Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Loren Christensen - Psyching Up

Whether you’re about to face a formidable martial arts opponent, serve a high-risk warrant, or search a house in some hot, dusty town in the Middle East, there are several ways to charge your mind and your body for the task. Some call it “getting psyched” or “psyching up.” Psychologists refer to it as “levels of arousal.” Hmm. I’m not sure about that last term. Should someone ask what you’re doing, do you really want to say, “I’m getting aroused”? Best to stay with “psyching up.”

By whatever term you choose, getting psyched up can be key to functioning at your optimum. Here are a few ways to do it.

Selected Association

This is a psychological term that refers to being with others who already have the level of arousal you need. This isn’t the time to avoid those hyped-up, obnoxious loudmouths. The time to avoid these people is when you want to calm down after an event. But to get psyched up, seize the moment to soak up their enthusiasm.

A good teacher, coach, sergeant, and captain know how to use their words, body language, and energy to charge those about to do a difficult task

Cue Words

I like this method and use it to calm myself — psyche down, if you will — as well as to psyche up. I’ll bare my soul here and tell you my two words. Please don’t tell anyone. To calm myself, I whisper or think sink. Over the years, I have learned to relate that word to letting go of all my tension and stress.

To psyche up, I whisper or think the word samurai. I’ve been training in the martial arts for nearly 50 years, so the word has a powerful suggestibility to me. I’ve seen many samurai movies, visited exhibits, watched demonstrations, and read lots on the subject. When I say or think “samurai,” it conjures in me a warrior of extraordinary skill ready to do what needs to be done.

Words have meaning. The right one(s) invokes powerful psychological, emotional, and physical reactions. In short, the right word or words psyche you up.

Cue Images

These are your mental images — call them movies if you want — of you performing at your best. For example, if you’re trying to improve your running speed, you might think of a cheetah ripping across a plain. If you want to work on your quick draw, you might “see” in your mind the late Bob Munden, who could draw, shoot, hit the target (sometimes two targets), and reholster faster than the blink of an eye. Literally.

If not a cheetah, your cue image might be another fighter who has qualities that you admire. It might be a fellow officer who does an excellent job on felony stops, or a fellow soldier who exhibits all the warrior qualities you want to emulate.

Physical Warm-Ups

This is easier for martial artists to do but cops and soldiers should do it when they have the opportunity. In my martial art class, we do the same warm-up every time. This works as a physical and mental bridge from the students’ workday or school day, to practicing the fighting arts. The loosening exercises are martial arts specific to help bridge that gap.

Cops and soldiers might have to go off by themselves for a few minutes to physically warm up. Should someone make a comment, just say that your back and shoulders are bothering you and you need to get your blood flowing a little.

In the end, know that because your mind and body are connected, physical activation will spur psychological activation.

Self-Confidence Statements 

Many warriors use statements such as the following — whispered to themselves, said aloud, or simply thought — to instill a powerful sense of self-assurance.
  • “I will perform at my best.”
  • “I am ready to do this.”
  • “I’m anxious to do this.”
  • “I’m feeling good.”
  • “I’m strong.”
  • “I’m full of courage.”
  • “I know how to do this.”
Always state your self-confidence mantras in the positive. For example, don’t say, “I am not weak,” because your subconscious tends to ignore the negative word “not.” In other words, it hears “I am weak.” So keep it positive: “I am strong.”

Anger Transformation

Using anger to psyche up yourself is controversial. Advocates believe that it energizes and psyches one to perform at his/her optimum. Others believe that it can be detrimental, in that it tightens muscles and clouds thinking.

I’ve found it to be detrimental, at least as it pertains to hand-to-hand combat. I’ve been in situations where I was angry in the extreme and found that I lost my fine-motor skills and my thinking was restricted. Conversely, when I responded with a cool head, my techniques were cleaner, faster, and my thinking less prehistoric.

Among psychologists, to include sports psychologists, there is little support for using anger to psyche oneself. Wait, there is one.

If you’re in a survival situation and you’re certain that you’re about to die, especially if you were to give up, that is the time to muster all the unbridled anger and rage to psyche yourself to fight all out.


Tunes are the most popular way to psyche up. During my competition years, I listened to certain songs in my car during my commute to a tournament. When I was a cop working a particularly dangerous part of town, I listened to hard rock, which I detest, while driving to work. As a fiction writer now, I listen to certain movie soundtracks when writing action scenes.

Some of our troops in Afghanistan listen to hard rock in their vehicles when attacking or defending against the enemy. And who can forget that iconic helicopter assault scene in Apocalypse Now when the lead chopper played “Ride of the Valkyries” over its loudspeaker to not only psyche the warriors in the birds, but also to terrorize the Vietcong on the ground.

What kind of music works for you?

 * * *

Studies show that psyching techniques work. What is clear is that different people need different techniques to get results. Music works for Tom, but cue words work best for Kathy. Cue images work for your teacher, but performing some simple warm-ups works best to prepare your mind and body.

Take the time to learn what is in your best interest. You will love the results.

Loren was a military policeman in Saigon during the Vietnam War and retired from the Portland, Oregon, Police Department after more than two decades of service. He can be contacted through his website at www.lwcbooks.com.


My sincerest gratitude to Loren Christensen for his kind permission in reposting his article to my site.

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