Your Subconscious Mind

In order for law enforcement professionals to effectively use the skills, tactics and equipment provided to them, they must first prepare and condition their minds.

Brian Willis Headshot

In the last ten years, we have seen vast improvements in the quality of training programs and equipment for law enforcement professionals. Too often the mental aspect of training is either neglected or addressed at a superficial level.

In order for law enforcement professionals to effectively use the skills, tactics and equipment provided to them, they must first prepare and condition their minds. That mental preparation and conditioning is the focus of this bi-weekly column.

In this post, I'll examine the mind and its roles and responsibilities. Future columns will focus on specific methods of training the mind such as imagery, language, debriefings, video use and contextual-based training.

When we talk about the mind, there are two levels—the conscious and the subconscious. Both levels perceive the same information, but they process it in entirely different ways. The conscious mind is the rational, logical, analytical part of the mind, as well as the home to willpower and short-term memory.

Because the conscious mind is always seeking to rationalize and analyze incoming information, it's slow compared to the subconscious mind. The conscious mind is also limited in the amount of information it can focus on at any one time. This is the part of the mind where we often focus our attention in training.

In a high-stress, spontaneous, or rapidly evolving event, the conscious mind is bypassed, and the subconscious mind directs our responses. The subconscious has a number of roles and responsibilities:

  • Imagination â€” The key for law enforcement professionals is to find ways to focus and direct our imagination to enhance performance and prepare us for future situations. Imagery is one of those tools we can use for this.
  • Emotion â€” The subconscious actually communicates through feelings and emotions. We often talk about intuition (what people often call the sixth sense) and usually describe it as a gut feeling, the hair standing up on the back of our neck, or our "spidey" senses tingling. Intuition is the subconscious mind processing the information in the environment at hyper speed, then communicating to us through a feeling that something isn't right. This all happens before we have a conscious awareness of the impending danger. Those who ignore or suppress these messages often become victims.
  • Long Term Memory â€” Hence the importance of contextual-based training (we will explore this in future posts) and always training to win.
  • Habits â€” Many of the responses we refer to as instinctive or innate are actually habitual responses developed over time as a result of repetition and emotional attachment. (Repetition alone does not create habitual responses.) Training with imagination and emotion is an important part of developing more desirable habitual responses.
  • Self-Preservation â€” The job of the subconscious is to protect us from real or imagined threats. That threat might from the career criminal who is trying to kill you during a traffic stop (real) or from the monster in the closet of a young child (imagined). Some innate self-preservation responses may be less desirable for today's law enforcement professional and have to be modified or reprogrammed.

The thought processes carried out in the subconscious are done below the level of conscious awareness and therefore are often a mystery to us. The way in which your subconscious mind is programmed will determine how you react in a given situation. If you truly want to train to win, you need to ensure that your training program includes proper programming of the subconscious mind.

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.

About the Author
Brian Willis Headshot
Officer (Ret.)
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