Instant pre-play: 8 tips for making tactical performance imagery effective

Though common and relatively simple to learn and use, Tactical Performance Imagery can become most effective when certain approaches are utilized


Editor's Note: We are pleased to announce the addition of Michael J. Asken, Ph.D., the psychologist for the Pennsylvania State Police, to our roster of writers. Asken is the author of MindSighting: Mental Toughness Skills for Police Officers in High Stress Situations. We should note here that the opinions/content of this article (and all subsequent items under Asken's byline) are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of any organization to which he is related.

Mental imagery or mental rehearsal is a widely used psychological technique to maximize performance. Almost all Olympic athletes and coaches at the U.S Olympic Training Center agreed that mental imagery enhances performance (Murphy, 2005). Mental imagery or Tactical Performance Imagery (TPI) is also one of the most used psychological performance enhancement techniques reported by police officers with about 40 percent of officers reporting their use when on duty (McDonald, 2006). Of these, TPI was used by 87 percent of the officers on the way to a call. About 75 percent of officers used performance imagery to rehearse possible responses and about 40 percent used it as a “mental checklist” for preparation readiness.

Though common and relatively simple to learn and use, Tactical Performance Imagery can become most be effective when certain approaches are utilized (Asken, 2005). Eight ways to maximize tactical performance imagery follow:

1.) Call it imagery, not visualization or visualizing. As will be elaborated in the next tip, using the term visualization implies and influences you to mentally rehearse only what you see in a tactical situation. TPI is much more than this.

2.) Use all five senses when you image. When you are engaged tactically, all five senses (and maybe your “6th sense”) are at work. To get the best transfer from imagery practice to the real world of policing, it is important to image in all five senses. Image what you see, hear, feel- both physically and emotionally, taste and smell during the encounter. This makes the experience much more realistic and increases transfer to actual encounters.

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