I. The secret to self-control–just in time for your 2015 resolutions!
II. Staying “Left of Bang”: What to see and do to prevent deadly attacks
III. SWAT vet’s research analysis: Why tactical ops succeed or fail

I. The secret to self-control–just in time for your 2015 resolutions!

With New Year’s comes the season when self-control is often most sorely tested. You make those earnest resolutions for self-improvement–but how well and how long do you keep them?

This time around, new research by a psychology team at Florida State University may help you stick to your convictions.

Traditionally, the researchers point out, we think of effective self-control as the “keen ability” to resist impulses and desires that can undermine determination. These may include desires to smoke, drink, overeat, and indulge other negative habits commonly associated with New Year’s resolutions.

Resistance is certainly important in eliminating undesirable behavior, the researchers say, but an even more important key to successful self-control may be a deliberate strategy of “avoiding, rather than merely resisting, temptation.”

Reporting a series of self-control experiments in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, lead author Dr. Michael Ent writes: “Attempting to resist impulses as they arise (rather than avoiding such impulses) may be a relatively ineffective self-regulatory strategy.”

He explains that evidence suggests that “each person’s capacity for self-regulation fluctuates” because each act of resistance expends some of this limited resource, “so that one’s willpower occasionally becomes depleted….

“[I]f people rely solely on their willpower to resist temptation, they are likely to fail periodically…because some temptations will be encountered when one’s powers of resistance are low.”

You might think that people who are good at self-control “enjoy the advantage of being able to resist problematic impulses frequently and effectively,” Ent writes. But in fact these superior controllers appear to better preserve their capacity for self-regulation because they proactively and systematically avoid circumstances that present temptations and goal-distractions rather than relying on resistance to overcome them.

They actually resist impulses less frequently than others because they confront the need to do so less often and their resistance capacity remains “invulnerable to depletion.”

In experiments, participants were given a choice of environments in which to perform certain mentally challenging tasks. Subjects who had previously tested low on self-control tended to chose settings in which their concentration was threatened by attractive auditory and visual distractions, while the best self-controllers chose surroundings that were less intriguing but where they could focus much more easily on the assigned tasks.

“Even though people high in self-control are adept at overcoming temptation,” they make a habit of “avoid[ing] circumstances in which they would be forced to do so,” Ent writes.

“Apparently and perhaps unfortunately,” the researchers note, “it takes good self-control in order to use the strategy of avoiding temptation and distraction.” Avoiding temptation requires “forethought, effective anticipation, and self-knowledge.” But if you are able to use it, “it may be one key ingredient that contributes to the broad range of superior outcomes associated with good self-control.”

A free abstract and a link for purchasing access to a full copy of the study, titled “Trait self-control and the avoidance of temptation,” are available by clicking here.

II. Staying “Left of Bang”: What to see and do to prevent deadly attacks

“It’s better to detect sinister intentions early than respond to violent actions late.”

That blunt truth of survival, stated by Gavin de Becker, author of the bestseller The Gift of Fear, is the propelling theme of a new book that in 200 crisp pages captures the “blood and fire lessons” of a Marine Corps training program on “combat hunting” that carries life-saving messages for law enforcement.

The book’s title, Left of Bang, captures its essence. “Bang” is when shots are fired, a bomb goes off, damage is done. On a timeline, “right of bang”” is after that happens where, in the worst-case scenario, you’re a casualty. “Left of bang” is where you need to be–“alert, ready, prepared and able to respond before the bad stuff happens.”

That’s possible, the authors maintain, by recognizing certain revealing characteristics to detect potential attackers in time to abort their violent intent.

The Marines’ Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, VA, developed the Combat Hunter training program during the Iraq campaign, when threats against American troops were often “hiding in plain sight” and difficult to single out pre-attack. The purpose was to “instill a hunter-like mindset” by teaching soldiers to increase their situational awareness, proactively seek and identify imminent threats, and “have a bias for action.”

Patrick Van Horne and Jason Riley, co-authors of Left of Bang, are former active-duty Marine officers and instructors who helped enhance and evolve the program and currently train its principles through private enterprises. Their specialty, and the focus of the book, is “how to read the human terrain through an increased understanding of human behavior” across all cultural lines and thereby stop threats before they erupt.

Staying left of bang, write Van Horne and Riley (the son of a police officer), starts with enhancing your observational skills.

Drawing on scientific research findings, they describe in detail how to detect and analyze suspicious human behavior in six “domains” that “communicate current emotions and possibly future intentions” to determine a potential threat. The domains, or cue sources, are:

Kinesics, people’s conscious and subconscious body language

Biometrics, human beings’ “uncontrollable and automatic biological responses to stress”

Proxemics, the way subjects use the space around them and interact with surrounding people

Geographics, reading familiar and unfamiliar patterns of behavior within a given environment

Iconography, the expression of beliefs and affiliations through symbols, and

Atmospherics, “the collective attitudes, moods, and behaviors present in a given situation or place.”

In searching for “clusters” of cues from these domains, you learn to enhance the intuitive capabilities you already possess but may not currently be aware of.

Realistically, you may be forced to make decisions “with little time and information,” the authors point out. “Many situations are so complex, it is impossible to examine every piece of information or so dangerous that looking for more than a few pieces of critical information risks lives,” they write.

Thus they emphasize the ability to “thin-slice,” to pick up on telltale patterns and assess a suspect’s intentions “with just a thin slice of information,” sometimes no more than one important cue snagged “with just seconds of observation.”

Perfect decisions are not always possible, they concede, but “more than 100 scientific studies have demonstrated that people can make incredibly accurate intuitive judgments with just a little” input.

The final 50 pages of the book are devoted to how you “put it all together” to make decisions most likely to be valid and take action so that “bang” never occurs.

Left of Bang has drawn strong support from prominent law enforcement trainers, including Jeff Chudwin, president of the Illinois Tactical Officers Assn. which featured Van Horne as a speaker at its annual conference this fall.

“This book should be issued to every police officer and every recruit from Day One,” Chudwin says. “During a recent daylong use-of-force class, I showed videos of officer attacks and shootings and had the class look for and identify the left-of-bang moments and warnings that the victim officers evidently missed. This work is certain to be a foundation training source going forward.”

Left of Bang is published by Black Irish Books (http://shop.blackirishbooks.com/products/left-of-bang) and can be purchased individually or, at a discount, in bulk. It is also available through Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. To contact the authors, email Van Horne at: Patrick@cp-journal.com and Riley at: jasonanthonyriley@gmail.com

III. SWAT vet’s research analysis: Why tactical ops succeed or fail

At the core of another recent research-based book are detailed dissections of what went wrong and what went right in six high-risk SWAT callouts where lives teetered on the edge–and in some cases were needlessly lost.

SWAT Operations and Critical Incidents: Why People Die reflects the unique background of its author. Across a 30-year law enforcement career as an operator and trainer, Stuart Meyers has participated in more than 1,000 life-threatening tactical deployments in the US and abroad. And, as of 2013, he has a master’s degree in liberal arts from Harvard University. The book had its genesis as his thesis, which was honored as Outstanding Thesis in the Social Sciences for its extensive research and analysis of critical incident dynamics and management.

In the book’s 200 pages, Meyers explores how organizational structure, leadership skills, team performance, and suspect actions combine to determine the outcome of SWAT encounters. For his case histories, he dug into departmental policy and procedure manuals, incident reports and debriefings, training materials, team assignment and equipment lists, videotapes, and interviews with participants, including in some instances suspects and hostages.

His compelling selections range from a successful, injury-free warrant service on a suspect who had vowed to kill officers to a calamitous op in which a former police captain killed eight hostages aboard a tourist bus before he was finally shot dead.

Also in the mix are a barricaded subject callout that resulted in a chief and an incident commander being criminally indicted for involuntary manslaughter, a standoff in which negotiators kept talking while a hostage was repeatedly raped, a dual murder that occurred after a commander allowed the suspect’s ex-girlfriend to try to effect a surrender, and the successful dramatic rescue of hostages from a suicide bomber.

Meyers does not offer any idealized “model for guaranteed outcomes.” But for each incident, he does present an analysis of the conditions and factors contributing to successful and unsuccessful resolutions that he believes “can yield a better understanding of how to identify and implement essential organizational conditions that can consistently lead to desired results.”

Part of his approach is to subject each case to a thorough “counterfactual examination.” That is, he pinpoints key “determining factors” that, had they occurred or not occurred, would have made failed operations successful and vice versa.

For example, in critiquing an extended incident in which two hostages, including a deputy sheriff, ultimately were killed, Meyers points out that “a sniper was denied the opportunity to shoot the suspect while the latter was observed standing at a window.” That leadership decision to favor persistent negotiation over seizing an opportune moment without hesitation “placed the life of the hostage-taker above the lives of the hostages,” and sacrificed a chance to end the threat successfully, Meyers writes.

“My definition of a successful SWAT operation,” he explains, is one in which “no hostages, innocent civilians, law enforcement officers, or operational support personnel experience loss of life or serious, permanent debilitating injury.”

Studying the key elements of successes and failures in real-world deadly encounters can be a vital stride toward that goal, “allowing tactical teams to be better tomorrow than they are today.”

The book and a two-day instructional program by the same name are available through Op Tac International, Meyers’ independent training organization. For more information, email: info@optacinternational.com or call 443-616-7822.

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