Have You Gone Mental?
How Our Belief System Drives Everything We Do
By David T. Dobson, MBA
Sun Tzu, in his monumental work, The Art of War, tells us that we defeat our enemy in our mind before we meet him on the battlefield. And so our belief system dictates how we will deal with our lives in general, whether afflicted with disease, a business challenge, interpersonal issue, or anything else, and this certainly goes for Skeet, Trap or Sporting Clays competition. In short, our belief system drives everything we do. If we think we are not going to shoot well, we won’t. If we think, “it is like us to shoot well”, we will, and if we think we deserve to be successful in our lives, we will do the things necessary to get there. It is the modification of our belief system which allows us to get to the next level of success.
Self-fulfilling prophecy is not a new concept. Our five senses feed this belief system and influence who we are, who we are not, and whom we wish to become. We get bombarded as children growing up about what we can or cannot do, say, accomplish, etc., and then we spend a lifetime reprogramming so as to overcome all of this earlier negativity. As adults, we continue to carry all of the emotional baggage we’ve acquired along the way, including our self-image, and it can be our best friend or worst enemy. It is there when we go to work, in our relationships, and it is definitely there when we step onto the shooting pad. We can either be gripped in the fear of failure (self-doubt), or the quiet confidence that we have prepared ourselves for whatever mission awaits us. If we believe victory is ours because we have trained hard, perfected our techniques, and convinced ourselves that we should win, and not only that, we expect to win, then it shall be so. We not only perpetuate this attitude intellectually, but we embrace it emotionally, and it is only after we accept something emotionally that it becomes a permanent part of our belief system.
How many times have we all stepped onto the shooting station during a competition, only to be paid a visit by those little devils, the Clay Demons? You know, those little imaginary, unwanted, party-crashing characters of doubt that always seem to show up when they are least expected? You begin to feel their presence as you load your shells, the competition pressure grabbing a hold of you, and their little voices spewing forth venomous suggestions like, “Oh, you always struggle with that one; Uh oh, the wind is kicking, better be careful (please don’t!); Is my form good? Should have practiced this one more. Does my gun fit (too late now!)? I really need to shoot well in order to win today (kiss of death, this one!); Are my hold points correct? Oops, I think I drank too much coffee! (Uh oh!)”. A meltdown is coming as all of those little Harpies from Greek mythology are perched upon your shoulder tormenting you, and then you call “PULL”, only to hear those infamous words, “LOST!”. Here it comes: the frustration, irritation and feeling of failure, followed by an imaginary trip to the tool shed in order to find the right gizmo to shred that favorite shotgun of yours that is still in your hands! Somebody call a Priest because you are now in sorry need of an exorcism! The Harpies are laughing and dancing on your shoulders, and YOU feel flushed with emotion……..STOP! Get a grip! BREATHE! Your brain is screaming………Now what?!
The good news is that this element to “choke” is entirely fixable! How, you say? Simple – reprogramming. You need to go “mental” and modify your belief system by taking out the trash and truly believing it is like you to be successful. You need to develop a positive mindset and winning attitude! If you modify your belief system that you ARE a Champion in everything you do, you will become that person – self-fulfilling prophecy. We all know it’s not easy, and there is no substitute for hard work. It takes commitment, effort and an iron will, as well as a good action plan to get there.
Lanny Bassham, Olympic Gold Medallist, mental coach extroidinaire and founder of Mental Management Systems, Inc. (www.mentalmanagement.com) has done extensive research into this whole belief system business as it applies to competition. In his book, With Winning In Mind, required reading for all of our Students, he keeps it simple and to the point. How does this apply to us as competitive shooters? Simple, it gives us a process – blueprint if you will - through which we can manage our mental approach to shooting successfully under pressure (and everything else!).
How does this work? According to the research, the conscious mind is only 10% of our brain function – thought, and the subconscious mind is 90% of the rest of what we do -- walking, eating, etc. It is within the subconscious mind wherein all of our skills reside, including our shooting fundamentals. We practice our mechanics to perfection in order that our subconscious can execute them flawlessly and effortlessly at the moment of truth. What we suggest to our conscious mind, our subconscious brain will execute. The subconscious mind is THE perfect Marine, and it follows orders to a “T”, so give it the correct order, and it will do it for you – literally, the power of suggestion gets executed in the subconscious.
So now you say, “O.K., Dave, I get it, and I am happy to do all of that stuff, but what can I do to keep those demons at bay once I get on that station – you know, keep my mind settled down? Let’s just say that I change my belief system like I am supposed to (ultra positive outlook, etc.), get the fundamentals rockin’, expect to win, it is like me to shoot great, run a 100 straight and all that -- now what?” Simple. Now you need to perfect and run a Mental Program (thank you, Lanny Bassham!) on every shot. What’s this you say? You heard me – run a Mental Program. It is a four to five second (maximum) routine embedded in your Shot Plan (you know, your overall strategy for breaking those targets!). It gives the conscious mind something to do while the subconscious mind is free to execute and shoot the target. Let’s put this concept into action.
Once you have identified your Break Point(s), established Hold Points, both gun and visual (Lanny Bassham calls this the pre-load sequence), you are ready to run your short Mental Program (MP):
You initiate your MP by dropping your shell(s) into your gun, relaxing while you briefly visualize the shot, then “switch off”, mount/assemble to your Break Point, go back to your Muzzle Hold Point, eyes to the Visual Hold Point (VHP or Focal Point) in “soft focus”, then give yourself a Mental Cue (sometimes called a Mental Trigger – occupies the conscious mind so that the subconscious mind can execute) – i.e. HARD FOCUS; Call PULL and release to allow your subconscious mind to successfully shoot the target. Magic happens as you feast on the smoked target. If you happen to miss, hit the delete button, just like on your computer. Keep things positive! Lanny Bassham has a great expression for this process: “FEAST on the hits, and FORGET the misses”. Uh, guys, be careful how you say this around your wives……..!
In short, consciously letting go (of the fear of failure) gives control to the subconscious so that it can shoot the target – instinctive shooting. The mental cue (or mental trigger) ties up the conscious mind (which is only capable of ONE thought at a time) so that it cannot interfere with the shot process (subconscious). Your MP routine should be no more than four to five seconds – we only have so much concentration in a bottle! Running a MP on every target ensures success in keeping your focus on the task at hand – shooting the target and staying in the present. Once mastered, it becomes an integral part of your routine, but be realistic, it takes time and practice to make it a habit! Allow yourself time to be successful, as the positive results will reinforce your belief system, and your scores will improve. Be process-focused (shooting the target), not outcome-focused (winning the tournament). When you step onto the shooting station, the ONLY thing you should be thinking about is running your Mental Program. Stick to the plan, work it, trust it, revel in its rewards of consistently smoked targets, and BELIEVE IN YOUSELF! Be your own self-fulfilling prophecy and (shooting) success story! There is no elevator to the top of your game, only the stairs. Find a good coach, and remember, the journey (to success) IS the destination, so enjoy the ride!
David T. Dobson is a NSCA Level III and NSSA Level III Certified Instructor and lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. He is President & CEO of Dobson & Associates, Inc., as well as the founder of Dobson Performance Shooting School (www.daviddobson.com), and can be reached at: (904) 285-9500, or via Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.