Handling Setbacks & Disappointment
Have you already suffered a setback or rejection from an agency during the application or selection process? If so, you undoubtedly were disappointed, depressed, and or felt guilt or regret. I was rejected by the first agency I applied to and have felt the pain. Applying for an agency, taking physical agility tests, written tests, in-person interviews, talking with a background investigator, and taking the polygraph examination will result in a great deal of stress and anxiety. Your success not only through the hiring process, in your law enforcement future career, and the remainder of your career will depend upon your ability to deal with disappointment and stress.
Personal Development There is a wealth of information available on "Personal Development," and I have been a student of the topic for many years. I started listening to motivational tapes and programs in my 20's as a way to improve myself. I have an Audible audiobook subscription and am frequently listening to books rather than zoning out to music in the car. I encourage you to look at audiobooks as a source of information in addition to the Law Enforcement Guru Podcast.
When dealing with disappointment and setbacks, I found one of the best analyses and philosophies offered by Motivational Educator Brian Tracy. The following paragraphs summarize some of the topics he covers in his book The New Psychology of Achievement.
Handling Crisis Setbacks are entirely normal, and you may encounter them during your application process. You need to prepare for disappointment in both your law enforcement and personal life. When you find yourself facing a crisis and experiencing a sudden setback or reversal, your first job is to seize control of your thoughts and feelings and make sure you perform at your best. The natural tendency when things go wrong is to overreact negatively. You can quickly become angry, upset, or afraid.
The stressful thoughts and negative emotions immediately start to shut down the significant portions of your brain, including the Neocortex, which is the rational part of your brain used to analyze, assess, solve problems and make decisions. If you do not constantly assert emotional control during a crisis when things go wrong, you will automatically resort to the "Fight or Flight" reaction. You emotionally react because you cannot think calmly and clearly.
Controlling Emotions The starting point in staying calm in a crisis is to refuse to react automatically and unthinkingly. Imagine everyone is watching you; every situation is a test to see what you are truly made of; imagine everyone is waiting to see how you will respond. To keep yourself calm, set a good example, be a role model, and demonstrate the correct response to problems as if you were teaching others a lesson. The primary source of negative emotion is frustrated expectations - you expected a thing to happen in a particular way, and something altogether different has happened.
Failure A crisis or setback triggers the two primary forms of negative emotion, 1) Fear of Failure, and 2) Fear of Rejection. Either can cause anger, depression, or even paralysis (failure to take positive action). You experience the Fear of Failure when dealing with the potential loss of money, position, or reputation. Face it. No one likes rejection. Whether being passed over for a job or rejected by another person raises self-doubts and the belief we are not "good enough."
Rejection Fear of Rejection is closely associated with the fear of criticism and disapproval when something goes wrong, and you feel you are not capable or competent, or others will think poorly of you. Remember, your response to the crisis is everything, and every rejection is a test. Perhaps you have heard the old saying, "That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger?" No truer words have ever been spoken.
Explanatory Style Your inner dialog determines your emotions in a crisis. Your Explanatory Style largely determines your thoughts, emotions, and subsequent actions. Your Explanatory Style is the way you explain or interpret things to yourself. Fully 95% of your emotions, either positive or negative, are determined by how you interpret the things happening around you. Although your mind can hold thousands of thoughts in a row, it can only have one thought at a time, and you are always free to choose a negative or positive thought or emotion at any moment. The attitudes of those around you easily influence you. How many times have by been around a friend with a negative attitude only to find yourself equally gloomy or depressed?
Handling Situations As an example, instead of using the word "problem" or "crisis" to describe a situation, you should instead use the word "situation." A problem is negative, but a situation is "neutral." So you can now say to yourself, "Well, I am facing an interesting situation here," which keeps you and everyone else calm. Even better, use the word "challenge," and thus the phrase, "This is an interesting challenge we hadn't expected," or better yet, "This is an opportunity." These are positive statements to describe the difficulty.
Using the words situation, challenge, and opportunity keeps your mind positive and creative and allows you to maintain control. Keep yourself calm by refusing to catastrophize events. Very few things are ever as bad as they seem initially. Keep yourself calm by asking questions of the other people involved and listening patiently to the answers. Sometimes talking over the problem with a partner or a trusted friend will help you immensely to keep calm and controlled.
Within every problem faced, there is the seed of an equal or more significant benefit or advantage. When you discipline yourself to look for the good in a situation and seek the valuable lesson of the situation or crisis that it might contain, you automatically become calm and optimistic.
If you have been notified you "Failed to Meet Standards" during the selection process, this does not mean you are a "Failure." You may have scored low on a test, had too many gaps between employers, had a credit issue, too many traffic tickets, or some obstacle in your background. Many current officers had to deal with these situations, but perseverance and determination paid off.
Personal Responsibility One key to overcoming disappointment is to take responsibility for your actions and stop blaming others or external factors. We will address the topic of accepting personal responsibility for a future blog and podcast, but for now, STOP BLAMING OTHERS for your problems. You have control over most situations and need to discover the root cause of the crisis and resolve, correct, or eliminate the conflict. Hold yourself accountable and to the highest standards before allowing anyone else to hold you accountable.
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