Man stands in an empty ball field at home plate. It’s night, half a moon, maybe less. A few clouds scud across the sky. A dull glow on the horizon, some distant city. Enough light to see, but barely. The wind moans through the batting cages. Lonely.
I wrote this up for a shooting forum, all of it applies beyond work on the range. These techniques are used by top tier performers around the world. In fact, every single professional performer uses all of these. They may call them different names but “the big 4” (Visualization, Self Talk, Goal Setting, Arousal Control) are unavoidable if you want to become the best. For the rest of us mortals, they help us become a whole lot better and they’re free.
Visualization: Lots of research has been done on this, basically your body doesn’t know the difference between what you visualize and what you do. Whether or not you have time for the range you almost always have time to visualize. The more aspects you can include the better. What it looks like, (your point of view, what you look like from another’s point of view), what it feels like from grip to stance, what it sounds like with ears on, what it smells like (smell is a direct connection to your lizard brain) and even what it tastes like will all build your training environment and allow you to practice the perfect shot or run.
Self Talk: Pros talk to themselves, from Tiger Woods to elite military shooters. What they say focuses on the positive (nice shot, keep going, hands steady, eyes clear) and NOT what they’re missing (darn it, missed that one, oh well, need to speed up etc). The more “I can do this” and “I’ve got this” you use the more it’ll become true for you. It’s not magic, it just makes the hard work you put in that much more effective.
Goal Setting: From very short term (hit this next shot) to very long term (Grand Master in 5 years) you MUST have goals if you’re going to make measurable progression. If you’re serious you’ll write them out enough times that they become burned into your brain.
Arousal Control: This is what takes a bi-athletes heart rate from rockin’ and rollin’ down to shooting between heartbeats. Completely in the head. You can improve this with awareness, which must be constantly practiced. Read Enos. For wazoo out there techniques check out John Alexander and The Warrior’s Edge. No longer in print that I’m aware of, usually you have to wait on Amazon for a used one to show up. One technique that is super effective is sometimes called 4–4-4: take 4 seconds to inhale, 4 seconds to exhale, and do that for 4 minutes (or as short/long as you have.) It encourages the brain to calm down and simulate relaxation patterns. Good to do if you have a time where you know you usually “freak out.” Like before you shoot a match.
These are the basics. Tons of books have been written about this, if any of you would like to work on your mental game post up what you’ve got and we’ll make it helpful to the whole forum. Used to teach this stuff to fired up young dudes, am happy to use that experience to help you.
****, lots of folks start off super relaxed and then they fire that first shot and events spiral out of control, or at least beyond your conscious awareness, and that’s the issue. Awareness of your mental state is critical to controlling what you’re doing, whether you’re shooting or talking to your spouse or running a hard race. You’re heading in the right direction with more practice and experience. When you do practice, practice awareness.
One thing you can do is try using “dots”. You can buy a sheet of little dot stickers of whatever color catches your attention at OfficeMax or OfficeDepot etc. Paste those around the house (above sink, in bathroom, by the bed, at the front door) and wherever else you spend lots of time (steering wheel, desk at work etc.)
Every time you see that dot, just pay attention to what you’re thinking, to your awareness. This is practice, and it’s not restricted to the range. When you do this you’re building a habit of awareness that will have implications well beyond your shooting game.
Now, when you’re at the range you can run a few drills of awareness, shooting as fast as you can for a mag to amp you up and then doing a SUPER SLOW mag change and bringing your awareness back. You can also color a dot onto your hands where you can see it when you bring your gun up to bear, just something to remind you to stay aware.
I’d wish you good luck, but I tend to believe that folks who work hard get the luckiest, so good work!
****, these techniques are commonly used by top tier Formula One racers. It’s funny, you’d be hard pressed to find top competitors or performers anywhere in any discipline who don’t use the big four or some variant of them. They work so well and are so natural in the evolution of high level activity that once you know what they are and look for them you’ll find them *everywhere.*
I used to race (running) and would specifically use goal setting to plan out how to run. I broke the race up into 4 quarters and called them horse, boat, heart, and home. The horse, or first quarter, I viewed as if I was a jockey and riding a super powerful horse, one that I’d have to pull back on the reins a bit in the beginning so I didn’t blow it out. It was a reminder to me to pull back on my pace a little, because almost every pace feels good in the first quarter, even the one that will murder you. The more experienced you get as a runner the more you realize that no one wins a race in the first quarter, but lots of people will run that as if it’s the most important one.
The boat quarter I thought about the way you drive a boat, especially one with a slipping throttle; you know, you can put it at full speed but especially in anything other than glassy conditions it’ll slip back down a few notches if you’re not constantly and firmly tapping that throttle forward. That idea reminded me to keep checking my speed as I ran, to maintain the solid pace I’d set in the first quarter.
The heart, or third, quarter was always my favorite. I saw a military recruiting video once where they showed a bunch of guys running on a beach, obviously a hot day and a hell of a run. As they went along you could see the pain and sweat and struggle in each of them, and the narrator read out a line I’ll never forget: “There’s nothing quite like running to make a man reach deep down inside himself and see what he’s made of.” That’s what the heart quarter was for me, the time to reach down deep and hold the pace I’d already set. For me, the third quarter is where a race is won. It’s where everybody wants to give up, it’s usually in a place where the fans don’t go so nobody’s watching you, and racers are far enough away from the finish line that they figure “a little rest from the pace” is OK. It’s not, not if you want to win, and if you want to win you’ve got to set goals.
The fourth quarter is where they make movies, it’s the one where you’re running home. While physically it’s the hardest quarter because you’ve already expended so much effort, mentally it can be the easiest; you’re close to the finish, you usually start to hear the roar of the crowd, and you know that even if you charge and blow yourself out you’ll be done soon.
Those four quarters are super helpful in physically demanding races, and it’s a good concept to think about and use when you’re shooting your various stages. Is there anything like it that you use?
This from a former client of Lee’s:
A fellow pilot and friend Robert Gannon just finished a 10-year exploration of the world in his Cessna 182, crossing major oceans. What he says is true:
“The one thing I have observed [about flying a private airplane around the world twice over a 10 year period] is that if you will keep stepping forward and keep moving toward what you wish to do, you’ll get up to that door that everyone said you couldn’t get through. You knock and it will be open and someone will say ‘Come on in, no one ever comes here.’
Unselfishness is the bedrock of righteous living. One must be unselfish before understanding and applying impeccability, stoicism, breathing and smell, asceticism, finite time, building blocks, and a common thread.