I decided to write the New Rules of Marksmanship series to teach you the method behind my madness — what’s gong on in my head. And that’s exactly where you need to start if you want to become a great shooter. The first rule — Mindset.
Become an M.V.P. Shooter
Your shooting mindset is, without a doubt, the most important part of becoming a better shooter. It’s what propels average shooters to become great shooters and great shooters to become masters. The problem is that it is also the hardest skill to convince others (you) is important. And I can understand this. How can sitting and seemingly doing nothing help me with a physical skill like shooting? How can just thinking about doing a physical skill be better than actually doing it? And how in the world is what I think possibly able to translate into how a bullet reaches its intended target?
The simple answer is this: your mind directs every physical skill you do, every movement you make and THAT translates into delivering exceptional customer service. Even when you physically practice a technique, what you’re doing is building memories of how to do it properly. The most amazing part is that you don’t need to (physically) do anything to add new memories. You just need focus on the right things.
Meditation — Firearms Focus Training
Meditation is often associated with Eastern religions and will sometimes scare people away. Although it’s true that Eastern religions do encourage meditation, so does the Bible. But if it makes you feel better, just call it focus training, or just sitting quietly and breathing. If you’re new to meditation and need some guidance, you could take an online meditation course from a true American Warrior.
Here’s What I Do When I Meditate:
- I sit with my back supported, head unsupported, good posture, with my feet flat on the ground.
- I listen to a brainwave sounds app with high-quality headphones to help clear my mind of random thoughts and to not be disturbed by random sounds.
- I set the brainwaves to play for twenty minutes.
- I close my eyes and practice belly breathing — in through my nose, out through my mouth.
- I think of the word “Lahm.” (It means nothing, so it helps me not to think of anything with an association. You can use any word or phrase you would like.) I repeat this in my head, and anytime I realize I’m thinking of something, I say Lahm.
- Another great method I teach is to focus on your breath. Simply thinking about breathing in and out. Many people think you are trying to clear your mind when you meditate, but you are trying to focus your mind — just like focusing on your front sight!
- At the end of twenty minutes, I keep my eyes shut for about two minutes as I think positive, grateful thoughts.
Visualization — Free Training!
The way I developed The New Rules was to look outside of the shooting world to find out what the most successful people in other sports are doing, and one of the most consistent factors I discovered was doing mental repetitions or visualization. I talked briefly about it earlier, but when you physically practice any skill, what you are doing is building memories. Visualization is often referred to as muscle memory, but the memories are being created in your brain. Well, to create a memory we don’t even have to (physically) do anything. We just need to think about doing it, and our neurons do not know the difference! The great thing about this is that you can do every mental repetition perfectly! Perfect practice is not so easy to do physically, especially when you’re learning something new.
So if the same muscle memory can be created with visualization, why aren’t you doing it?!?! Don’t believe me? Research the top golfer, basketball player, race car driver, baseball player or any other competitive sports master, and you will learn that they all visualize. Have you ever watched someone making an important shot in the NBA finals? Watch before they shoot as they look up at the basket for a second. Guess what they’re doing? Visualizing! You don’t need to close your eyes, and you don’t need to sit for a long time. It can be as simple as before you start shooting a timed event, stop and picture your instructor or grader scoring the target. SEE all the rounds in the middle of the target and your instructor high fiving you and saying you just shot the highest score yet! Imagine what that would feel like. The clearer the picture and the more feeling you add to seeing a successful result, the greater the chance of achieving the desired result, and the better it will be.
Positive Thinking — Like Turning on a Light Switch
It’s a lesson we all learned as kids: If you just learn to think positively (and try hard), there’s nothing you can’t do. Think back to The Little Engine That Could. By thinking positively and starting slowly, he built up momentum and pulled the train over the hill when the other engines gave excuses for why they couldn’t do it. Don’t be that engine that gives excuses! Think positively, try hard and you’ll already be better than most shooters out there.
As someone who has seen every side of the Navy SEAL training pipeline — mindset is the ONLY FACTOR that determines success or failure (a.k.a. quitting). When someone shows up to BUD/S, they have what it takes to make it through training — they’re fit enough and smart enough. Yes, a small amount get dropped for medical reasons, but EVERYONE ELSE QUITS.
When I was a SEAL motivator and helped recruiters get people interested in becoming SEALs, I’d often hear them say, “I really think I can make it through!” And I would always reply, “You won’t make it. Don’t sign up.” The recruiters would get upset with me, but it’s true. If you THINK you can, you won’t. But if you KNOW YOU WILL… well, you will.
I Think I Can, I Think I Can
OK, so maybe it would be more appropriate for the Little Engine to have said, “I Know I Will, I Know I Will,” and that’s what you need to BELIEVE too. To get to that level of belief, you need to change some of your negative beliefs and build in some positive ones. One of the most common negative beliefs I hear on the range is, “I’m just not a good shooter.” Why would you say that? Do you know that whatever your mind thinks, your body will help to prove right? After all, you don’t want to be a liar!
Your shooting mindset is, without a doubt, the most important part of becoming a better shooter.
So if you think you’re not good, you will never be good. If you think you are good, you will be good. Sound too easy? It really is that easy because of what’s called the Confidence-Competence Loop. The Confidence-Competence Loop is pretty simple. As you get better at doing something (competence), you build up a belief that you’re good at it (confidence). Well here’s the interesting thing about loops — they go round and round, but there is no “beginning.”
So what does this mean for you? It means you will have just as much success if you start with CONFIDENCE and build up competence! Listen, positive thinking alone will not get you anywhere. You still need a lot of hard work, but positive thinking will allow you to succeed. I think of positive thinking like a light switch… It doesn’t have any power by itself, but it does allow the energy to flow through.
“He’s Just a Natural”
For years, we were taught that some people are just born with certain talents. Tiger Woods was just born talented. No other explanation! Well…until you consider that his dad was a golf instructor…and he started playing golf when he was two…and he was pulled out of school so he could practice golf every day…and well, I’m sure you get the pictur. Every story of “born talent” is the same. The talent came from using New Rules training (without my fancy new name). So now that you know the secret, you can join the revolution and be “reborn” as a talented shooter.
I believed the talent myth myself until just recently. My youngest son was born with an amazing talent for sports! Any sport he played, he instantly mastered and moved to the top of his team’s roster or got pulled up to higher age groups because the mortals he was playing with could not compete.
But then I started thinking back. I remember when he was a toddler, he always wanted to play sports with his older brother. To be able to spend time with both of them, I would practice with them together and often praised him and encouraged him to keep trying to keep up with his bigger brother.
“You can do it, buddy!” And of course, he would overhear the adults talking about how good he was. Because he liked hearing that and of course was always in competition with his big brother (who is just as “talented” by the way), he would practice every day. And because his dad is an instructor who understands how to train effectively, he was “New Rules trained” his whole life. (Not sure if he’s lucky about that or not!)
So now let me ask you: What does this mean for you? Do you think you’re just “not as talented” as other people at the range or in your department? If you look closer, I guarantee you’ll find that they just trained the right way and you didn’t. Nobody picks up a gun and is instantly an expert shot. So if your excuse is that you’re just not as talented as everyone else, remember this: Talent only comes from hard work and proper training. Follow the New Rules and you will become “talented.”
Next, I’m going to dive into the second rule to becoming a better shooter — Planning. You’ll learn how to plan out your training to rapidly accelerate your learning.
Please leave a comment below, even just to say that you’re going to be an M.V.P. shooter. If you have a technique you use for visualization or meditation, share it with the group!