Follow Your Instinct, Trust Your Gut

We all know what it is like, one second things seem to be calm and going well and then within a split second everything seems to hit the fan at once. I have referenced in past articles that training will, hopefully, take control in these instances. There are instances, however, in which hesitation may occur. I need not go into hesitation within this article, for that has previously been covered. What I am seeking to reach at a more in-depth level is instinct and the “gut feeling” we all know too well.

Instinct and the “gut feeling” goes beyond training and hesitation. While the gut feeling you get in certain situations, that may be the basis of a split second decision, may be formed and molded by training, it is largely based upon our root instincts, morals, physiology, psychology and biology. As intelligent mammals, we have a natural process that cannot be un-programmed (for lack of a better phrase). It is important that we understand where our instincts and gut feelings come from. It is a largely formed opinion that instincts come from an ingrained “will to live”. Almost all animals have this base instinct. As police officers we are frequently approached with situations that will tap into that will to live, our natural process. This natural instinct and gut feeling may also be based upon our fight or flight mentality which has also been previously touched on.

What is important to note, is that our instincts have been continually formed since the day we were born. As police officers, it is safe to say our morals and instincts have been formed on solid ground. That is why, in this profession, it is important to trust your instincts. How often have we hesitated, second-guessed ourselves, made a decision and then come to find out we should have followed our “gut feeling”? How often do we go into a situation, no matter the capacity in which you serve in law enforcement (corrections, probation, parole, patrol, traffic, investigations, etc.), and you get the feeling that something is just not right. This is the gut feeling I speak of. Your natural instincts (a cognitive process) are signaling your body to start a physical process or symptom that takes the form of the “gut feeling”.

It is literally a feeling.

Our brains are naturally preparing us to enter into fight or flight scenario. Our brains are serving as a natural alarm to danger. It is vital we allow our instincts to create the gut feeling. Take solid notice of this natural alarm and subsequently allow your training to enter into your operation. At some point, everything begins to flow in a complete continuum, allowing you to make sound decisions.

Second-guessing your instincts or gut feelings is a process that must be overcome. You have to trust yourself. Do not allow outside influences take control. It is far too easy for us to second-guess what we are about to do. Realize that no one, but you, is in the exact situation you find yourself. You must ensure your safety, along with the safety of your brothers and sisters. Your instincts, along with your training, will surely lead you to success.

Yes, there are times where we have a gut feeling that something is not right, when, in fact, all is secure and well. The fact of the matter is that following your instincts, even in these situations where it may be slightly wrong, will no more damage your safety than disregarding it all together.

I am not suggesting that police become over zealous or go into every situation with service weapons at the low or high ready. I am simply suggesting that you put full trust and faith in yourself. You ensured your safety up to this point in your career, there is no reason to doubt yourself now.

Our Fight Against Compartmentalization – Finding an Outlet

Throughout our careers in law enforcement we are going to see some things we love and we are going to see some things we hate. In my short career so far, I have seen some things I wish I wouldn’t have ever had to see in my life. I am able to chalk it up as part of the job.

What we must be mindful of, is our unique ability to compartmentalize the things we find stressful or mentally taxing in our jobs.

Allow me to explain, for you may be doing this without even realizing it.

Men are far worse at this than women and we, as men, must make a conscious effort to combat it. When we see something stressful in our job (car wreck with fatalities, neglected children, rape, felonious assaults, murder, etc.) we have the unique ability to metaphorically pack it up and store it away, for no one to see. For the time frame immediately after a stressful event, compartmentalized emotions are okay. However, we should notcannot and must not allow that emotion or memory related to a stressful event remain compartmentalized and to ourselves. After a short period of time, we must make a conscious effort to allow ourselves an outlet for these emotions. After a while, too many emotions that have been packed up and stored away will cause a breakdown, a career burnout, aggression and can further lead to regret from decisions we made during a state of high emotional outlet.

We have always been told to separate work from home. I strongly agree with this notion. In no way am I endorsing, or encouraging you, as an officer, to use your family as a verbal outlet of your emotions. This can potentially cause undue stress in the home. I am also not endorsing that we keep our families in the dark about our jobs. It is a very fragile balancing act we must endure. Additionally, one mode of outlet that one officer uses may not be effective for another officer.

Outlet may not always be verbal.

Find something you enjoy. Find something that allows you to relax and think. Quiet contemplation is an effective way, for some, of relieving stress. Some find reading, hiking, physical fitness, social activities and numerous other hobbies effective at allowing the mind to empty its emotions effectively. In my case, writing allows me to express what is in my head to a wide audience, without placing my stress on any particular person directly. Those closest to me have the option of reading what I write, but I, in no way, am forcing them to bear the brunt of my experiences.

I have referenced in many articles that we, as police officers, are creatures of control. We are extremely skilled at controlling situations, especially stressful situations. Where our skills tend to lack is in taking care of ourselves, controlling our stress and taking advantage of opportunities to clear our minds. We must make every effort possible to take care of our own mental health, before it becomes an issue and effects our home life and the job.

We are not always aware that we have an overload of compartmentalized thoughts and emotions. Take time and try to bring those experiences to the forefront of your thoughts and allow them to exit your mind. While it may take time, find an effective outlet and begin, one experience at a time, coming to terms with your own stressors. Take yourself out of your comfort zone. If you have found yourself in a situation where you feel as though you may be on the verge of losing control of your emotions, do not hesitate to speak with a professional. If you see someone, a brother or sister in blue, who is clearly having a difficult time with something, encourage them to speak with you. We are here for each other. It is very hard to speak of our emotions, especially with the type-A personalities we all have. We live in a world of lowered stigmas concerning mental health. It is acceptable to be stressed and emotionally taxed. Become cognitive, be aware of your own thoughts, allow yourself some “me time”. In the end, it’s only going to allow you to become and remain an effective LEO.

Keep fighting the good fight, Wolf Hunter.