Illuminate – September 2018


September 2018


The Importance of Health and Wellness, Part 1: Enriched vs Impoverished Environments

By Michael J. Nila

When we created Blue Courage years ago, we identified the gap between how police officers are educated and what we expect them to do in terms of their performance — health and wellness was one of the foundational key areas where we said, we have to figure out how we are going to address this. We were thinking about health and wellness in far bigger terms than simply physical fitness.

A sergeant from the Reno Police Department in Nevada who is also a Blue Courage instructor, sent us an email about an inspiring, motivating, but sad story: He was driving his daughter to school, as he did most days, where he saw some parents of the other kids that he recognized, doing this day after day. One day, he notices that one of the girls’ father didn’t drop her off. Later he found out that the father had a heart attack. Every day since then, as he took his daughter to school, he thought about the father’s daughter walking to school every day without her dad. He then thought about his daughter and it made him understand the why for which he has to engage more proactively in health and wellness. He couldn’t forget the thought of this young girl walking to school every single day without her father. He sent us this amazing email about how inspiration can come from anywhere. He is so honored to teach Blue Courage because he is now seeing these examples and inspirations everywhere around us; How important it is for not just police officers but anyone in life to make sure we have the inspiration required for us on this journey. We have opportunities to provide inspiration for other people, countless opportunities to make other people’s eyes shine and inspire their day just a little bit. He also talked about what he learned in that simple example — how important it is for us to take care of ourselves, if not for ourselves then for our children, loved ones, or for the people that we share this life with that are so important to us. 

Simon Sinek, who spoke at the International Association of Chiefs of Police one year, talked about how we need to discover what it is going to take for us to be the best version of ourselves. Not just to be simply better for the job but to be better for all things in our life. Inspiration can come from anywhere and if we are not inspired then health and wellness are not going to matter to us. So, inspiration is really important to us. 

I came on the job two weeks out of high school and came on as a sworn officer at 21 years of age (I was very young). I was blessed and cursed throughout my entire career to get promoted very quickly. I was the youngest person in my department to get promoted at every rank. But, when I got promoted to sergeant something very interesting happened to me. I was absolutely convinced that I was prepared to be the best sergeant my department had ever had. Principally, because I was madly in love with policing, I was madly in love with my city, I was madly in love with our profession, I read all the contemporary books on leadership, I had just got my bachelor’s in criminal justice management—and I just thought I was ready to be the best sergeant my department has every had. Until the first day that I stood in roll call as sergeant at the podium looking into the faces of the men and women that I was expected to inspire, to get them off their cynicism, be productive and all of the other things that leaders are suppose to do for there people. I looked into their faces on that day and realized I had no clue how to do that, because the job that prepared me to be a police officer had not taught me how to be a leader. Simon Sinek talks about how people are put into leadership positions because they are good people and they’re hard workers, but aren’t taught the skills and techniques that are required, the art that is required to actually be leaders.

I went back to school and said I’m going to study, I’m going to be a passionate student of leadership and I’m going to figure this out. I went back to school to get my MBA; the only reason I got an MBA was because I wanted to step outside of the world of policing and see what the rest of the world was learning, doing, and leading—how are they were solving the problems within their organization. In one of the classes that I had, on the very first day of class we were introducing ourselves. There was a gentlemen in the class that introduced himself as a Neuroscientist from Northern Illinois University. I found it fascinating that here is a guy introduced himself who had multiple PhD’s, multiple master’s degrees — He is a Neuroscientist and he is getting his masters in Business Administration. So, the very first break of class as I am talking to someone, there is a tap on my shoulder — it’s the Neuroscientist. He said to me, “Excuse me, did I hear you correctly that you are a police officer?” And I said yes. He finds it very odd that a police officer is getting an MBA and he said, “If you don’t mind me asking, how long have you been a police officer?” I said about six years. He looked at me for a long time, a few uncomfortable long seconds with a very odd look on his face, then he threw his hands up and walked away. 

I was young, in my mid 20’s, ready to fight because I thought he just disrespected me and he must not like cops. I walked after him a little aggressively and I said, “Excuse me, what was that about? Do you not like police officers? Did you just get a ticket?” (You know how 25-year-old cops can behave even if they’re sergeants).  

He looked at me and said, “No, I have immense admiration for police officers and I can’t tell you how much I admire what you do. But, I don’t know if you heard me, I’m a Neuroscientist.” 

I answered, “I know I find that interesting.” 

“Well what we do everyday is we study the human brain,” he continued. “We study the brain of every profession under the sun including the brains of police officers. By the way, how long do you intend to be a police officer?” And I told him that it’s my career, 25, 35,45 years — this is where I’m going to spend the rest of my working life.  He looked at me again for a long time with an odd look and threw his hands up in frustration and walked away again.  Again, I go back and asked what this was about.

He taught me something that today is the foundation of Blue Courage (and I hope you write down these two words). He taught me two words. He said, “Let me tell you what we know as Neuroscientist. Human beings live in one of two worlds. The first world that they live in is what we call impoverished environment. It’s the equivalent of a prisoner of war while they’re being held in captivity. They’re in an environment (think about how many times someone talked about environment, how important it is, and culture, and the environment of leadership that we create for people), and in an impoverished environment you are in an environment that is devoid of all the necessary nutrients to sustain life, health and well-being.  And the environment you are in is devoidable in these necessary nutrients. What happens to human beings in this environment is that the brain literally beings to shrink in size, the neurons, the dendrites—the things that connect all the different working and functioning parts of our brain, the Neuro highways and Neuro pathways, that allow us to use good judgement, apply critical thinking, and intelligently regulate our emotions — those things become disconnected. What we have spent a lifetime learning is lost and our ability to learn new things is now hindered. Let me tell you why that it so critical—It’s because policing is the only profession that we have ever studied as Neuroscientists that has a 100 percent of the characteristics of an impoverished environment. The closest profession we’ve studied next to you as policing had only 50 percent of them, you have 100 percent of them —that’s why I asked you how long you intend to be in this profession. We know that what is happening to you in an impoverished environment is slow death. You look healthy, you look vibrant, but that constant slow drip of cortisol is killing you.” In fact, on that day I will never forget what he said, “If you love your life, you love your health, you love your family, you want to have a rich long product flourishing life, go do something else. You are in an unhealthy environment.” Well of course, I was young, in my 20’s, I was superman physically, and I thought that was never going to happen to me. So I asked him what the second world is.

The second world that he described is what he called an enriched environment. He said in an enriched environment, imagine the prisoner of war released from captivity, released into the loving arms of their family, feeling the sunlight on their face, getting proper sleep, and nutrition— all of the things we need to flourish in life to create that state of health and wellness. That is what an enriched environment is. When a human being goes from an impoverished environment to an enriched environment, think about an officer who has been on the job for 20-25 years then goes into retirement. In fact, one of the things that he said was, “Do you know police officers who seem to be dumber the longer they are on the job? That is exactly what is happening. See a police officer six months before retirement, walking kind of slow, has attitude, and maybe not what he should be, maybe their color isn’t great, then you see them six months later and they look like a different human being. What happens when you go into an enriched environment is the process of the brain actually reverses itself. The brain literally grows back to the size it’s suppose to be, the neurons and dendrites have reconnected, what you have forgotten in you memory is rediscovered, and the ability to learn new things is enhanced. Now, this was way back in the late 1970s, words that exist today that are very common in our vernacular did not exist then — words like brain rebirth, neurogenesis, Neuro plasticity, those words didn’t exist then. But what he was teaching me was the process of an enriched environment. The brain has an amazing capacity to regenerate itself and and make itself healthy again — if we are in an enriched environment — and that is a giant if. 

Next month, we will continue our discussion on Health and Wellness by introducing the whole person health concept and its four dimensions that are critical for well-being.


The Reflection Corner

Thought provoking questions to spark conversations!

Think of the different areas of your life. Are you in an enriched or impoverished environment?

How can you improve your environment?

Click here to comment and start a respectful discussion!

Fight or Flight

16 Seconds to Clarity

with davdji

The fight or flight response is the reaction to a stressful situation that triggers the release of the stress hormone. This response evolved as a survival mechanism that enabled people and other mammals to react quickly to life threatening situations. Our body, however, can overreact to stressors that are not life threatening, such as traffic jams, pressures of work and family, or an uncomfortable interaction with another person. Practicing mindfulness techniques, such as 16 seconds to clarity, on a consistent basis will help to prepare the body to react more effectively and healthily when encountering stressful situations. Watch, or listen, to this short video to help you learn a quick and easy technique to a more positive and healthier lifestyle.

Feeding the Mind

Recommended Reading

As a Man Thinketh

by James Allen

Published in 1903, As a Man Thinketh is a literary essay by James Allen that discusses the power of thought and the right application of thought. Thoughts have the power to shape your life — your actions are outgrowths of your thought and thoughts can either keep you young or make you age faster. Intentionally kept simple in both length and language,  this book provides a pocket companion for thoughtful people.

Why you should read this book:

  • Explains how a person is the sum of his/her thoughts. A single thought turns into a major decision, thus the root of a person’s actions. These actions over time turns into patterns, which shape our character.
  • Discusses how changing your thoughts can change your actions, and eventually your character.
  • Discusses how a person shapes the world just as much as it shapes them. A person’s thoughts and actions are in a constant cause and effect relationship with the outside world. These thoughts and attitudes are what lead to life situations.
  • Explains how the power of positive thought impact your heart rate, sleep, chronic pain, and your skin.

To purchase this book, click here.

Inspiring Awareness

Each month, we will present information and recommendations that could effectively enhance your way of thinking, behaving, and feeling.

In the U.S., 15,780 children under the age of 21 are diagnosed every year with cancer. That’s an average of 43 diagnoses a day in the US, and 700 total a day around the world– approximately ¼ of them will not survive. It is the leading cause of death for children under the age of 15.

Gold ribbons will be worn and displayed the month of September to bring awareness to Childhood Cancer. Organizations like the American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) and Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) work to create supportive communities for families who face this terrible diagnosis.

Childhood cancer is made up of over a dozen different types and countless subtypes which means research is a continuous battle. Two-thirds of all “cured” childhood cancer patients will have long lasting chronic conditions from treatment they will live with the rest of their lives. These treatments also bring a huge financial and psychological burden on families traveling distances, loss of days at work, separation from family, lack of local support systems.

What you can do to help:

  • There is a program called PJammin for Kids Cancer – this is a program where participants pay $1 to wear pajamas in honor of kids with cancer. This is a great program for schools or an office to collect money and donate! (ACCO)
  • Plan a “Gold” themed event to raise awareness and financial support. This a fun project for churches or a business. (ACCO)
  • In honor of ALSF, create a Lemonade Stand with you children or neighbors in your front yard and use the profits to give back. Visit the ALSF website (below) for details.
  • Because of ongoing advances in research – the 5-year survival rate has climbed from less than 50% to 80% in the past several decades.


Do you have a story that you would like to share? Contact us, we’d love to hear from you!

You could be featured in future Illuminate issues!

[email protected]

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