The Benefits Of ‘Mindfulness’ For Front Line Security By Tony O’Brien

The Benefits of ‘Mindfulness’ for Front Line Security

Mindfulness was a subject that I scoffed at when I was introduced to it many years ago. I like many of you had visions of Buddhist monks and endless hours of chanting in the corner of a dark temple. I was first introduced to mindfulness by an old martial arts instructor about 18 years ago. It was taught to me as a method to control breathing and relax during sparring sessions. At first, I thought it was absolute craziness, but I saw my instructor roll and spar numerous opponents without wheezing while I was gasping after a few rounds. Once I started taking it a little more serious, I found myself improving not just in my martial arts but in everyday life as well. Later in my security career I found t not only to have many positive applications, but I also met other successful security professionals who engaged in this practice.

So, what is mindfulness? For me, mindfulness is being aware of your thoughts, your emotions and your physical conditions. Being aware of these things not only helps you focus and relax but gives you much more control over them in a subtle way. I’m sure we can all agree that the items I mention above are all important factors in performing successfully in the security industry regardless of the sector you work in.

A few myths and a reality.

Myth 1: Mindfulness is a Zen like calm only achieved by monks.

Reality: Mindfulness can be practised by anybody. It isn’t about being ultra-calm (although calmness is a by-product). It is simply about being aware of your emotions and having control over your emotional state.

Myth 2: You need to sit and chant for hours to meditate

Reality: What’s being described here is meditation as a practice of mindfulness. This can be done in as little time as you wish, and you can sit in absolute silence to do it. It can be done in 30 seconds or 30 minutes. I recommend 10 minutes to start. (Surely you have 10 minutes to sit in silence)

Myth 3: You need to sit cross legged on a carpet while being mindful.

Reality: You can sit, stand, walk, run, lift weights while being mindful. It can be practiced on any couch, chair, car or floor you want. I’ve meditated on buses, trains, gym changing rooms and cars.

Myth 4: It doesn’t work anyway so waste your time.

Reality: I believe it works. And so, do some of the most successful people in the world. It was practised by Shaolin warrior monks, Chinese king Fu masters, and samurai warriors. In more modern times breathing control is practised by people such as Horion and Rickson Gracie, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Special forces soldiers, the Russian art of Systema and many others.

So, what has this got to do with working in security you might ask. Well nothing and plenty to be honest. There are countless security operatives out there who get by just fine without it. There are also countless of us out there who would like to be better able to focus, to relax or to control our emotions or our physical responses. If you could spend 10 minutes before work making yourself feel more energised, more alert, more focussed and less likely to get stressed would you think it was worthwhile? In the long term there are proven benefits in terms of both physical and mental health. Looking after your own wellbeing is a key factor for successful security operatives many of whom will find themselves in stressful working environments. This simple step can go a way to assisting with that.

Practical applications

It doesn’t need to be the stereotypical cross-legged chanting monk-like image you have in your head. Sit down for 10 minutes before work in a quiet place. Take some deep breaths. Close your eyes and relax. If you struggle to sit still for 10 minutes there are amazing free apps out there like Headspace which talk you through the whole process. Don’t worry if you find your mind straying for most of the time. It gets easier. I used to do this most nights for 10 minutes in the car before going into work. I can honestly say it made a huge difference to me. It made me much calmer, more relaxed and more alert. I used to consider it getting my work mindset in place and leaving all the emotional and physical baggage of the day behind.

Even on those nights where it was wet, miserable and violent I found myself better able to manage my mood, my temper and my concentration (most of the time). During violent encounters, it helped me to detach from the fear and anger of the encounter and respond more effectively and controlled which I have no doubt kept me and my team safer.

The main benefit I got from it though wasn’t in these difficult moments I’ve described above. The main benefit I found was in dealing with the aftermath of these difficult moments. The stress and adrenaline you feel after a conflict or a difficult situation. Being relaxed and mindful helped me rationalise the stressful after effects of violence and the sometimes-difficult moments of personal abuse or threats. This is now more commonly known as resilience but it is just another positive by product of mindfulness. If any of you have ever come home from work feeling down, second guessing your words or your actions in a conflict situation or worrying about the consequences of a violent encounter then this will help. It helped me manage that horrible feeling after conflict of adrenaline being dumped through the system.

One of the most common questions asked by people new to mindfulness is “how will I know it’s working”?

The truthful answer is that generally you won’t. Usually the positive control, awareness and behaviours associated with mindfulness will be noticed by other people around you before you notice them yourself. Others notice that your calmer under stress, more controlled, more aware and when they begin to comment on it you realise it personally the benefits are already obvious to others.

I usually finish off an article with a summary and one of two action points for the people who have taken the time to read the entire article. On this occasion that approach is incredibly difficult as mindfulness is a very subjective area. If I could suggest 2 things for you to try out over the next week:

  1. Take 10 minutes before work each day to sit down by yourself. Close your eyes, sit in silence and just breathe in and out. It’s isn’t going to hurt and it may help. (I highly recommend the free Headspace app for this.)
  2. After you finish work. Sit down for 5 minutes and do the same. Look forward to getting home to your family, your gym, your friends or your bed and leave all the stress of work behind you.

If you have stuck with me to the end, I thank you and I ask you to try these things. If it helps you in any way to become better at your job or personally then that’s great. If it’s not for you then thank you for trying at least. By simply trying you have shown your dedication to improving yourself as a person and a professional and for that I commend you. Your mental wellbeing is something only you can control and improve. Don’t let it slip.

I’ll leave you with the words of George S Patton below. If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.

“Now of you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. The body is always tired in the morning, noon and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”

For more information on the Headspace app I mentioned go to: Www.headspace.com

Tony O’Brien.

Tony is a respected specialist in the field of security, safety and the management of conflict and risk in organisations.

As a top industry consultant, on a daily basis, he is helping organisations develop solutions to their risk management and conflict management processes through designing training, policy and risk assessments to meet real world challenges.

He is also qualified as an expert witness, in the use of force, and most security related fields. Also a QQI subject matter expert for the security and safety sectors Winner of the 2016 IITD Rising Star Award