Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship
Recently, I watched a rather entertaining science fiction movie in which the hero goes 24 hours back in time every time he gets killed. As my buddy said, "It was 'Groundhog Day' meets 'Starship Troopers' without the shower scene." The movie, "Edge of Tomorrow," had some good old-fashioned sci-fi violence and I had a ball. Then I got to thinking, what if we could all have a reset for our worst mistakes, especially the one that gets us killed? Wow, what a deal that would be.
"Excuse me, but I won't be making that traffic stop without first getting the vehicle off the active roadway." "I have to get this seatbelt fastened before I hit that cow." "Wait, I have to get this body armor secured before I do this building search."
How cool would that be? I could appear to be this incredible cop with the remarkable foresight to prevent all these events, just as Tom Cruise's character did in the movie; fighting the aliens after facing them in the same moment over and over again.
Except that we, unfortunately, don't have that ability; we have to live with the consequences of our actions and sometimes they are pretty awful. From divorces to injuries to days off, we make mistakes in our lives that a simple "I am sorry" can't fix. The one gift we do have, though, is that we can learn from the experiences and mistakes of others before we face similar circumstances.
How many times in your life have you had a déjà vu moment only to recall that it was your friend who faced the same issue and shared the experience with you so you could use that knowledge to gain the edge? What a fantastic skill, but one you need to constantly invigorate and exercise.
Hearing a good war story at the end of shift is great, but what is even better is imagining yourself in that same situation and either doing what your buddy did or improving on it and "preloading" yourself for success in similar incidents.
In his great book "Sources of Power," Gary Klein found that when people hear or see someone solve a novel or unique situation, their ability to solve the novel problems or crises facing them gets a boost. In other words, even if you don't face the exact same incident, your ability to resolve problems will improve.
Another great way to get an edge on future critical incidents is to watch videos of officers in both winning and losing situations. Often, you learn more from a failure than a success, and watching others make critical errors is one way to make sure the elements of intensity and emotion are present in repetitions. And repetitions are exactly what these are. Remember this principle of learning: If I do it, I learn, and if I do it a lot I learn it well. You must do these little training exercises until you have habituated the proper response.
In other words, develop good habits, for it is habits that usually allow you to succeed or, in tragic cases, fail. We all recognize the importance of reps when we talk about training our bodies or learning new skills, but our minds need the same activity, the same effort. We are literally going to create positive futures in an ambiguous world. We do this by training our minds to recognize situations and circumstances, then following our good habits to success. If you have to think about things you are taking too long; conscious thought interferes with well-learned, habituated skills.
So here is your action plan: Listen to war stories and watch dash cam videos, then mentally rehearse yourself in those exact situations—either doing what was done successfully, or performing a skill you know will work best in that situation. Always see yourself win and don't be afraid to visualize yourself in all sorts of scary and intense situations; the more intense, the better the effect of the repetition.
Finally, we must make sure when we make a mistake and live to tell about it, that we are able to be the reset button for others so they can be programmed to win that situation from the beginning and not have to wish they had a chance at a Groundhog Day. Share your stories, including your failures, since they often have the greatest impact.
Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "JD Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.