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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Voice Inside Your Head

Several months ago, a colleague from the police department told me about his new obsession, CrossFit. It’s a strength and conditioning program that appeals to police officers and firefighters because it requires proficiency in endurance, stamina, strength and flexibility – all crucial elements of job performance.

Before being hired, police officers are required to pass the state standards of fitness which include a timed 1.5 mile run, bench press, sit ups and a flexibility test. Most departments still use these standards as a measurement to determine a new applicant’s fitness level. That makes sense for prospective hires but for a police officer patrolling the street, these benchmarks do not replicate the actual demands one encounters.

Foot pursuits are not uncommon during an officer’s shift. When a bad guy decides to run, the officer giving chase does not do so at a leisurely pace for a long distance. Pursuits rarely last more than a few minutes but the officer is in full sprint during the chase. They jump fences and call out their location and direction of travel over the radio in full gear while simultaneously keeping mindful of the threat posed by the criminal. This level of physical agility requires more conditioning than the state standards. The most elite officers I know train daily to keep in optimal shape so they have an advantage over the criminal.

I decided to try CrossFit training at BareBones CrossFit in Yorkville. I was immediately intimidated after meeting my coaches because it was clear from their minimal body fat and muscular physiques that they are elite athletes. Observing that I was clearly out of my element, I decided to wait for them to turn their backs so I could escape but I had already given them my real name. Fearing they would hunt me down, I reluctantly stayed.

One of the first work-outs involved doing as many rounds of rope climbing, kettle ball swinging, 400 meter run, and pull-ups as possible in 20 minutes. The last time I climbed a rope was in 7th grade so I laughed at the prospect. My coach showed me a modified version of the climb that would build my skills so I would eventually be able to scale the rope. After my first few sessions, I wanted to deliver a punch to my good friend for suggesting CrossFit but I was too sore to form a fist or raise my arms. Instead, I pressed on and continued going back for more.

The work-outs are designed with a prescribed standard to be met. I seem to modify the standards more often than my gym mates but that’s okay because I’ve learned something far more important in my 2 ½ months of CrossFit. I went there to get in better shape; I remain there because of what it has done to the little voice inside my head that tells me to quit when things get hard. In CrossFit, you cannot quit because the coaches will remind you that the workout you’re doing is named after a real soldier who lost his life serving our country. When I begin to feel as though I cannot do 50 more box jumps or pull-ups, I remember that 20 minutes of pain is nothing compared to what our soldiers endure in the trenches.

That little voice inside our heads actually determines if we fight or give up. I have heard many stories of police officers who, after being critically wounded, have rallied and found the strength to fight back and survive. It’s all because they trained their inner voice to say, “Do not give up.”

This isn’t a commercial for exercise. Rather, it’s a reminder that you don’t have to be a soldier or a police officer to be a warrior. You are stronger than you think in any area of your life but you must condition that voice inside your head to tell you so.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Experential Learning

When I was the lieutenant on midnight shift, we were brainstorming methods of burglary prevention when one of the sergeants suggested that the only way our citizens will learn to close and lock their doors was if the police started taking things they leave in open view to teach them a lesson. Of course we would return the items when they were reported stolen. We all pondered that thought for about 3 seconds until we came to our senses and realized that it was a terrible idea. Great in theory maybe, but not in practice!

I once stole a bicycle from a garage. Well, I guess it doesn’t count as stealing because it was my son’s bike and I took it from my own garage to teach him a lesson about leaving the garage door wide open. I had warned him repeatedly that his bicycle was going to get stolen but after my warnings fell deafly upon his ears, I took matters into my own hands and committed the “burglary”. I held out for a week before I gave him his bike back. He subsequently complied with my plea to be less careless.

One of my colleagues was so frustrated with his wife leaving the doors to their home repeatedly unlocked that he decided to create some experiential learning to drive his point home. He left for work (or so she thought) but he was actually casing the house. He waited for her to leave for the grocery store and found that she had left the back door unlocked -- again. Unknown to his wife, He arranged for a co-worker to come over and hide in the house. When she arrived home and walked in, the friend jumped out and grabbed her. To be clear, I don’t condone this extremism and I can assure you that the husband slept on the couch for quite some time afterwards. However, she has not left the house unlocked since.

Sometimes a person has to feel the consequence of something before they understand the lesson. If only we were wise enough to heed the advice that others offer before we have to feel the discomfort. Hindsight always provides such clarity when we come to the realization that we should have listened and changed our behavior. We frequently don’t do that because we all carry an air of infallibility. Bad things only happen to other people. That is, until something bad happens to you. Sometimes the bad things are unpredictable and out of our control. But most of the time, we become victims because of our own carelessness.

We are currently dealing with a burglary problem in our city. While violent crime is the lowest it has been in decades, property crimes continue to be an ongoing battle that our officers are fighting. The frustrating part for police about the burglaries is that a majority of them are preventable. Criminals are looking to prey upon careless people to victimize. They don’t want to work very hard and so they look for an easy steal. Your open garage and car doors provide them with the perfect opportunity.

During our bi-weekly meetings where we address crime statistics, the common theme for most burglaries reveals unlocked doors. Our officers have tried issuing Crime Prevention Notices when we see an open garage door or valuables left in plain view in a vehicle. You may have even been awakened in the middle of the night by one of our midnight shift officers telling you that your garage or front door is open. We are trying to be vigilant for you but there is only so much the police can do to protect your property.

Since we cannot subject you to the aforementioned experiential learning for obvious reasons, I ask that you heed our advice so you don’t become a victim.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Gratitude. Get some.

Wherever we go, we can find something to complain about. When we are in the throes of the frigid, winter months, we complain about the cold and we long for the heat. When the treacherous 90 degree heat finally arrives, it makes us yearn for a cold front to cool things off.

Every year, my children count down the school days that bring them closer to summer and when it finally arrives, they whine, “I’m sooooo bored!!!” It seems we are by nature, hardwired to see what is wrong rather than what is right in nearly every scenario.

I am often astounded at the spectrum of attitudes when I listen to the viewpoints of my comrades at the police department. The recent contract settlement between the city and police union left some angry and disappointed while the response of others was, “I am grateful to have a job.” Those who choose to see the negative, focus only on the things they lose. In doing so, they become so clouded in their own negativity that they fail to see anything good in a situation. Those who make the choice to feel grateful they are employed with a roof over their head, food on their table, and a job to go to every day, enjoy a sense of peace within them. There are setbacks and disappointments that occur in life for which we have no control; however, we get to choose how we view the situation.

While investigating car accidents throughout my career, I have watched seemingly normal people transform into irrational human beings in response to a “fender bender”. I’ve always made it a point to tell the owners of the vehicles that their cars can be replaced. A car is an inanimate object made of metal but loss of life cannot be resurrected at a body shop. If no one is hurt, be thankful. If no one has died, be grateful they will recover and live to see another day. Every situation we encounter is an opportunity to place it in proper perspective.

Gratitude is such a simple concept and yet it does not come natural to many of us. We think it is an innate emotion but I don’t believe that to be so. I think some people have a natural tendency towards gratitude but the majority of people go through life with lenses that only allow them to see the worst in people and situations.

The field of psychology has been studying the effects of gratitude since 2000. Normally the field focuses on distress rather than on understanding positive emotions but gratitude has become a mainstream focus of research because empirical data has shown that people who are more grateful have higher levels of achievement, well-being, and are more satisfied with their lives and their relationships. According to Greek philosopher Cicero, ““Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.”

I know many police officers who have survived life-threatening situations. Making it through a traumatic experience is sometimes the awakening a person needs to begin practicing gratitude. I say “practice” because the rest of us must make a conscious decision to live our lives being grateful. Energy goes where attention flows so our negative thoughts dictate how we see the world. However, forcing yourself to be grateful will literally alter your perspective. Rather than saying, “I have to ” replace it with, “I get to…” That one simple conscious exercise will begin to bring things into focus.

No formal education can teach you to appreciate what you have so begin your own gratitude experiment. Randomly throughout the day, find ways to express gratitude and make a concerted effort to be completely conscious of what you have. The more you practice gratitude, the more good you will do in the world.