The Big Four

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?

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