Staying sane by talking to yourself

It’s four in the morning and I’m on call. The ringtone on my cell for dispatch makes me start trying to remember where my clothes are — I know I’m going out in fifteen below zero weather to take a report.

“An opportunity to serve,” I mutter to myself. An opportunity to serve.

That’s my manta for call-outs. By the time I’m on scene, I’ve usually said it a dozen times. It makes me remember what my purpose is, and to focus on the citizen customer who doesn’t need to know what an inconvenience he is to me.

Although I’m good at recognizing the signs of stress, sometimes it takes a few minutes to realize that my shoulder muscles are tight or that I’m sighing a lot or that I’m concentrating on trivial, easily solved tasks instead of the elephant in the room. When I finally become self-aware I find that a focusing thought for the moment can restore my perspective. Rather than cursing or shouting a meaningless phrase like “SERENITY NOW!” I use a positive phrase containing some solid truth helps me get back on track.

When my father, who rarely cursed, found his thumb under a hammer and was tempted to take the Lord’s name in vain to get his emotions and his pain under control, I would hear him say “God..... bless America!”

In times of difficulty I remember a Bible verse or thought, like “In all things give thanks,” or “My peace I give to you, not as the world gives.” 

I’ve also made up my own sayings such as: “What doesn’t kill you still makes you flinch at loud noises,” to remind me that character building has its cost.

Visual pictures can also help to reassemble one’s sanity on stressful days. I like the image of a tent being blown in the wind. Mentally I go to each corner of the tent, pounding the stakes into more solid ground. It reminds me to take care of the foundational things instead of chasing the wind.

When writing my book Is the Line Ready: A policeman’s perspective on worldly wisdom, I assembled a year’s worth of great sayings to stay motivated and grounded. There are many such books as well as services that can email a quote a day or an inspirational thought or verse. Rather than engaging in verbal or mental rants and negative self-talk, try using guiding words, thoughts, and images. 

Doing so can be a bridge to healthy thinking. 

About the author

Joel Shults operates Street Smart Training and is the founder of the National Center for Police Advocacy.. He is retired as Chief of Police in Colorado. Over his 30 year career in uniformed law enforcement and in criminal justice education Joel has served in a variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor, and police chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a graduate degree in Public Services Administration and bachelors in Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri. In addition to service with the US Army military police and CID, Shults has done observational studies with over fifty police agencies across the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards including the Colorado POST curriculum committee as a subject matter expert.

Follow Joel on Twitter @ChiefShults.

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