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Do you mentally prepare?

The other day I was looking at my copy of The Tactical Edge, by Charles Remsberg, and I was reminded of one of the great experiences of my life, helping to write that book. I was reading about “Crisis Rehearsal” and I immediately flashed back to Chuck’s kitchen back in 1984. We were working on giving crime fighters the mental advantage and talking about autogenic breathing and mental rehearsal or visualization. The scientific and anecdotal evidence was overwhelming on how these two skills could give a warrior the edge in a confrontation, and that was the whole premise of the book.

Chuck was already renowned for his first book, Street Survival, and was constantly amazing me with his ability to find words to make an idea “sticky” in a cop’s mind. Autogenic breathing wasn’t working for Mr. Remsberg and we wrestled with several terms. The good doctor, Emmett Miller, M.D. a famous expert on relaxation techniques and guided visualization, had given us steps to make sure we taught the right breathing to ensure performance and keep fear and stress under control, and how to visualize a winning mind-set. Now Chuck was intensely thinking about how to name these skills and teach these techniques so readers would have an instant recognition and powerful memory of them.

Finally, he settled on “deep breathing” in place of “autogenic breathing” as it was also the precursor for the technique we really wanted to get into the law enforcement community, “mental rehearsal!” Today, this breathing technique is commonly called “tactical breathing” and this ancient skill is considered a basic tool in a warrior arsenal against fear and stress. Back then we wanted to get any clinical or “granola” associations out of the lingo so it would be easily remembered, and “deep breathing” is about as basic as one could get.

If we could get cops to do their deep breathing, four-count in, hold for four, out for four, empty for four, and then mentally rehearse critical incidents, we could be laying the foundation for high level performance in life and death situations. The science was in: mentally practicing a skill was very close in results to physically practicing it, and combining mental and physical practice was a cocktail for success…now how to put it in police jargon?

As we talked Chuck began to throw out names like “mental practice,” “high risk rehearsal,” threat preparation,” and finally, “crisis rehearsal”…Bingo! Before becoming the author of Street Survival, Remsberg had been the head script writer for Motorola Teleprograms, a name old timers will remember for all those great reel-to-reel films back in the seventies, and that experience combined with his background in magazines and periodicals made him a natural for coming up with sticky names and ideas to keep cops safe. So “crisis rehearsal” it was.

I am very proud of my involvement with the creative process for The Tactical Edge, and working with Chuck Remsberg was one of the most stimulating and intense experience of my police career. Contacting experts, interviewing winners, reading research, it was like a graduate degree in high level performance and the end result was outstanding. Even more exciting was when I would sit in a class at a conference and hear how important crisis rehearsal was for preparing for a high stress critical incident.

All that being said, do you use this powerful tool? Worse, do you do the inverse of mental preparation through crisis rehearsal…worrying? Remember, imagining a future event with good or bad outcomes is planning for it to happen. The brain is not a qualifier for good or bad, only hard drive. If you sit around worrying you are planning to lose, if you sit around visualizing yourself winning you are training to win! So stop worrying and start winning.

First, find a comfortable chair and begin your tactical breathing. Immediately the tension in your neck, shoulders, and chest should disappear. Use the four-count as a meditative tool to enhance your relaxation.

Next, picture yourself in a critical incident—from pursuits, to shoot outs, to things that go bump in the night on a building search. Mentally confront your fears and concerns. Be realistic, don’t don superpowers, and use real tactics and equipment in your visualizations.

Finally, see yourself win. See yourself dealing with the aftermath and administrative issues and always end with you winning. This positive affirmation is what separates worrying from rehearsing, and it is critical. Often we carry a lot of negative baggage around in our heads that positive visualization can minimize or even eliminate.

The key to all this is taking control of your mind and body doing the drill. Here is one I want you to do today. Picture yourself in a shooting where you take the first bullet. Imagine that the shot that hit you is a starter pistol for the ass whipping you are about to administer on the bad guy. Win the gunfight then initiate self aid.

We don’t wait around for the firefighters to save us, we save ourselves. As the great trauma surgeon and police trainer Andrew Dennis M. D. says, “The golden hour begins when the shot hits you! So don’t sit around and diagnose your wound, win the fight then start first aid.”

Scary stuff? Not as scary as going on duty unprepared for the next crisis you face. Do your mental preparations, practice your tactical breathing, and stay safe.


Former Police Lieutenant Dave Smith is an internationally known speaker, writer and law enforcement expert. After graduating from the University of Arizona while fighting forest fires with the “Coconino Hot Shots” he began his police career in Tucson, Ariz. Dave holds numerous instructor certifications in firearms, defensive tactics, and human performance, and is a proven expert witness and consultant.