Managing Life’s Five Great Illusions for Better Sports and Law Enforcement Performance.
Bill Cottringer

As I have already mentioned in a previous article, performance in sports and law enforcement have a lot in common. For one thing, both require a healthy mixture of individuality and teamwork. And, they both require the best actions being based on the best immediate perception of situations based on past experience and future expectations. Moreover, they both require proper management of life’s 5 great illusions.

Several decades ago William Glaser based his popular theory of Reality Therapy on a basic principle that still has pervasive use today in sports, law enforcement and any other situation life brings us in work, play or relationships. The principle is this: Success in anything requires dealing with reality how it actually is, and not as we prefer or perceive it to be.

Now this is a serious problem because our preferences or perceptions are not known to be very reliable or accurate (just check out all the many optical illusions on the I-net or read about the disparate variance in eyewitness crime reports); so if we act on faulty preferences and perceptions, then how can we expect good performance and best outcomes? One way is to learn to manage life’s five great illusions better, in dealing with reality in the way it really is.

Here are life’s five great illusions and some examples of how athletes and police officers can manage them to win more often than not. Please note that these illusions actively interact with and feed off of each other, to make the collective illusions seem even more real and impervious to see though.


This illusion is based on the popular belief in a mechanical past, present and future sequence of time (from our system of measurement which we invented), when there is only the present moment experience to act on. In reality, all we can experience is the present, because even the past experiences we have had and future expected experiences, can really only be experienced in the present tense. Memories are only a faint trace of past experiences and always seem to be remembered with altered flavors. And, the future never seems to arrive exactly how we think it will when it actually comes into the present, being more influenced by what is now going on than what we anticipated.

In sports and law enforcement, the best performance occurs when we pay more attention to all that is going on in the present situation which we are actively a part of, rather than dwelling on past successes or failures or future hopes and expectations. This usually means adopting a better teamwork standard (below) by doing all that you can right now for the team to move into a better position to be successful, play by play. And, backing your mind up to be primarily aware of all that is going on now, takes great discipline in removing all the unconscious inhibitors, that we seem to have to constantly re-remember.

2. EGO

At birth we are born with self-consciousness with an inherent certainty that our crying behavior will be cured by getting what we are missing or wanting, with the crying. Life after childhood is a collection of experiences that lead us to the strong belief of a definite self with distinct skills, strengths and knowledge to use in resolving the three main conflicts in life: Us against life, us against them and us against us. If we are successful, it is because our egos have mastered these conflicts to get the results we want. Of course the trouble here is that Eastern wisdom and Western science both realize the ultimate “oneness” of everything on the page of paper that contains our written and spoken words.

The best way to manage this illusion in sports and law enforcement is to understand the Gestalt principle of early psychology—that the team can do more than any of its individual members can. One guiding standard athletes and police officers can use to decide how to think or act in any given game or situation is: “Will what I am thinking and doing , or not thinking or doing, help or hurt the team be successful (get the best results with these least side effects)?”


This illusion involves the unshakable but rather convenient belief that life and every situation we encounter has a clear beginning and ending. However, this belief runs in opposition to current scientific findings about the lack of a big bang point of origin of the universe. The most prevalent belief in the scientific community, which oddly doesn’t contradict religion on the issue of creation per se, is that all has always existed without any particular beginning or ending in sight. This lack of specific creation translates to situations we enter into already existing rather than being created by us or others). Of course the back end of this particular illusion is that situations only have a tentative ending, which may just be the start of a different beginning.

The best approach for police officers and athletes to manage this illusion is one of jumping on the moving train or plunging into the raging river and manage things in motion, rather than trying to stop the train or river, to gain an easy access point to control the speed of movement. At the end of the day, this is a much better vantage point because by being part of the situation and not artificially isolated from it thinking about it, you are more aware of the things in the situation you can and can’t control. So here, you are dealing with the realities as they are, and not as you think they are. Managing this illusion is from inside out, rather than vice versa.


This illusion may be the groundwork that enables the other ones. The belief is that we are distinctly separate with our own form, energy and space from the rest of everything, being both the subject knower to an object known. But this belief is based solely on such faulty assumptions as our own teeth can bite themselves or we can lift ourselves up by tugging on our own bootstraps. We continue to believe the things that support this illusion, despite knowing none of them are logically or otherwise possible. Here again, both Eastern wisdom and Western science realize the ultimate reality is that everything is inter-related and inter-connected as an absolute unity of oneness (this is actually the ultimate Gestalt principle!).

Apply this illusion management to archery or a shooting a weapon to save life. In archery, the person’s stance, fingers, bow, string, arrow, eyes, space to the target and the bullseye all blend together when the precise letting go of the pulled arrow is not known to the archer. This is the same as pulling the trigger in a righteous shooting of a suspect presenting known danger to life. And, a diver has to become one with the water to get a perfect 10 score.


It seems we must have the hope to believe that we can be in control of our actions to get certain results if we choose to, because otherwise, there is no responsibility or accountability in our society or world and that is entirely unthinkable. But we have a serious problem here in our criminal justice system and professional sports pay scales, based on outcomes being assigned according to the assumed responsibility and accountability, which solid research on free will is gradually questioning.

The safest way for athletes and police offices to manage the illusion of free will, is focus less on the past and future and more on the present, to become more aware of all the things that are influencing a sports game or law enforcement incident outcome to manage those things that are manageable and letting go of the rest.

Consider how these five illusions may be holding back your potential performance. Then begin to think and act in ways that will enable you to deal with reality the way it is apart from your faulty memory and perceptual processes, which only fall prey to the illusions.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice-President for Employee Relations for Puget Sound Security, Inc. in Bellevue, WA, along with his hobbies in being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living in the scenic mountains and rivers of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, “You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too” (Executive Excellence), “The Bow-Wow Secrets” (Wisdom Tree), and “Do What Matters Most” and “P” Point Management” (Atlantic Book Publishers), “Reality Repair” (Global Vision Press), and Reality Repair Rx (Authorsden). Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 454-5011 or