


While the game pinball may be fun, emotional pinball can seriously impact your self-esteem.

From police psychology to basic chemistry:  If we wanted to make a very good cleaner, we would mix two decent cleaners and the combination would make something great. Doesn’t take a genius to understand, does it? So go home and mix ammonia and bleach and see what you get (actually don’t ever do this). You end up getting a chlorine gas that can cause you to lose consciousness, literally burn your insides out, or possibly just kill you. In fact, it was actually used in WWII for chemical warfare. This is called an interaction effect –the combination of two things take the shape of a separate event all to itself. And by the way, chlorine gas doesn’t feel good.


The Pinball  Effect

Now take two wonderful people, and mix them together and you will get a wonderful couple, right? Or take a job and a highly qualified person and magic happens. Well, not always. Sometimes you get a chemical warfare agent. A sort of mustard gas. And that doesn’t mean someone is undeserving or stupid. It doesn’t mean that someone is inadequate, it doesn’t mean that someone is bad, or wrong, or… (insert any negative word that you’ve ever told yourself). It means simply you are not right in that situation. Yet, we will work to blame someone, or point to some inadequacies in the other person, or do something that makes someone else or ourselves feel awful. This is human nature. When someone is particularly attuned to other people’s opinion, I call it “emotional pinball.” Just bouncing around from bumper to bumper lighting people up. Don’t pinball off others. Everyone’s definition of excellence will be different, and to some, your performance may be amazing, and to others it may fall short. But none of that should matter as long as you do your best, as long as you put in your effort.


How to deal with criticism and praise without the Pinball Effect

mental ward

Don’t let other people’s judgement change the way you see yourself.

There’s a stress management tip I use in my speeches and in therapy that I want to share with you. Close your eyes and picture in your mind sitting in class. Your teacher goes up to the front of the class and announces, “Wow, everyone’s paper was fantastic—oh, except for you (insert your name here). That was the worst paper I’ve ever read.” On a scale of –10 to +10, with “0” being neutral, how did your opinion of yourself change after hearing your teacher say that about you? Or after hearing your boss say your work was the worst he’s seen. Now, how about a different scenario: “These papers were the worst I’ve ever seen—except for (insert your name again—wow, I should have told you to bring a pen). That was the best paper I’ve ever read.” On that same scale, rate your change in opinion of yourself after this statement. What about walking down the street and hearing people catcall at you? (That often gets an age and gender dependent reaction). Or, having a stranger call you a jerk? (New Yorkers need not answer this) The point is your answer should be “0” for all of these. Your opinion of yourself should not change, positively or negatively, just because someone else has judged you or your work. You need to make an evaluation of your own effort, instead of “pinballing” off the evaluations of others. Feel good about your effort, or set yourself to work harder next time. Don’t pinball!

Self esteem was a construct created in the 1890’s which started as a simple evaluation of the goals and achievement. If you achieved goals you had a good self-esteem, if you didn’t you would have a negative self-esteem. William James gave it a name and others kept it alive. It is rotten meat. It is a dated computer. It is an old dusty moth-eaten hat in the attic. Time to throw it away. Escape the dungeon of self-esteem.


Social Media: The problem and the solution

This is especially significant with the advent of the internet and media. So often do we see people post pictures, videos, or statuses on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and they get so many negative comments. Don’t get bummed out by them; don’t let your opinion of yourself change just because someone else judged you and found you wanting. Don’t tear down the picture or the video, or cry in your room, or blame the world for being against you. Ignore the gossip and harsh criticisms of other people. Sometimes you can be the best one out there, but if you’re not right for the part, you won’t be the right person. Accept that you can’t be everyone’s hero. And that can’t change how you feel about yourself, can’t change the voices in your head to negativistic, because as long as you know you’ve given it your all, that is all the judgment you need.

So let’s vanquish the concept of self-esteem and say simply, I did the best I can or I have to work harder next time or focus more next time. Let’s not worry about ourselves all the time. And mostly, let’s stop pinballing off of others’ opinions, and see our efforts as the most important goal of all.

Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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Rumors, Gossip, and Urban Legends



Rumors, gossip, and urban legends are all motivated by different things, and lead to various repercussions.

Every profession in the world deals with rumors and gossip, and police psychology is no different. Much like how animals tend to migrate toward large water sources, where they can find safety in like animal-friends, people tend to drift toward the water cooler to hang out with individuals of the same corporate “species.” Yet, just as with animals, the water source can also be a dangerous place where predators lie in wait of innocent prey to wander by. The water cooler at any organization usually has its share of predators.

Predators at the Water Cooler causing Stress

Who—or what—are the predators you may encounter? Rumors, gossip, and urban legends: the downfall of many individuals and organizations. These things can ruin a person just as easily as a human can crush an ant—and usually with less remorse. It is very common, in fact it is practically human instinct, to gather at the water cooler and gossip. “Did you hear…” or “Can you believe what X did,” takes the place of a cry of pain, a stalking of a poor helpless animal, or a roar of conquest. Yet these very instinctive sayings emerge from very different motivations, and each results in different repercussions.

Understanding Rumors

Rumors satisfy a basic human drive: the need for security. Rumors are often ambiguous, yet informative and newsworthy. They are unverified, and thus there is no guarantee they are true. Rumors are also used in order to make sense out of things and tame a fear. Rumors tend to be more global, and thus result in more generalized consequences. Saying a plant will be closing down, or a police department is going to start making officers accountable to civilian review are examples of rumors that could have great impact on organizations. Rumors often result in the destruction of an organization’s reputation or status quo.

Understanding Gossip

Everyone loves to gossip: from celebrity gossip to who ate whose sandwich at work, people always find something to talk about. Gossip is for people who feel that they do not belong and thus try to fit in. Gossip is generally motivated by a sense (or a fear) of social isolation. A person is trying to fit into the group, or trying to manage the social network of the organization, will often try to break up other bonds so he or she can form his own bonds. So they start to gossip. This could also be an attempt to elevate his/her status within the group. While rumors tend to be more large-scale, gossip tends to be private behavior. “I saw Joe kissing the bosses wife.” It gets personal. It is gossip that tends to destroy an individual person’s reputation.

Understanding Urban Legends

When most people think of urban legends, they picture sitting around a campfire telling ghost stories. While this is certainly one way people understand urban legends, they are actually far more than folklore, myths, and ghost stories. Urban legends help people make meaning out of something; they endorse values and mores. A popular urban legend that gained notoriety when cars were first being marketed for the public domain involved a boyfriend driving with his girlfriend through a forest, breaking down, and eventually being killed by a psychopathic killer on the loose. This urban legend was started by worried parents and religious persons who were afraid cars would provide their children with new opportunities to have sex without being under watchful eyes. That was even before Elvis. Urban legends, when used in the corporate world, can destroy a value system of a company. Urban legends can be as innocent as the recounted story, or as harmful as the one that maintained General Motors was owned by Arabs and thus discouraged people from doing business with them.

gossiping babies

The #1 way to fight rumors, gossip, and urban legends is to speak up.

Each of these water cooler fantasies is socially different, but each can be destructive in their own way. I will be writing much more on this in future blogs and many can see me talk about this topic when I travel to police departments and corporations. For now, one bit of advice:

The #1 tip for dealing with rumors, gossip, and urban legends


Rumors, gossip, and urban legends are like counter-intelligence during war: they need to be corrected before they send a battalion on a wild goose chase. It is so easy to use the things you hear to evaluate another person’s performance, when in fact, this should have no bearing on it at all. Don’t use another person’s evaluation to determine the worth of something. The first rule for overcoming these water cooler predators may seem so simple, but it is often ignored. They will not disappear if you don’t say anything—and if you don’t say the same thing consistently. The actual idea that the best thing to do is ignore it is an urban legend all to itself. The next time you gather with your friends, co-workers, or family and someone says, “Hey, did you hear…” don’t just shrug your shoulders and listen. Instead, say something. And no, don’t respond by saying an even juicier piece of gossip—tell them that what they are doing is wrong and harmful, dispute it with evidence, tell them they will have to prove that one to you. Confront them. Make sure you do this every time someone opens his or her mouth to say something gossipy or rumor like. It may not make a difference the first time, or even the tenth time you say something, but slowly but surely we can create a new culture – a culture in which rumors, gossip, and urban legends have no place. This will help bring simplicity back into your life. 

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Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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