Do You Need a Programmed Mind?

by mentalcoach on July 25, 2012

Shooting is a really simple game.

All you have to do is two things. One, learn how to break a target or pair or targets. Next, duplicate number one. One of the reasons sporting clays is such an attraction to shooters these days is that there are an infinite number of target presentation possibilities. But, one of the primary frustrations to shooters today is that once they have a target down they cannot always duplicate the shot in competition. Today we are going to look at one way to improve the probability that if you hit the first pair that you will be able to duplicate the hitting of the following pairs. I am suggesting that you consider programming what you think about and run that program on every pair.

The mind is like a computer.

It can be programmed to duplicate thoughts. Thoughts control actions and actions break targets. When you have developed a move that breaks a target with reliable consistency Wendell Cherry calls this “adding a presentation to your target library”. I am suggesting that hitting targets is a three step process. Step One is to recognize that the target presentation given you in the show pair on a station is the same or similar to a known presentation in your target library. Step Two is to run a preprogrammed series of conscious thoughts that will alert your subconscious mind that a given move is about to occur. And Step Three, the conscious mind needs to hand the action over to the subconscious mind to cause your muscle memory system to move the gun is such a manner that your gun body system is in position to break the target when the trigger is activated. What started out as a really simple game just became more complex. I believe that running a defined mental program is one key to making step two happen for you every time. First we will look at what happens if we do not have a defined mental program and then we will discuss what makes a good mental program.

 An Example

Jim is a B level shooter. He has completed the first two pair of a five-pair station, hitting the first pair cleanly and missing both of the second pair. Jim quickly determines the cause of his failure on the second pair. He called for the target too quickly prior to allowing his eyes to settle. He did not get a good look at the first target initially and had to shoot it late causing him to not only miss the first target but to be out of position to hit the second. Jim chooses to make the correction on the next pair but soon realizes that if allowing his eyes to settle is something that he should do on every pair then he needs to find a way to program that into his thinking process. Jim’s shooting partner Jerry has a different problem. Every time he misses a target he tends to try hard not to miss the next pair often repeating a miss due to over-trying. Another version of the same problem occurs when we count the score or think about outcome between shots. When either of these things happen Jerry chooses to change his mental thoughts based on his previous performance. There is no chance for mental consistency when doing this.

Running A Mental Program

Both of these problems could have been eliminated or at least lessened by running a mental program prior to calling for the target. A mental program is a planned practiced sequence of thoughts repeated just prior to calling for the target. These thoughts may be words, pictures, feelings and even sounds but they should meet a set of criteria to be effective.

Criteria for a good mental program:

  1. First, they should hold the shooter’s focus thereby eliminating the chance for stray thoughts to distract the shooter. The conscious mind can only think on one thing at a time. If we can control these thoughts we eliminate the chance for distraction. Shooters that choose to “just wing it” leave themselves open to harmful thoughts occurring at just the wrong time.
  2. Second the mental program should enhance the chance for the shots to be as subconscious as possible. The Conscious mind is limited in its effectiveness and often gets in the way of the subconscious. Shooters sometimes over-think a shot causing the conscious mind to be playing the game when it should be on the bench. One of the primary purposes of the mental program is to quite the left brain allowing the right brain to shoot the shot. It is the right brain that can best handle hand to eye coordination and the judging of speed. The left brain is better at numbers, strategy and analysis. These things have already been accomplished prior to the shooter entering the station. The less we are thinking in the cage the greater the chance for subconscious takeover of the shot. The key is to become simple minded at this time. Try to slow down the thinking and move the conscious mind toward simplicity. If you are simple minded to start with and rarely multi-task you should have an advantage here. Forest Gump would have been great at running a mental program. By the way, some of the brightest people are simple minded most of the time. I believe that anyone can accomplish this type of thinking but for some it will take more time and effort to do it consistently.
  3. Next the mental program should be planned for and practiced by the shooter prior to the event. Shooters who try to discover these thoughts while in the competition often lose confidence and have a feeling of being lost with nothing to trust. Finding a program that works for you is a very personal thing. We find that shooters mental programs vary greatly from shooter to shooter. Some shooters hear words as if they are talking to themselves while others rehearse the move to the target and do not hear anything at all. Some shooters find that concepts that are not at all related to the shot work best in allowing the subconscious to take over. When they think too much about the technique of shooting a certain way the conscious mind is stimulated rather than subdued.
  4. Finally, the program needs to move the shooter toward decisiveness but stop just short of over-trying. If the shooter is less than decisive he tends to be in doubt about the shot. The best shooters are rarely doubtful. Doubt causes you to hesitate and he who hesitates is lost for sure on the course.

So how do you start to find your mental program? I suggest you try to recall what you were thinking about the last time you shot well. Are there any patterns that you can discern? Beginning with thoughts that you have some positive history with is the best way to start. Once you have something, work it out in practice before you try is out in a competition and use it long enough to truly know if it works or doesn’t work before you consider abandoning it.

Shooting can be a simple game if you don’t complicate it any more than you need to.

Stick to a Mental Checklist

by mentalcoach on July 11, 2012

For the past two months I have seen a reoccurring issue that keeps coming up with a lot of my students.  The common issue is not sticking with a mental checklist in the preload.  This is something that becomes lost when the individual gets ahead of themselves in the task at hand.  When looking at the anticipation phase of a task, it is important to remember that there are always two parts to this phase.  First is the preload, this is when you breakdown your strategy and commit to the decision that is being made.  Second is the mental program, the last thoughts to occupy the conscious mind before the action.  It is in the strategy part of the preload that the mental checklist must be adhered to.

When I was competing in rifle shooting, it was important to remember my checklist.  The order of this mental checklist was important to follow because if I got ahead of myself I would put myself in a position to make a critical error, resulting in a poor shot.

My checklist had three parts to it.

  1. First: Check the wind.  I would always focus on where the direction of the wind was coming from.  I didn’t care where it went.  I was always looking where is was coming from.  So if the wind was coming from right to left I would look at the wind flags 10 to 15 points to the right of me.  This gave me a good indication of how the wind was going to effect my shot.
  2. Second:  Make a decision on how to execute the shot.  I had to decide if I needed to hold off, shoot a normal center shot, or to let the sights settle in the middle of the target and then break the shot toward the wind
  3. Third:  I had to mentally rehearse the shot I choose to shoot.  The preload sets up the mental program and if I didn’t give myself a solid mental rehearsal of what I wanted to execute I would often have bad shots.  The better the mental rehearsal, the better the shots.

The following is an example.

I load the rifle and look up wind to see what the wind flags were doing (sometimes I would have to use other wind indicators, like trees, high grass and mirage).  I decided that the wind was a full value wind at 3:00.  This means that the wind was blowing hard from right to left.  I always like to settle the rifle in the center and then move toward 4:00 and break the shot into the wind.  This was how I was going to shoot this shot.  I then mentally rehearsed how the shot would feel and look before going into the mental program. This mental checklist allows the athlete to make the best decision.  If you don’t follow a checklist you risk getting ahead of yourself and this often leads to a poor result.

Written by Troy Bassham – info@mentalmanagement.com

How to Develop a Mental Game

June 27, 2012

What percentage of your success is mental? I’ve asked this question to countless champions in my career as both an elite competitor and as a coach.  Most say that the mental game is 90% mental or higher.  If you agree, are you spending 90% of your time, money and effort on your mental game?  No?  […]

Read the full article →

Don’t Keep a Diary – Keep a Performance Journal

June 19, 2012

3 Reasons to Keep a Journal Most of us take a lesson from a teaching pro at some time in our life and we are all self-coached every time we play or practice. Has this ever happened to you? Your golf pro asks you “How have you been playing?” and you say something like “OK, […]

Read the full article →

Understanding Pressure

June 19, 2012

“How can I avoid the pressure that I feel when competing?” This question or something like it comes up a lot from shooters. In fact, I might have asked that same question early in my career. We are conditioned by the commonly held idea that pressure is a bad thing. If it’s bad then we […]

Read the full article →