Do you like ghost stories? I have one for you if you do. It goes like this:
It was Christmas. The police emergency line received a phone call from a woman, clearly in distress, screaming for help. Her husband had a knife and was threatening to kill her and their two children. Police officers were dispatched to the home. It was a two member unit and both officers were relatively new on the job; still, they went because that's what the police do.
When they arrived, the woman was standing in the doorway of the home telling the officers that her husband was hiding in the basement, but still had the knife and that he was going to kill everyone. The police officers moved the children and the woman to a safe spot, held the perimeter, and called for backup to clear the house.
No backup came the reply over the radio. "You're on your own. We have no free units."
The two officers moved in to clear the house and arrest the man before he was able to carry out his threats of harm against anyone, including himself. There were still so many unknowns, but the woman was adamant that her husband would kill someone if the officers didn't stop him. But when the two members reached the front door to enter the house, one of the officers said, "I can't do it."
The second officer replied, "Do what?"
There was a brief pause before the first officer answered, then came his embarrassed and fearful answer. "I can't go in," the terror obvious in his voice. The second officer knew immediately that his partner was afraid--mortally afraid, which was reasonable given the circumstances--and worked through what to say next. This was not something the academy had gone over.
"I want you to draw your gun. All I need you to do is cover me. All I need you to do is cover our entry. I will be on point. If he attacks me with the knife, I need you to shoot him. If we find him and he gives up, I will arrest him but I need you to cover us. Do you understand? I need you to focus on your training. All you need to do is what you have been trained to do. You will be behind me, protecting my six. I will do the rest. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?"
It took a moment, but the first officer came around; he steadied himself and nodded in agreement. He drew his firearm, took a deep breath, and followed the second officer in. The incident itself ended peacefully after that.
Nobody was shot. Nobody was stabbed. Nobody died.
Are you wondering where the ghost is?
The ghost is "mindset." Because if I had told my partner to "be a warrior" or "man up" or "be a sheepdog" or whatever, he wouldn't have went in. I'm not sure how that story ends if I don't tell him to focus on his training. Yes, I was the second officer.
My partner was a good man who prided himself on being an exemplary police officer. He was not a coward or given to fear in normal circumstances. It was his lifelong dream to be in law enforcement and he had achieved that. His dedication to policing showed in his work product, community engagement, and relationship building.
In truth, he was a better police officer in many ways than I ever was; however, there was no disputing that I was the better trained one. In that exchange, it was all about fear management and training made the difference.
That incident went down years ago and I still remember it like it was yesterday. Not because of the circumstances--in the end, we secured the knife, the family was safe, and the man himself was cooperative throughout the arrest. But it stands out because of how my partner reacted.
His fear was so strong that it prevented him from carrying out his sworn duties in any meaningful way. His "mindset" had failed him. All the warrior rah-rah and hoopla fell away and there was just reality and consequence waiting. Stark fear and the realization that he was too afraid to do anything about the situation we were in paralyzed his actions.
Mindset was a ghost.
It wasn't real to him.
It didn't help him.
Training, on the other hand, changed everything. You see, my partner was an excellent shooter; he had substantial skills with a firearm, far above the average, and knew how to handle a gun, clear a house, and provide cover to an officer. The moment I mentioned all of that, his demeanor shifted--he didn't suddenly remember he was a warrior, but he did remember that he trained like one.
In that moment, he became brave; he found courage in his skills. He was afraid, but he was able to do his duty.
My last post on mindset was harsh. I admit that. My opinion, however, hasn't changed--I still think that mindset the way it is explained in martial cultures from dojos to military academies is wrong. Mindset isn't an answer; it's a result. "Mindset" is earned through training.
You earn it.
Mindset is what people perceive in others as the will to survive or the ability to maintain coolness under fire. Mindset doesn't give you either of those, though. Training does. The better trained you are, the less fear can or will influence your decisions.
So the moral of this particular ghost story? Stop believing in ghosts.
Training is fear proofing.