In the past few posts, I've talked about the power of words. This week's post will be the first in a series about imagery. I'll talk about what imagery is, how it works and a variety of ways we can incorporate it into our mental preparation training.

Any discussion on imagery needs to start with more information on the power of words. Specifically the words "imagine" and "visualize."

There are several scientific theories about how the human mind processes information. One prominent one, evident in the voluminous number of books on sports psychology, is that the mind processes information in pictures.

In these publications, the reader is encouraged to use visualization techniques by closing their eyes and seeing or picturing themselves in their mind's eye performing some aspect of their life or their sport. The reader is told that visualization skills will help them improve their physical performance, achieve their goals in sports and life, and even allow them to enhance their self image and self esteem. These books are filled with case studies and testimonials from athletes who have utilized visualization techniques with great success.

Law enforcement training has embraced this theory of information processing and adapted it to mental preparation and conditioning. Based on information from the world of athletics, visualization techniques are seen as proven a method of ingraining the most desirable programs into the subconscious mind.

The carryover into the fields of firearms training and defensive tactics are immediately apparent and officers around North America are continually encouraged to use visualization techniques to enhance their skills. Officers, however, are rarely taught how to use these skills, only told that they should use them to improve their performance. 

As much success as athletes and law enforcement officers have had with visualization techniques, there's a problem with this theory of mental processing. The problem lies in the reality that not everyone processes information visually.

In fact, some behavioral scientists believe that only 50-70 percent of the population is visually wired and actually process information in pictures. This is not to say that vision is not our primary source for processing information in the environment. It means that if you take a room full of law enforcement officers and have them go through the exercise of closing their eyes and seeing themselves or picturing themselves in their minds eye performing a skill, between a quarter and a half of them would be unable to accomplish this task.

While the participants who are visually wired will see the pictures, for the others it is as if the movie screen in their mind's screen is blank. This inability to see the pictures leaves them wondering what is wrong with them, why they are unable to complete this simple task.

Most officers who are unable to see the pictures will never say anything to the trainer or peers for fear of embarrassment. They will however, be convinced that visualization does not work for them. If they do speak up about their inability to see the pictures, they are usually told to try harder and eventually they will be able to do it. Increased efforts simply lead to further failures and frustrations firmly entrenching the belief that for some unknown reason they are unable to tap into the power of their subconscious mind.

In future sessions, they will simply go through the motions completely convinced that they can't utilize this powerful skill. The negative effect intensifies when trainers inform them that visualization is a simple yet effective tool that they must use to enhance their ability to win violent confrontations. These officers wonder why they can't visualize, and some begin to question their ability to be successful on the street.

If you are one of those people (as I am), the question is how can you overcome this apparent hurdle to ensure that you can harness the power of your subconscious?

We'll cover that information in the next post. For now, every time you hear the word visualize, think imagine. For those of you who are visual, make sure you read the next post so you'll have a better understanding of how to help your peers, family members or officers who process information differently than you do.

Editor's Note: Brian Willis is the deputy executive director of the International Law Enforcement  Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA). Contact him via his website Winning Mind Training.


Brian Willis
Brian Willis

Officer (Ret.)

Brian Willis is a retired officer, trainer and author who now serves as deputy executive director for the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA).

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Brian Willis is a retired officer, trainer and author who now serves as deputy executive director for the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA).

View Bio