Law Enforcement and the Survivor’s Mindset


My PT instructor at the academy once told us a story about a trainee who was having a moral issue with the idea of shooting another individual, even if that person posed a threat to him. His rationale was that he didn’t “believe his life was worth more than someone else’s.” No joke. Why anyone who thinks this way would apply for a career in law enforcement is beyond me.

Needless to say, he was kindly advised that this line of work probably wasn’t the best fit for him and that he should start looking elsewhere. In law enforcement, if you’re not willing to take a life in self-defense or in defense of another, then by default, that means you’re willing to die unnecessarily or let someone else die who could have lived. This is why you must have the mindset of a survivor in order to be effective in this field.


What Does It Mean to Have a Survivor’s Mindset?

Having the mindset of a survivor means that you’re willing to do what it takes to come out on top. That’s what they’re testing you for the majority of the time during the academy. They want to see who will quit and who will continue to fight and power through. This is especially true in the first couple of weeks at the academy. The instructors are looking to weed out anyone who didn’t come prepared with the right mentality.

You may have to do some version of a “stacking” drill, in which you have to fight off multiple attackers. This is not intended to see whether you’re able to beat up three grown men at the same time, because most people would have a difficult time with that to say the least. If anything, the drill is designed to show the opposite. They made it very clear to us that we were going to be overwhelmed. This served two purposes:

  1. It was designed to help us understand how quickly that type of situation can turn bad in the field so we would never unnecessarily put ourselves in a dangerous position.
  2. It gave them the opportunity to observe how we would respond with our backs against the wall, when things seemed hopeless. They wanted us to keep fighting.



Why Is the Survivor’s Mindset Important?

Hopefully, you don’t need too much help coming up with reasons to stay alive. If you can’t think of any reasons, you probably have some work to do in your personal life before pursuing a career in law enforcement.

There must be someone or something in your life that you can’t imagine not being able to see or experience again. After you determine the things that are most important to you in life, keep them in mind every time you train because that’s what you are training for.

What Types of Situations Call For a Survivor’s Mentality?

I couldn’t possibly list every situation in which a survivor’s mentality would be called for, but here are a few real life examples:

  1. A subject catches you by surprise and knocks you to the ground. Before you realize it, you’re on your back with a heavy subject mounting you. He starts throwing punches and you can see he has no intention of letting up. Do you accept that this is the end or are you determined to survive?
  2. You are attempting to assist in a swiftwater rescue, when you lose your footing and fall in. Your duty gear, uniform, and boots are weighing you down and your chances of reaching something stable are limited. Are you thinking you’re too tired to make it or are you thinking back to what you learned in training?
  3. You conduct a traffic stop on a suspicious vehicle and your closest backup is 15 miles away. As you approach the vehicle from the passenger side, the driver surprises you and starts shooting out the window at you. Do you turn your back and run or does muscle memory tell you to find cover and return fire?

Each of the previous scenarios was based on a real life situation. As you can see, there’s little room for mental weakness when your life is on the line.



Some Great Resources for Survivors

One thing you can do to start mentally preparing for these types of situations is to feed your mind with resources that support the idea of survival.

  1. Between a Rock and a Hard Place. You’ve probably heard of the movie 127 Hours staring James Franco as canyoneer Aron Ralston. The film is based on Ralston’s book Between a Rock and a Hard Place, which details his experience of having to sever his own arm to free himself from being trapped under a fallen boulder.
  2. Unbroken. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption is the story of Louis Zamperini, a World War II hero who spent 47 days on a raft in the Pacific after crashing his plane. He went on to survive more than two and a half years as a prisoner in a Japanese internment camp. The best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand is available in print, eBook, and audiobook.
  3. The Bulletproof Mind. If you ever get the opportunity, attend this training entitled The Bulletproof Mind by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman. Grossman is also the author of On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society and On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace.


How Can You Train Yourself to Survive?

Training yourself to have the mindset of a survivor starts today. It can start with something as small as getting out of bed earlier and going for a run, getting up off the couch and making something healthy to eat, or turning off the TV and video games and reading one of the resources listed above.

As a law enforcement officer, you are being counted on by the community, your partners, and your family to stay safe and win. Those goals should be at the forefront of your mind each and every day and remain a focus in everything you do.