Powers of Observation and Concentration
Observation and concentration are dependent upon one another and are related to something else — work. Investigators rarely fall across evidence as do television and movie PIs. Real investigators work for evidence using observation. Observation is work, and it is a product of concentration. Concentration — an act of will — is under the control of the person who wishes to concentrate. Thus, anyone willing to work can improve his concentration and observation skills.
Importance of Observation and Concentration
When you're sitting on surveillance, waiting for that one chance to snap a picture or film a few moments of your elusive target, losing focus can cause you to miss your chance — a chance that may not present itself again.
Pls often have to sit on surveillance for long periods of time, waiting patiently for that “gotcha” moment. You must be able to stay alert and focused to get what you are looking for.
Federal agencies, large police departments, and large PI firms have an edge — available manpower — which makes surveillance much easier. Several investigators switch back and forth, sharing the task of watching the target. The Feds call this having the eyeball or having the eye. During any surveillance, someone must always have the eyeball — an uninterrupted focus on the target until the eye is passed to someone else.
This is the best way to keep a target under surveillance, yet it's not feasible for small police departments and PI firms, where the burden falls on one person, two or three at the most. Being the only person, or one of a few, responsible for having the eyeball can be tiring. It's hard work, but it's the only way to be sure you don't miss anything. If you do miss something, your client or supervisor will not be happy. Neither will you; for most investigators, getting the target is worth the discomfort experienced during an investigation.
A professional investigator may sit for hours in surveillance vehicles, crawl through wooded areas, and search through stacks of records to get what she needs. Nothing is quite like the “gotcha” moment, that instant when the investigator knows she's gotten the shot, the video, or the information necessary to crack the case, and she'll do what she must (legally) to get it.
In Chapter 18, the types of surveillance with which you must be familiar to achieve your own “gotcha” moments will be discussed.
Observation depends on one other element: prior knowledge. Without it, it's possible to look directly at evidence or facts and not appreciate their significance. What appears to one person as the idle scribbling of a bored teen is apparent to another as gang representation or messaging. What might be a mound of pale dirt to one person is known as “cheese,” the newest threat in street drugs, to another. Possessing knowledge of the way criminals do their thing is as important as knowing how to do yours.
Because of knowledge, the object of your concentration makes sense, allowing you to process your observations. The more you concentrate and observe, the more knowledge you gain — and the more knowledge you gain, the better your concentration and observation skills. In fact, some experts argue that concentration is intelligence.
Improving Observation and Concentration
Although much is still unknown, research has shown that certain mental exercises add to the operating capacity of your brain, regardless of age, education, or experience. For example, view a picture you are not familiar with, then look away and record any details you remember. You'll be surprised at how much eludes you, even with the second or third attempt. This is normal. Continue practicing with different pictures and you'll improve.
Even with improved skills, take notes and pictures when on surveillance. These exercises utilize short-term memory, and though you may become so proficient that you can astound friends at parties, remember that short-term memory is limited and decays rapidly. Basically, your short-term memory only holds information until you can record it.
Several techniques that deliver information from your short-term bank to your long-term memory bank are:
Repetition: memorization of poems or scripture
Consistent use of information: complicated sequences of actions can be memorized by going through the sequences again and again
Grouping: for instance, phone numbers are easier to remember when they are grouped between hyphens
Putting information to music: most of us can still sing our ABCs
Mnemonics: many techniques use imagery to link the familiar with the unfamiliar — linking an image to the information you want to remember
Besides exercises to improve overall function, several techniques can help your concentration while you sit on surveillance:
Breathing exercises. Breathe deeply and slowly through the nose, then out through the mouth, pushing air from your lungs by sucking in your stomach.
Minimize distractions. Do nothing that may divert attention from the target.
Comment aloud. Many investigators talk to themselves as they watch. Describing the house, office, and grounds into a tape recorder may help you later when you write your report.
Snack. Most investigators eat to stay alert.
If you use snacking, be aware that highly processed carbohydrates can make you sleepy, as can turkey and sugar products. Some experts write that there's not enough tryptophan in turkey to cause sleepiness, but others disagree — you'll know if it affects you. Instead, eating fruit, veggie sticks, cheese, nuts, or protein that can be eaten with your fingers will ensure a steady supply of fuel to your brain. Highly processed food will provide a quick, momentary pickup, then drop you just as quickly.
Can concentration be improved?
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Observation and concentration are also related to motivation. Observant people are motivated by many things: curiosity, desire, pride, security, the desire to succeed, and more. Even fear can be a motivator — not stark raving fear, of course, which is paralyzing and counterproductive — but fear that you may miss your chance to get that shot of the target. A little of this type of fear pumps adrenaline through your body and sharpens your senses — but don't let fear drive you.