There is a scene in the movie “The Matrix” in which Morpheus is educating Neo on the world: “The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work … when you go to church … when you pay your taxes.”
We need to reflect on where we are in our own headspace and how to negotiate it better. There are literally hundreds of books on mindset — some legit, others smoke and mirrors. We are going to be talking about mindset from the perspective of leadership, training and the operational world, the reality of the lessons learned from the School of Hard Knocks and the needed tools for the toolbox.
The air is hot, the humidity is heavy and the sun beats down on the team. Everyone is stuffing rounds in magazines in preparation for what is to come. Some shoot the breeze — jokes, politics, the job and family all are spoken with raw truth. Others are thinking about the next evolution by sharpening their skills on the range. Gear has been checked and ammo boxes are full, for now.
It starts with a safety brief, as you always train for the worst. Today is carbines, pistols, transition, man-down drills and shooting on the move. It’s simple to say and hard to explain all that goes in to a single evolution. We fire thousands of rounds each time we “go hot” to be able to do what is needed when it counts. The questions we have to ask: What is your mindset? Where is your head? What are you trying to accomplish? Just as your rifle has a selector switch, so does your mind.
To law enforcement leadership, shooting is more than rounds and targets. It is not about checking the box. It is life and death in microseconds with significant impact on everyone. At a high level, what happens when your people miss a shot? The impact means media involvement, the public court of opinion and scrutiny by higher-ups — and it is just the beginning. The secret to protecting officers, departments, reputations and the public are tied to training.
Our officer requires the best training out there. To check the box and say we provide the “right” training is rolling with your weapon on “safe.” Move from “safe” to “fire” by getting involved, provide resources for top-tier training and then show up — not to fire a round and smile but to show the men and woman of law enforcement that they come first. As a leader, our mindset should be that of the real world — honest with great communication. The greatest asset is our people.
To the tactics trainers, what system is in place to teach and re-enforce the cost of “missing” a shot or missing the paper? How do you introduce what can and does go wrong? Trainers need to be empowered to teach tough lessons. A great way to show a missed shot can be a costly death is by having students immediately drop down and do pushups for any rounds that miss. You are building habits, setting the culture and instilling the example. Our officers must know when to grab the radio, when to shout commands, when to draw and when to and not to squeeze the trigger. That is mental flexibility, moving through the selector switch in your mind and making each decision methodologically. Let’s go deeper.
To law enforcement officers, doing the job means mentally and physically moving through the mental selector switch through flexibility. Transitioning drills are an excellent start. We carry multiple weapons rifle to pistol or vice versa, for example. Accurate employment is paramount when moving from one platform to the next. Do not get lazy — stay focused, transition at a heighten state of awareness and be prepared to move in any direction. Be constantly committed to continued improvement and make sure that the ego does not take over.
How committed are we to honing our skills? Training is not about one more selfie or a score for a qualification. The nature of flexibility can come in the form of escalation or de-escalation, just as easy as a selector switch on the gun. Ensure that as you switch shooting positions crawl with a purpose and shoot and move with a purpose. It is more than just a range day. Stay focused — you are not working out and shooting to pass time but to survive.
Do not tolerate the mediocre. You have to go through the door. Who do you want beside you? Not those who only seek the bare minimum. Mentally move from “fire” to “auto” train to win the fight every single day. Your goal is to have the best department, the strongest team and the best partner. We owe it to ourselves to give our best, and it is the difference between going home at the end of a shift and not.
How are you moving through environments? Are you only assessing what is in front of you and forgetting we live in a three-dimensional world, with threats everywhere? Do you threat-asses before, during and after your break the shot? What is your mindset while in plain clothes? This is a different game and comes with its own challenges. This is when we are less worried about the bad guy and more concerned of the “good guy,” who might shoot you in the back because they have no clue whose side you’re on?
Back to the mental selector switch, being ready to draw down and be at the low ready — the gray area — is where terms like muscle memory can make matters worse, since muscles have no memory the brain does. Wait, isn’t this all semantics? Are we not the best, which is why we are here in the first place? Look at our gear. This is where mental justification, self-bias and the ego creep back in. Put the ego down. You cannot reach your maximum potential by thinking you’re smarter, faster and better. You get better by recognizing your own gaps.
How are you at shooting with your off hand? With both eyes open? With one arm duct-taped behind your back, simulating a major injury and yet you have to be ready? Your life and your partner’s life demand it. Are you performing man-down drills, tourniquet drills and trauma training or do you think that is beneath you? Where are you in your headspace? Are you on full auto? Are you on “safe?” Do you know you have a mental selector switch? Do you know how to tap in to that and use it as a tool?
You can do this. NEVER GIVE UP. Give yourself a break while learning any new skill since you have never done it before. When you begin to dive in to the learning process, your mental prowess should be on “safe.” Make mistakes, ask questions, fail a lot — just fail forward. As you grow — and you will — switch the mental selection from “safe” to fire. Keep failing forward. Hone your craft, get better. Resist the competitive, egocentric selfie sheep. You are better than that. You are leveling up. That one day is going to come. You won’t even realize it until it has happened. You begin to feel a level of clairvoyance as you recognized the threat and stopped it before it went south.
The mental selector switch, just like the skills we develop, must be managed. Push your own limits, hit the wall and stay committed to mental flexibility. You are more than you think you are. Share with your teams, strive to improve yourself and your teammates and embrace the journey.