Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Thought-Mood Connection for Police Officers

WARNING: I finally figured out what a “hyperlink” is.

The easiest way to destroy someone’s OODA loop is to take away either of the following universal human needs: prediction and control. A rather brilliant demonstration of this technique applied to policing can be found here.

Let’s talk about controlling your moods. Many of us get into problems in this area. Either we feel victimized by our own anxiety, depression or irritability, or we victimize others with our moods. Or both. As a therapist, the vast majority of clients I’ve treated over the years struggle with mood disorders. Pharmaceutical companies make bazillions of dollars each year selling us pills to help us with them.

“Cognitive therapy” is tailor made to help folks take charge of their moods. I’ve taken college courses on cognitive therapy, been to seminars on it, and read books and articles on it. Today, I’m gonna boil it down to the very basics, tie it up in a nice bow and give it to you. You can shit can it or use it. I hope you choose the latter.

Here we go.

Moods don’t come out of thin air. They are directly influenced by our THOUGHTS.

Thought - - - Mood - - - Behavior

If you have “happy” thoughts what kind of mood do you think you’ll be in? If you have many thoughts along the lines of, “I’m gettin’ screwed over ONCE AGAIN by [add “that guy” here],” you’re probably going to be in a foul mood. Not rocket science is it?

There are two things you need to know about thoughts as they relate to emotions. First, you can control your thoughts...and that’s important. Secondly, we frequently have thoughts that are inaccurate. That should appeal to our cop sensibilities (“Ha! You’re WRONG you dumb ass thought!”) Feelings are never “wrong,” but thoughts can be dead wrong. Cognitive therapists spend a lot of time helping people discover for themselves how their thinking gets bollixed.

Here are some common errors of thinking police officers are especially prone to. If you can (a) recognize when you’ve made an error in your thinking and (b) replace the inaccurate thought with a more realistic one you are doing cognitive therapy on YOURSELF. . .for freeeeeee.

I’ve adapted these from The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns.

All or nothing thinking: You see things in black-or-white categories. If a situation falls

short of perfect, you see it as a total failure. You park in a bad spot for an in-

progress call and think, “I totally screwed up.”

Overgeneralization: You see a single negative event, such as getting your ass chewed

by your sergeant as a never ending pattern of defeat by using words such as

“always” or “never” when you think about it.

“Should” statements: Sometimes called “musterbating.” You tell yourself things

SHOULD be the way you hoped or expected them to be. After making any

one of the five thousand mistakes cops can make on any given day, you say

“I should have...” Then, you proceed to bash yourself up.

These are called “cognitive distortions” (‘cognitions’ are thoughts) and there are many more where those came from. To change your thinking (and thus, your mood) you need to start paying attention to what’s in your mind. That’s the hardest part for most people.

A key lever in living well is mindfulness. I’ll talk about mindfulness next week. For now, it just means adopting a curious attitude toward our thoughts, recognizing when we are distorting them, and then lovingly replacing the “distorted” thought with something more accurate. If your supervisor or work partner expresses frustration about something you did it does not mean they hate you. It just means they got frustrated.

Regarding the money you may save in therapy bills and medications by applying the above: just send me whatever amount you think is fair. If you don’t send any payment you’re a bad person and you should hate yourself.


This web site is not intended to be a psychotherapy service nor as a substitute for mental health or psychopharmaceutical treatment. If you need therapy or medication, don’t be a moron...get yourself in to the doctor.

Have a mindful week and thrive.


  1. Dear Jeff,
    I like the new look! And the larger typeface.

    I see this when I read, although not about personal issues. Example: A policeman arrests a drug dealer all over Flash, Bling, Rap-to-the-Max and Exaggerated Wheels, and he thinks: what a stupid asshole. (Not inaccurate, right.)

    But the police officer's not thinking that sometimes the law works. The stupid a/h can't bank his ill-gotten gains b/c of the system in place to facilitate capture via financials. He has to spend it or leave it in a pile somewhere to be ripped off.

    This outsized spending marks him out to the arresting officer who takes the next step on a traffic violation and search.

    When things work in the big picture, we don't notice. Sometimes they do work.

    Ann T.

  2. Interesting thoughts on how we often dig our tunnels deeper. Thanks, Jeff!