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Private Investigators Must Reset Their Mindset in Order to Win

  • December 22, 2010
  • by Dominic V. Ferraro

Are you prepared to win? Will you survive any situation, no matter how dire the circumstances? These are two very basic questions, ones that some of you may even scoff at, but they are vital to your survival as a private investigator or process server. Maintaining confidence in your ability to win to survive in any situation, in any environment, no matter what, might make the difference between being a statistic or being a person able to spend another day with their family and friends.

There are many peddlers of success in this world. These salesmen sell us on the power of positive thinking and, for a price, will convince us that by following their path of change, we will become wildly successful in all of our lofty endeavors. I am not one of these salesmen. I am not selling anything, nor am I going to promise you achievement of your hopes and dreams. Hopes and dreams are realized by hard work and dedication, but you need to be alive in order to maintain the course to success and happiness. There may be many variables in any dangerous situation, but two are always present: mindset and preparedness.

Being prepared and maintaining a proper mindset are not difficult goals to achieve. Many of you may have heard of IF/THEN thinking: IF this happens, THEN I will do this. IF that guy pulls a gun on me, THEN I will pull mine. I do not practice IF/THEN thinking because I do not like the impact the word if has on my mindset. What-ifs will trick your mind into believing that if it might happen, it likely will not happen. If something is likely not to happen, why would your mind store your planned reaction?

The proper thinking is WHEN/THEN: WHEN that guy pulls his gun, THEN I will seek cover behind that wall and draw my gun. WHEN that car veers into my lane, THEN I will apply my brakes and move over to the shoulder. WHEN the subject I am conducting surveillance on confronts me, THEN I will use this pretext to avoid his suspicion. By simply changing the IF to WHEN, we trick our mind into believing the scenario is real and by knowing our reaction to the scenario, our response is already programmed and not delayed.

It is often said that we perform to the level of our training. This holds true in all disciplines, including mindset. There is an often-repeated tale of police firearms training techniques of old officers were told to fire their revolvers then dump the empty brass into their hands and place them into their pockets before reloading. The story goes that many dead officers were found with a pocketful of empty brass. How many of those officers could have survived the gunfight had they not taken the extra time to save their brass before reloading and returning fire? They had been told to recover their brass in that manner in order to save the effort of cleaning the range at the end of the day. The minds of those officers were conditioned to operate in a certain manner when the use of a firearm was necessary, but in a simulated and safe environment. Why should we expect an officer to perform differently when faced with real stress and real consequences? We can't, because their minds had been pre-programmed.

Consider that practicing WHEN/THEN thinking is simply training our mind to react the way we want it to. Facing an armed assailant is no time to try to figure out how to properly react. Mindlessly driving down the highway is not going to help you when that semi unexpectedly jack-knifes in front of you. Daydreaming during that long surveillance will not prepare you for when the targets previously unseen buddy angrily knocks on your window. You must continuously subconsciously anticipate events and think through your reaction to them.

What about preparedness? One might argue that practicing WHEN/THEN thinking is being prepared; I submit that it is only half of the equation. In order to survive, you must have the proper mindset but you also must have the proper tools at your disposal. Whether you are a police officer, private investigator, process server, private security person, etc., does not matter. What matters is that you are in a profession that is likely to place you in harms way more frequently than the average person.

How can you be prepared to win? Tune in next time for the answer!

Dominic V. Ferraro is a police chief, a private investigator and a process server from Wisconsin. He will be writing a regular column for called Off the Cuff that typically focuses on safety and security for investigators and process servers. If you have a question for him, you can send it to [email protected] and he will answer it in an upcoming column.

If you would like to redistribute this article or any other content for your website, newsletter or other publication, e-mail [email protected] to find out how. And if you're interested in writing articles about the private investigation industry, is always looking for guest writers to share their industry knowledge.

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