The last article “Prepping the Trigger” helped you practice making your shots hit where you wanted them by teaching you how our body works and how our shooting is affected by that knowledge.  In keeping with the intent of these articles aimed at teaching some of the proper techniques for competitive shooting and some of the “why” behind it, this second article will cover the mental focus or better put, how we mentally focus on using our muscles.  Using Our Reptilian Brain – Just Do it.

As in the previous article, I want to provide you examples of how to shoot better but to do so I believe it is helpful to understand how our bodies, or in this case, our brain works and it’s affects on how we shoot.  Some people refer to this type of thinking as a form of Zen.  I am not going to be that progressive in this article.  I have studied, trained and taught this form of mental focus in sports for over 30 years.  My main sport has been tennis and still is to this day.  You have seen this Quote everyday in sports ads that say, “Just Do It”.  This saying is correct, but easier said than done for most of us.  Ever hear someone say or even yourself mumble after missing a pool shot, “just too much green on the table” yet on a hard tight shot you make the shot?  Well, in essence you “Just Did It”.  This is applicable to most all sports, pool, tennis, golf, baseball or football and yes, even shooting.  So I will use some sports related examples with life events and compare them to what is going on mentally with you, consciously and subconsciously.  Once you grasp the concept, you can then start to learn and apply it to your shooting or any other sport for that matter. This is a simple concept once you understand it, but to explain it fully takes a lot of discussion.  For the main part of this article I will make it condensed to cover the information and then offer a more detailed write up for training and competition that you can access if you wish to read more and learn. (There will be a link to a more detailed discussion on this subject for further learning at the end of this discussion)

As the title suggests, I am talking about how our brain works.  I am not going to dissect our brain and you can do online research on the subject.  It has been talked about in many sports books for decades now.  For me, “The Inner Game of Tennis” by Tim Gallwey was my first introduction decades ago.  More recently in my reading of “The Practical Shooter” by Brian Enos which some of you may have read.  In college at Texas A&M it was taught in our physical education classes.  Scientifically we are talking about the “Reptilian” (R-complex) part of our brain versus the other two areas of our brain, the Cortex (Neo) and the Limbic.  Collectively these are the Triune brain.  I will list some articles that you can read for more on the subject but not in detail here.  Just understand the Reptilian part of our brain controls our muscles and the other two are the higher functioning parts of the brain for thinking and emotion and provides information to the Reptilian as well as others forms of input.  However the Reptilian is a decision maker and not the fine point comparison thinker of the other two parts of our brain.  This is an important distinction in the rest of this article.  For ease of writing I will refer to the Reptilian part of the brain as our lower brain due to where it is located and its simple structure.  The Cortex and Limbic together as our upper brain since they are located above the Reptilian brain and they are considered more advanced.  So, bare with me while I setup the basis of this article which I will provide the ground work information with examples matching the brain and body reactions.  The final goal is to understand how to train and translate the training to competition with the correct approach to how we think with our Reptilian Brain.

So let’s jump into some examples of how we work and think and then how that relates to shooting. OK, first a common every day event we all have done or seen.  Driving down the highway next to the retaining wall and we feel like we are drifting into the wall.  We fight it and correct it but then we drift again.  Why?  Well, consciously we tell ourselves we want to go straight and we worry about hitting the wall.  We aren’t saying I want to drive straight ahead down the road.  Consciously we are looking at the wall trying to avoid it.  It (the wall) is the only thing on our CONSCIOUS MIND.  The Reptilian part of our brain is not real bright.  It is the decision maker for our muscles but it is not the “THINKER” here.  We know we want to drive straight consciously but that information must pass through the Reptilian brain to get to our muscles.  The information gets filtered.  If we let the subconscious thoughts happen then the lower brain function takes over more control.  Now the Reptilian brain only knows you keep looking at the wall and you are driving.  You, or more correctly, the Reptilian lower brain controls your hand muscles.  So looking at wall, the Reptilian brain believes you must want to drive to the wall and straight for that matter.  You subconsciously move your hands to turn into the wall.  WHOA, Conscious brain says NO.  You correct and look even harder at that wall to keep from hitting it.  What you should be looking at is straight ahead down the road.  Then the Reptilian brain would think that is where you want to go and that would satisfy the “THINKING” upper brains.  So why don’t you “Just Do It”?  Well, then you, (your conscious brain), would have to TRUST you won’t hit the wall if you look straight ahead.

You have all the knowledge of how to stay straight ahead but you don’t trust yourself that it will work.  So you look over to the wall to make sure you don’t hit it and then it starts all over again.  This trust that is needed is what you really need to do and is a part of the conscious upper brain.  You think about it, but you worry about it and you obsess over it.  You harbor all these thoughts about what you are afraid will happen because you don’t trust that if I just look forward, the wall will not be a problem.  So if you aren’t looking at the wall to make sure you don’t hit it you have to TRUST you won’t hit it if you don’t look at it.  So the conflict is where do I look and you choose the wall and so the muscle controller moves you to the wall.  This will be covered in more detail in training in the article.

So how does this apply to sports?  Even shooting?  Well first some sports examples, and for me in tennis it is hitting the ball where I want it.  However, most times I keep telling myself where I DON’T want to hit the ball.  I want it to go into the left corner inside the court, but I keep hitting the ball long over the fence.  So I tell myself, consciously, don’t hit the ball over the back fence.  Well, next shot I hit the ball into the net.  Did I satisfy what I wanted?  Well, consciously I MEANT not over the back fence but over the net, into the left corner and not near the opponent.  Lot of instructions and things to decide and all this babble going on in my head etc, so the Reptilian filters out all the jabber and boils it down to a simple one muscle command that meets the most important thought I JUST HAD, not over the fence.  The ball goes into the net and that satisfies the not over the fence command.  The Reptilian brain is happy, your other two brain parts, the upper brain, conscious level, is mad, you (OK, I mean me) throws the racket, yells obscenities and storm back to the base line and berate myself for a bad shot.  Well that really helped things out didn’t it?  Now my racket is broken, I lost the point, I get a warning from the referee and things don’t go well.

Let’s put this on the shooting range.  I am coming out of cover and draw my sights onto my first target.  It may be an open target with a non-threat right next to it or maybe my worst enemy, hard cover zebra striped threat and I can only shoot for 0 points down in the center area.  As in the driving example, I see the black painted armor area that I want to avoid and not hit it like I have done before.  I want to hit the tan center area but I am afraid of hitting the black armor area – AGAIN!  I tell myself, as in the tennis example, don’t hit the black armor.  What I meant was shoot into the tan area, keep it centered top and bottom for a zero shot, but I know if I shoot a little low like I always do it will be a 1 down point but better than shooting that black armor area for 5 points down, oh and make sure you shoot it fast so I get a good score.  The lower brain boiled down my babbling thoughts and said, he is looking and thinking about the black armor area. That must be where he wants to shoot, and so I do.  I fire and hit the black armor area.  I was thinking only about the Black Armor area and not the center of the Tan part of the target.  Let’s see, I throw my empty magazine and the spring shoots out into the shell casing trap, I storm back to the back area to reload my other empty magazine, I yell bad things at myself, others talk to me about it and things don’t go well.  Sound familiar?

All three examples, driving next to the wall, hitting the tennis ball long and shooting the black armored area involved my conscious mind talking to me and giving instructions of what NOT to do.  Never did I say or think to myself in a short clear comment what I really wanted.  I did not TRUST my muscles to do what they need to do since they are not controlled by ME (Conscious two brains).  I gave all these instructions to the dumb Reptilian brain who does know how to control all my muscles, and it did exactly what it thought I wanted.  This is where the progress is to be made, how to give the right instructions to that part of your brain and then TRUST it to JUST DO IT.  Your lower brain, Reptilian,  will control your muscles to reach the goal you wanted as outlined in your upper conscious brain provided you give it the right instructions.

OK, so what do we need to do so we can get our muscles to do the right thing?  The short answer for this article is to understand we have three main sections to our thinking processes.  Two are for emotions and higher level problem solving.  The third one, the R-complex (Reptilian) lower brain is the one that controls the muscles in response to different inputs.  These inputs come from all forms of stimulus such as what we see, feel in pressure on hands and feet, hearing and past experience.  We also input from the higher level brains what we want but they (upper brains) also try to input how to do things when really they do not know how to control the muscles.  It is a fine line and that is something we have to develop.  It is the goal to learn how to, say it all together, JUST DO IT.  I will go into greater detail in the follow up article for those interested.

Learn to think the about the final goal of what you want to achieve.  In shooting, for me as an example, when I shoot a threat target with the Non-Threat right next to it, I don’t even see the Non-threat.  When the buzzer goes off they do not exist to me.  So my mental focus is aim at the threat target center, squeeze my shot with good trigger prep (I hope) and go.  But for me, if it has the black armor, then my brain and emotions go crazy.  I start to worry about hitting the armor.  Now my conscious brain is thinking BLACK PAINTED area.  I want the tan area but I am sending the wrong thought to the Reptilian brain that has to figure out what to do with my muscles.  Why do I do it?  Just not managing and practicing my thoughts.  When you come up to the stage, stand there and look at each target and imagine only the part you want to shoot.  Forget the Non-threat and the black armor.  Forget missing the head shot.  Concentrate only on what you want to shoot.  Make it your LAST THOUGHT!  Then when the buzzer goes off that is the last thing your muscle controller remembers, no decisions to make, nothing to sort or separate, it just does what it needs within its training skill set to do what you thought.  Nothing more, Nothing less. Will you hit the target right?  I don’t know, it depends if you slap that trigger, did you have a good support hand grip, did you over squeeze with the little fingers on your strong hand?  Did you over shoot your transition?  The point is, don’t complicate your mind with worrying about the wrong thing.  All you can do is perform the best with what you have when you ARRIVED at the match.  You aren’t going to magically be a better shooter when you get there because you thought of something to do to shoot better.  But you can PREVENT subtracting from your ability by not interfering with your muscles with the wrong part of your brain.

First, your level of shooting ability is predicated on you already having whatever skill you have such as the Trigger Prep discussed last month.  You will have a grip you use or how well you lean around cover at some skill level.  Same thing in any other sport, you have whatever skill you have and it can be improved, but you need to let the maximum ability you have today shine now.  So learning to set your mind up to give the correct signals is what you need to practice to LET the Reptilian lower brain do its best for you.  And this is the secret to learning to improve your skill sets faster as well.  This will be covered in the extended article.

In summary, separate your thinking and reasoning thoughts from your actions.  Give yourself the correct goal you want to achieve and let go.  The upper brain functions to sort out what we want, how things are chosen and setup the goals to be reached for our lower brain to then execute.  The upper brain gives the direction and the lower brain performs the function.  Then the lower brain takes the direction and executes the muscles to achieve what the upper brain wants.  Communication is the key to almost all endeavors.  Learning how to communicate is the hard part.  Once we learn that skill, getting to our goals is a lot easier.  You still have to do the work, training and have the drive to reach those goals, but to achieve them you have to get the two parts of your brain to work together as a team.  Then focus your concentration on the one or two technical requirements such as getting a good sight picture and let the muscles do what they need to do without worrying about the outcome.

  1. Understand the GOAL you want to reach. i.e. TWO SHOTS to the HEAD.
  2. Think a short command that embodies that GOAL. e. HEAD SHOT
  3. Focus only on the thing you CAN impact. i.e. WATCH THE FRONT SIGHT.
  4. Let and don’t force or try to make it happen. e. LET GO
  5. JUST DO IT.
  6. Note the feeling you had after you have done this. i.e. REMEMBER THE FEELING

I hope learning a little about how we think and actually respond to our thoughts helps you to learn and control your thought processes and use them to make you better.  I have written a more detailed discussion on this subject if you want to learn more.  I encourage you to study this and apply it to your shooting skill sets.  I will go into how we learn and how to improve your learning skills so you can apply this knowledge to better practice, better competition and training ethics to lead to better scores.  And most important I want to repeat what Randy wrote in his last article.  It applies to all learning….. Remember……….practice doesn’t always make perfect, but it can make permanent.  Only perfect practice makes perfect.

This completes the short version:  

OK, I gave a quick discussion on the way we think and how it affects our muscles when doing most all sports and in shooting.  I tried to put in some short examples of what we do and why and then to apply it to our shooting.  Now I want to go into more depth of how we learn physical movement, how it shows up in our everyday life and how we can control it to our advantage when needed and prevent it from interfering with what we want to do.  But first we need to learn the background of our muscle control.  This is a bit long winded but unless you fully understand the subject, it will not be as useful.  So, bare with me as I take our learning skills from infancy to how we tailor our training regiments to match our own learning cycles for competition.

First let’s talk about what we do in our lives and get an understanding of the processes to do everyday things.  If you were to walk up to someone you don’t know and reach out to shake their hand, we instinctively put our hand out, open the palm and fingers, grasp the other persons hand and then close.  We don’t think about the muscles we use or how to move them.  It is an automatic motion.  Now, for many of us and I will single out men, if the person we are meeting is say bigger than we are and looks to be a big football player or lumberjack, then we expect a strong handshake.  We don’t think about what we are going to do, but we tend to make sure we grasp strongly and squeeze that extra bit.  Maybe brace the arm muscles for a hard handshake.  Then as small lady comes behind them, we immediately reach in a more dainty fashion, not as full a grip and we don’t squeeze as hard.  Our wrists and arm are not as stiff and locked either.  Did we think about all these muscles and how to do this?  No, we just did it.  Now, we learned to do this over time, past experience, our eyes saw them and maybe how they walked, we heard how the person talks and in a split second assembled an instruction to the Reptilian brain to shake the hand a certain way.  This did not come from the other two higher brain sections, it came from our everyday life brain that controls most of what we do every day.  It came from our lower brain.

The R-Complex brain was our first brain development and then the other two came later in human development.  The R-Complex, lower brain or Reptilian has remained with us since our first development.  Regardless of your beliefs in how man came about, this part of our brain exists in all vertebrate animals today from reptiles to humans.  Hence the less than scientific name.  But this part of our brain controls the how, when and why our muscles move.  Grab a hot pot and we drop it, fight or flight and quick thinking movements all come from this part of the brain.  As the other two developed, they took on other thinking functions, speech, emotions, math and physics.  They may initiate the thought I want to walk the dog today but the action has to go through the R-complex lower brain to get the legs to walk.  But this part does not make the detailed minute comparisons of “what if scenarios” and such like our upper brain.  It takes what it believes to be the goal and makes it happen.  Simple and direct which makes it fast to drop that hot pot.  No thinking or decisions, just drop it.  The Reptilian brain is the work horse.

So let’s start at the beginning and how the higher level or UPPER Brains (Neo cortex and Limbic) works in conjunction with the LOWER level brain, the Reptilian (R-complex) brain.  This is called the triune brain.  Now I have read and studied various teachings and thoughts on this subject and tried to study it mostly from the sports point of view since that is why I was interested.  So I am going to try and meld those things I have learned.  Besides the books listed above from Tim Gallwey and Brian Enos, other studies have been from sports such as skiing with Warren Miller and also from the sports classes at Texas A&M (Class ’74) as well as recent classes from the Gordon Carrell Shooting Academy.

When we are born, even before we are born we have a brain though not much learning has happened, or maybe it has.  We come out crying and guess what?.  we get a warm wrap, food, cleaned, held and feel good.  Well, we do it again and we get that again.  We have learned to get attention.  Now we can’t tell you I am hungry or just pooped in my diapers but I get your attention.  The lower brain got an input stimulus from our actions.  And it gets reinforced each time we do it.  Now as time goes on we want food or a diaper change but we don’t talk.  Mom and Dad have to figure it out, but along the way we start to cry different and move different and Mom and Dad figure out which is food and which is diaper.  We are learning but it is not the higher functions that are learning yet.

We get older and at some point we want to walk.  We see Mom and Dad walk but how?  We don’t talk and we don’t understand put one foot in front of the other.  So we wobble and fall, we stand up and fall and during all that we are registering pressure on our feet, balance in our ears, visual input from the eyes and oh yes, the hard plop when we fall down.  All of these inputs tell the lower brain what works and what does not.  We don’t judge it, we just try it again.  Our conscious brain is not in the mix much.  It does not even really understand.  The lower level R-complex brain is building a set of controls for our muscles to meet the goal to walk like Mom and Dad.  Eventually we are pulling down the drapes from the window heading to ride a bike.  Now at some point we are building the upper brain functions but not so much for muscles yet.  The main point is the muscle learning is not from the higher level functioning brain which does the thinking.  It is from the Reptilian, lower level R-complex brain.

So why do I care?  Well eventually we want to be the world’s best sports figure when we get older.  Ever go skiing for the first time and watch the little kids on their first day blow by you through your legs and turn and stop and move like they have done this all their life?  Well, in a way for them they have learned this way all their life, their short young life.  They don’t use the higher level brain to learn to do things yet.  They still learn like they always have, watch someone do it, try to duplicate it, feel pressure input from the feet, legs, knees, eyes etc.  No input from the higher level brain because right now it is not engaged all that much.  It is not influencing what we do much.  So the kids Just Do It and in a short time put together muscle control that meets their expectation.  End of story.  What have we done now that we are adults?  We learned if we fall it will hurt….learning stops there!  End of story.  Yup we got old and started telling that dumb lower level brain to slow down and ignore some of our thoughts to go fast down that hill.  I am not sure I want to fall.  My very smart big higher level brain knows better and knows how to do this and learn.   Right?  Not so much.  The little kid, he does not limit trying, and yes he falls some but he gets up and tries it again and learns from it.  Take away point, try to learn how to learn like a kid again.

At some point in time we got older and as we developed our higher level brain functions we also believed it drives how we do things.  How we hit a baseball, throw a football, play tennis or even shoot a gun.  We have read how to do it and all we need to do is follow the instructions.  We (higher level brain) know how to learn and do things.  Well, let me bring up some real life truths.  Another example from the real world.  Many of you, and I have been here, have had knee surgery.  Depending on the work that is done you may not be allowed to put pressure on the leg and walk for weeks or months.  Doctors told me once I can put weight on my leg they would help me learn to walk again.  I said, “I know how to walk!  Been doing it for 35 years, I don’t think I have forgotten.”  Well, comes the day to walk and my right leg knew what to do and my left leg looked like a drunk on a boat in high seas.  My lower brain had lost some of the memory of pressure, foot and ankle movement, knee bending and how they are worked in time and weight shift together.  I tried to make the left leg do what the right leg was doing and I learned very quickly, I (conscious higher level brain) did not know how to walk.  My lower level brain had done all that before and now it has forgotten.  It was then I understood why the doctors said, “We will re-teach you how to walk”.  They pushed and bent and moved my leg in a walking motion so my lower dumb Reptile brain could learn the “feeling” of walking again.  It took almost a year before my left leg moved like my right leg.  During this time I spent time reading and studying how we learn to move our muscles and all the medical and sports remedies.  It was then I understood in more detail and clarity the books I had read such as “The Inner Game of Tennis” and the studies from sporting training in college at Texas A&M.  Eventually I stopped TRYING to control my leg and foot and I LET my body learn how to control them.

OK, so I need to let my lower brain do the muscle learning and my upper brain needs to get out of the way.  So how do I do this?  You learn to understand the two separate brain functions in learning and executing what you want to do.  Let’s go back to the wall on the road, hitting the tennis ball and shooting the armored striped target.  I need to tell myself drive straight down the middle of the road and then look where I want to drive.  I need to tell myself, hit the ball in the corner and then do not try to do it, just watch the ball and let it happen.  I want to shoot the tan part of the target, tell myself that, look at the tan part and shoot while I concentrate on the sights.  Sounds simple until the TRUST part creeps in and your higher brain function tries to tune your muscles, which by the way, IT AIN’T GOT A CLUE WHAT TO DO!  So you interfere with the part of the brain that does know what to do and in the end your result is less than what you intended.  My learning to walk again was the same problem.

So you need to learn to trust to do what it is you want and let the chips fall where they may.  The problem is you will have a lot of mistakes and that is when judgment gets in the way.  That is a part of the higher brain levels, not the R-complex lower brain.  It sees the results, says yes or no and then goes on to change if needed or leave it alone.  Your upper thinking process should be no more than to say to yourself, that was what I wanted or not and leave it at that.  TRUST your lower brain will learn.  You can learn from mistakes just as fast as doing it right provided you LEARN how to deal with the results.  Don’t consciously be mad at yourself.  Just acknowledge the result and go from there.  This is especially true during practice.  It is PRACTICE!  Not the match.  Let yourself learn.  When in the real match, relax and let yourself do it.  TRUST yourself.  Do your routine looking at the target, buzzer goes off, let your muscles run the gun and you control only the instructions the SO gave you to do the course and your sight picture.

BREAK TIME

Let’s stop here, take a breath to understand what has been covered so far and do a summary of where we are which I used as the summary in the shortened article.  This is the essence of what we need to understand before we move onto more complex training.  We need to understand the two distinct levels of thinking.  The upper brain functions to sort out what we want, how things are chosen and setup the goals to be reached for our lower brain to then execute those goals.  The upper brain gives the direction and the lower brain performs the function.  The lower brain takes the direction and executes the muscles to achieve what the upper brain wants.  Communication is the key to almost all endeavors.  Learning how to communicate is the hard part.  Once we learn that skill, getting to our goals is a lot easier.  You still have to do the work, training and have the drive to reach those goals, but to achieve them you have to get the two parts of your brain to work together but separately.  You have to understand their respective jobs and how to make them work together as a team.

OK, let’s start to translate all this upper and lower brain information into a training tool that will make us better competitors.  This next level of discussions is really for the serious competitor.  In my tennis world there are the weekend warriors and there are the traveling tournament players that live for the competition and strive to be better than everyone else.  This next part is for those people who want to go farther than just shooting for fun at some local matches.  It will be good reading for those people but the level of effort that is a part of this discussion takes time and dedication to put into practice and to actually do.

Have you ever shot a scenario and you did it great!  Then the next week you remember how it felt and you TRY to duplicate it and it did not work out?  There is a reason for this and the short answer is, Don’t TRY to do it again, LET it happen again.  But there is more to it than just saying those words.  Remember the FEELING you had when you shot it good?  Well it is the feeling you want to go for, not the result..  That means let go, trust it will work again just like before.  If you TRY to do it, then you are using the higher brain functions to run the gun and you are interfering with the lower brain, Reptilian brain.  This is where the Trust comes in and learning to accept you might make a mistake.  The feeling is from the lower brain and it is what remembers the feeling and that input it got before, it knows how to do that again, so let it do it again.

In school at Texas A&M one of our lessons was the learning curve to move from one state or level of ability to the next higher level.  This is applicable to learning a new skill or improving a skill you have.  Let’s say you are at the sharp shooter skill level in your shooting an El Presidente drill.  This is a standard in the IDPA testing world.  One of the skills this test requires is good transition and trigger prep training.  Ah! Heard this one before?  As you take a class from an instructor and learn to move your eyes better, move smoother, prep your trigger and so on, you are developing more muscle memory that the lower brain is incorporating into its skill set.  You make mistakes and learn from them.  You press harder and fire a shot to quick, you press too little and shoot slower or maybe you swing past the next target because your eyes did not go first to the target like it should.  Whatever the skill you are trying to improve, it takes repetition, it takes time, making mistakes and good shots and you have to let those skills become a natural part of the lower brain skill set that you can call on at a later date.  Some people refer to this as muscle memory.

However, this “muscle memory” or skill set in the lower brain does not happen or become a recallable skill immediately.  It takes time for it to “SETTLE IN” before the lower brain can control those muscles.  How long does it take?  Each person is different.  One thing is it depends on how well you (upper brain) are willing to accept the lower brain to be the muscle controller.  It depends on your attitude, temperament and self judgment of how well you do or learn the skill.  Are you OK with making a mistake and shrugging your shoulders and accepting it was wrong and go back to try again?  You are in a learning mode, you will make both good and bad shots.  At first more bad than good but over time the percentage of good shots will increase and the bad will decrease.

There is a learning curve associated with improving a skill that represents how our ability changes from the start of the instruction until the new skill is available.  You start at some given level and you take a class to learn a skill to transition.  During the class and just afterwards you start to gain some improvement with your skills and that takes time.  Shortly afterwards, let’s say the next day or so, that skill will go down and you will actually be less skilled at it than when you started.  The lower brain is working to incorporate the newly learned skills into the existing skills or change those existing skills.  After an amount of time, (depends on who you are) your skills will start to improve again, pass your previous starting skill and then it will peak at a newer skill level and settle down to your new level which we hope is higher than when you started.  This learning curve varies depending on the complexity of the change and your approach.

Let’s go back to the upper and lower brain working as a team.  If you accept there is going to be a short loss of skills during the learning curve then the time to learn the skill can be shorter.  If you fight it, complain about it, try to consciously force the change and don’t accept the natural learning curve you may actually cause it to take longer to gain the new skill and improve.  This is where your upper brain needs to trust and accept the role of the lower brain and understand it will eventually become a better skill set.  Each person has their own time clock that this happens.  If you learn the relationship of the two brain mind sets and let them work as a team you can help improve that time period moving from the beginning skill set to the newer and hopefully better skill.  This same phenomenon happens when we have been shooting really well and then take off for a while.  When we come back we figure we will shoot poorly but then we shoot and we do great.  We are amazed and come back a few days later to repeat our great shooting skills and we shoot terrible.  This happens because when we came back we had no preconceived level of shooting and expected to not be very good.  No pressure on us.  We shoot relaxed and that allows the subconscious to come into play which gives the lower brain more freedom to control things.  When we come back the couple of days later once again we TRY to duplicate the last time and the upper brains are now interfering with the lower brain.

So if we understand and believe this learning curve and what affects it, how do we use this information and apply it to our training and planning to become a better competitor?  The immediate benefit is as we learn newer skill sets we can get them into our competition sooner to use.  But there is a deeper rooted goal that we need to understand how this works and how we use it to be better competitors.  This timing curve has some flexibility to it but we can’t remove it completely.  Each person is different and you need to learn what your own personal time curve is and how it works.  If you are routinely shooting in competition then you are also routinely practicing.  (Well we hope you are.)  Every athlete has a training cycle body clock that affects how they perform and manage when to peak for a competition match.  We now need to learn how to practice the physical and mental training regiment, understand the difference in physical and mental competition match readiness and the recovery of the physical and mental abilities after the match and get ready for the next one.  This is being Match Tough and it takes practice over the year.  Getting started to be Match Tough may take from 6 to 12 months to start and then has to be maintained.

If you have a match coming up you need to start weeks before managing your approach to that one day both physically and mentally.  You will have to figure out, learn and develop your schedule.  For me during my tennis tournament traveling days I had a very set schedule.  At three weeks out I played 12 to 15 hours a week with 60 to 70 percent being technical practice and the rest match play practice.  This would be the same for me in shooting.  I would practice technical skills and separate entities.  I will do trigger press drills, sight picture drills, foot work and barricade drills as well as foot placement and moving drills.  The weekly matches for match and mental pressure training.  During this time I may shoot one weekly match as fast as I can at 110 percent without regard to accuracy and another for pure accuracy at a slower pace.  Plus I would shoot one as best I can at what I felt was 90 percent of my ability in speed.  In tennis about 10 days before the match I stop all match play and perform only technical skill practice.  Why?  I need to press my lower brain into maxing out its ability to perform a muscle control skill.  Also, I want to stop playing matches and get hungry for the win in competition.  If I keep playing matches, I will lose the hunger.  I need the hunger to drive me.  Then 5 days before the match I stop all hard practice, let my mind and body recuperate from the training, let me get more hungry and the body to heal.  I need to let my lower brain have that learning curve cycle time to complete its self.  I am not going to learn anymore just before the match.  Whatever skill I have learned this is all that is in my tool box to take to the match.  Now I need to let those tools become a part of my skill set.  For me, this is my timing cycle.  The day or two before the match I do some light hitting on the tennis courts or for shooting I go shoot a few rounds, get some good feel on the gun, recoil, simple hand eye coordination items.  This is all I can do for this upcoming match.  My tool box has all the tools I can take at this time.  If I need more tools they will have to wait until the next match.

So I go shoot the match, do the best I can, enjoy myself and afterwards reflect on what I did.  I analyze the performance, not criticize it, but say it worked or it did not, note the item to work on for the next training cycle and get ready to do that training.  Here is the hard part, whether I did well or not at the match, when it is over I do not practice for at least 3 -4 days afterwards.  I did not pick up a tennis racket no matter what.  I do the same thing for shooting.  I will not touch it for days after a big match.  Why not? This is a part of the full cycle of training to perform and peak at the next match.  You need both physical and mental rest after a big match.  If you go right back out to train and fix a tool or add to that tool box, you will actually take longer to master whatever it is you are trying to do and probably reduce the level you reach.  Take a breather, be calm and reflect and prepare yourself for the next full cycle of training and preparing yourself for the next match.

Another bit of advice is to learn how to practice your technical work.  When practicing say transitions from one target to the next, you setup a practice to repeat over and over.  Each time you shoot it, you should stop, look at the result, analyze if you met your goal, check your grip, what did the sight picture look like, did my eyes move to the target first or not and so on.  Hold that gun till you finish and know the result.  Do not judge yourself; just note was it right or not.  Then holster up and do it again.  You are not here to punish yourself for not doing well.  You are here to practice it perfectly and moving to that goal.  You will make mistakes and you will make note of it and assign a correction to it.  Then you do it again and again and again.  Hopefully with each time the goal is getting closer.  Don’t get upset if you don’t reach the goal right now.  Just make sure the physical goal is being worked towards and you understand it.  You will be surprised how a couple of days later it when you do it again you actually do it better even though you may have not done well when learning it at first.  Remember it takes time for the learning to be incorporated in to the lower brain skill set.

What about adrenaline when you are shooting in competition?  You know, the sudden split second you freeze when the buzzer goes off?  That is from the Fight or Flight panic rush you get from the lower brain.  It was designed to make sure you survive when attacked or scared.  It happens when startled or the need to have more speed and strength for a fight or to run.  It happens when we are afraid of failing to hit the target as well, in competition.  When we are scared it causes a lot of body functions to change to be stronger and faster but it also interferes with fine motor skills and thinking etc.  This is one reason practicing match shooting is important to control that rush.  Skills have to be practiced under pressure. Remember at the very beginning I gave the “too much green on the pool table” example?  Here it is again.  You have to cope with the pressure, or how to control the adrenaline.  You can learn to use it to your advantage.  Again the lower brain and upper brain have to work as a team.  You have to practice that just like squeezing the trigger.  If not then you will lose the fine motor skill to squeeze that trigger and know where that last one pound of pressure is for the trigger prep and it will either go off too soon or not soon enough.  You tighten up and lose the relaxed but ready control of your muscles.  The adrenaline causes tunnel vision and hearing loss as well.  You are focused on the threat or in our case the target.

Here is why we have to learn how to use the different parts of our brain to do what they do best.  The upper brain can think and process lots of events and make comparisons and evaluate what is in front of us.  If we think scared, then the lower brain interprets it and the adrenaline dump hits us and not in a well controlled manner.  However, if you can control what the upper brain is thinking and passing onto the lower brain, you can control how the lower brain, R-complex Reptilian, responds and you can get it to do what you really want.  But you have to control the fear which dumps the adrenaline.  You can control the fear dump by not being scared of missing the target or hitting the non-threat or in my case the dreaded black armor of the threat target. If you can train yourself to recognize what is needed at hand, reduce it to a short command that you (upper brain) accepts and just pass that to the lower brain, you will have reduced your fear, given a correct command that the lower brain will interpret to the muscles correctly and you will get back a positive result.  It is just training your thought process to use one brain to control the other brain.

Let me show you some examples of how this works.  In my tennis I was worried about the shot being long, not hitting it where I wanted all these things.  When I am in a match, I actually think ahead where the shot I am hitting right now is going plus my next two shots.  I say to myself, for example, heavy topspin backhand corner and I immediately go mentally blank after that.  I watch the ball and execute only what I can control, watching the ball.  Hitting the ball, making it go where I want with the topspin is totally the responsibility of my lower brain which I cannot control.  I can only control thinking (upper brain) what I want.  The lower brain has to execute it.  I said what I want and I now go to thinking about other things and leave the rest up to my lower brain.  I just make sure I am watching the ball, moving my feet where I need to be and that is all I do.  Now as I am watching the ball, I am already thinking (upper brain) where my next shot will be because I know based on percentage predictions where my opponents next shot will be.  So I am moving my feet and setting up where to go to hit that next shot.  This is all upper brain functions of thinking ahead, preparing, comparing what if scenarios from my opponent.  This shot I am hitting right now belongs to my lower brain.  All I need to do is watch the ball so it can do its thing.  And it repeats again for the next shot and the next shot.  I give out my goal and let it go and move onto the next goal.

Can I do this in shooting?  Course I can.  Before the buzzer I have already looked at the targets and know where they are.  I have stared and picked out where each shot is to go.  Adrenaline is running up and my eye sight narrows to only that last thought of where the shot is to go.  The buzzer goes off and I bring my sights up and I consciously (upper brain) watch my sights, because I already told the lower brain what I wanted to do.  I want to shoot that center part of that particular target.  So I let the lower brain control my muscles of the grip, trigger squeeze and I just watch the sights so the lower brain will know when to break that shot after it had just prepped the trigger.  See how these things all work together?  I am controlling the adrenaline effect by controlling my upper brain thinking focused on what I want to happen.  Now the lower brain does not issue too much adrenaline and controls the muscles.  Now I am already thinking about my eyes have to move to the next target as I break this shot.  I am already giving the instruction to my lower brain I am moving to the right, past the non-threat to the next target with two shots.  My lower brain is already prepping the trigger for the next shot.  All I can do is concentrate watching the sight and when it comes to the target that I am already looking at, the lower brain knows to stop my motion, finish the trigger squeeze and break the shot.  And the process repeats again till the scenario is completed.

While all this discussion sounds good on paper and if you think about how it all works you can make a nice flow chart of what and how to think about your shots.  In real life it is not that easy.  You have to still deal with the reality of how we feel, what is really going on in our life and such.  But if you learn how our body works and take the time to let that understanding be put into play, you can train yourself to make these actions become a part of your normal pattern (reptilian brain) and automatically reach and shake hands with your next Range Safety Officer as he scores all your perfectly hit shots in record time.

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