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Columns : Editorial

In Praise of Condition White

When on duty, you need to stay alert and ready. Off duty, your health depends on some down time.

August 01, 2006  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author

One of the basic concepts we have been using for decades now is Col. Jeff Cooper's "Color Code of Mental Awareness." I am sure you are familiar with this system, which says you should be in a condition of awareness of at least "Yellow" when on duty. Yellow could be described as a broad external awareness of the environment where you are processing whatever you see.

If you see a potential threat or something that requires greater attention, you should elevate to "Condition Orange." While in Orange, you are attending to the cues such as hands, vehicular movement, etc., that will require action. Ideally, your brain is focusing on the goal and not the skill at this time. If those cues trigger an action, you then go into "Condition Red," which is the execution mode.

Chuck Remsburg discovered when he was writing "The Tactical Edge: Surviving High-Risk Patrol" that sport science had already done tons of research on mental and attentional patterns that make you a success in highly intense sports. These same skills make cops successful on the street.

In that book, the mental awareness pattern called "Condition White" took a pretty good slap. Condition White is the internal focus we go into all the time. In Condition White, you are not focused on the outside world. You do NOT want to have this mindset on the street.

But there are good things about Condition White.

Scientists tell us it is in this reflective mindset that we actually learn. When your brain is in Condition White, it consolidates whatever it has just learned, including motor skills. That's don't actually improve while you are doing the repetitions but later when you are resting your brain.

Another form of internal focus is what we call "having a cobra in your face." When this happens, we are facing a real-life crisis and we are dealing with it internally...this is a bad one. It can constantly put us into Condition White while on patrol.  So when we are having "issues" that predominate our thoughts, we need to make a concerted effort to decide we will deal with our "cobra" after our shift.

Yep, Condition White has a real important place in our life, but it ain't out on patrol. Now let's talk about off-duty. To be healthy, we must be able to have safe places to be in Condition White and that is why I believe that you should teach your loved ones and off-duty associates how to alert you to threats, since off-duty you will be doing the things that make you healthy such as sitting around daydreaming.

I am a firm believer in teaching my loved ones "Secret Police Stuff." Actually, I just want them to pay attention to what the heck is going on around them...because sometimes I am in my favorite Condition White state...thinking about...well...nothing.

My wife, the Sergeant, asks, "What are you thinking?" when she observes me in Condition White. "Nothing," I used to say honestly, since I was truly in Condition White...peace. She never believed me and always demanded to know what I was "really" thinking, so I started to make up stuff. I guess women don't know the joy of Condition White. So, guys, let's keep this to ourselves and just make stuff up.

Dave Smith is the creator of "Buck Savage" and a former law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Calibre Press' Street Survival seminar.

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