WON Landing Page March 2022

Developing a divergent mindset

Sara Ahrens’ Offbeat: Sara shares her thoughts on how to be divergent when it comes to self defense.


How we process the world around us preprograms our responses to spontaneous, violent attacks. In life, there are 2 categories of thinkers — convergent and divergent. Convergent thinkers are those who believe that every problem has a predetermined number of potential solutions. It is an inward method of thinking and problem solving. A divergent mindset, on the other hand, is an outward method of resolving an issue. It is an approach to a problem that investigates the surrounding world, identifying limitless possibilities and solutions. It employs the creative side of our minds, because we can draw conclusions and make connections that may not be obvious to others.

If we conclude that the only response to a life-or-death situation is with a gun, then we impose limits and jeopardize chances for survival. Without identifying a “Plan B” we will resort to inaction if our “Plan A” fails. We need to focus on the goal, which is to stop the attack any way we can, not focusing on the tool. Developing a divergent response is easily accomplished.


SaraAhrens_Bridge_1 Divergent Mindset

Photo courtesy of Mike Ahrens


Developing a divergent mindset

Developing divergent thinking in preparation for a violent encounter requires us to first develop situational awareness. As a retired police officer, I constantly practiced this mental exercise. We were taught in the academy to identify potential weapons in the environment that could be used to harm us. Many years after my academy training, I realized that this identification isn’t just useful for preventing a suspect from accessing and using weapons against me, it also is useful in identifying weapons I could use against the suspect if, God forbid, I faced a malfunction or am unable to access my intended tools.


Divergent thinking in critical situations

To develop my divergent thinking I made a habit of taking mental notes upon arriving on-scene at every call. I noted my surroundings and all accessible objects. When we begin to look at our surroundings with this lens, we begin to realize how blind we’ve been. At first, we easily identify potentially harmful objects like a rock,  shovel or a bottle. But, true awareness is measured by identifying every object within an environment, and then identifying the tactical advantage those objects provide.

Consider the photo taken at a convenience store. If you are making a delivery and are confronted by a suspect, what are your potential environmental tools? The use-of-force options change, depending on your location and the location of the suspect. What I see when I study this picture is an endless supply of distraction and self-defense objects.




Below is my list, which is not all-inclusive. 

  1. Dolly — This can be used as a barrier, a distraction tool when shoved at the suspect, or a use-of-force tool (if it can be lifted and swung).
  2. Van door — Depending on the circumstances it is possible to slam the door open or closed into the suspect.
  3. Pavement/parking block — In a ground fight, the pavement and hard surfaces are useful, blunt-force objects.
  4. Dirt or broken glass — The existence of dirt or glass isn’t necessarily obvious in the photo, but having been a bike officer in this area, you can trust me that it’s there … I’ve lost a few tires! Also, this parking lot overflowed with traffic during the filming of “The Shooting Gallery’s” episode Ride Along with Sara when beer bottles were launched at my squad car. Picking up a handful of glass or dirt and throwing it into your aggressor’s eyes is an often overlooked, but very effective use-of-force tool. Eighty percent of information processing occurs through the sense of sight. If we cripple that sense, we win the advantage. In addition, having had many physical fights on glass, I don’t fear using it to my advantage. I’ll headpin someone into glass or gravel, if the situation dictates. It’s effective pain compliance.
  5. Glass windows/brick walls — In a struggle, shoving someone through glass or into a brick wall is an effective stunning technique and may provide edged weapon access.
  6. The van — If I am at deadly force and behind my wheel of my car I will drive away if I can. If not, I already recognize that my car may be the best weapon I have.
  7. Bucket (near front door) — Anything that is not nailed down is subject to being transformed into a weapon. It can be swung or thrown at an offender.



Sara is shown here, working undercover. Photo courtesy of The Shooting Gallery


My list doesn’t begin to address what exists inside the store that is accessible, nor items I have on my person. We possess everyday objects that were never intended for use as self-defense tools, but certainly can be. Consider the Stiletto Killer trial going on now — this is a perfect example. The goal with developing a divergent mindset in regard to self-defense is to identify and use the objects immediately available within the environment to quickly gain a tactical advantage.

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