The following is an excerpt I submitted for inclusion in Ben Stoeger’s upcoming second edition of Practical Pistol. Check out the new book when it comes out!
When Ben asked me for a brief contribution to the second edition of Practical Pistol, I thought for a time about what I could possibly add in terms of shooting knowledge-base that was not already excellently covered in other parts of the book. Eventually I decided to go a different route, and add some comments about the mindset it takes to really improve – from the perspective of someone who once had to make serious changes in that area in order to progress. In an amateur sport such as USPSA, because there are so few true professionals, all but a tiny handful of people in the entire world can see major gains if they are able to change their mindset for the better. We often hear that “the game is 90% mental”. I believe that to be true. So how can we improve? I will outline what I feel are two key aspects of the mental approach to the game: accountability and priority.
What does being accountable mean? It means that everything matters, all the time. There are no mulligans. You are the sum of everything you do that is related to this sport. You own what you do in practice. You own what you do in club matches. You own what you do in major matches – at every match, on every stage, every time. If you can’t own your mistakes, you can’t really hope to correct them.
How do you apply this concept in practice? Mistakes, especially in practice, are of course, inevitable. When you are pushing skills to new levels, there are going to be lots of instances when you screw up. This is good, since it means you are finding your limits in practice, and then working to push them further. You have to have a goal, and you can’t be “ok” with the delta between your current performance, and where you want to be. Your accountability here is to be motivated and organized above all else. That delta has to gnaw at the pit of your stomach and be your motivation to continue on.
At club matches, we’ve all seen (and have likely been at one time) the guy that trashes a stage, walks off, and says “well, I was rusty because I haven’t been getting my practice in lately. That isn’t me. That doesn’t really count. I’ll get ‘em next time. I’ll be ready by the time the state championship rolls around.” That is not being accountable. I have bad news: in that moment, that is you. You just did that. We all make mistakes, but the best shooters do a better job of acknowledging a mistake, owning it, and committing to do whatever it takes to correct it regardless of where, when, or how it occurred. It matters not whether it occurred on the first stage of the day, at the first club match of the year, or at the national championship. You are accountable for how you prepare and perform, always.
The second aspect of the mental approach I mentioned above is “priority”. I believe there is an axiom that is very useful when describing how priority is important to you in your development as a shooter. It comes from the world of financial investing: If you want to build wealth reliably, the number one rule is to always, without fail, “pay yourself first”. What does that mean in real world application? It means that your nest egg is your highest financial priority. When you receive income, you put a pre-determined percentage into savings immediately, and then you spend or live on what is left. Doing the opposite (spending first, and saving what is left) is a great way to hardly ever save a dime.
The same concept applies to improving as a shooter. Virtually all of us have jobs or family obligations that dominate our time, and that is fine, and virtually unavoidable. But, you will never maximize your potential as a shooter until you can maximize the time priority that you put toward improving. Once you’ve set shooting goals, you also need to allocate time to practice, be it dry fire or live fire. Then, when you make free time in your life, you must “pay yourself first” by investing that time in improvement. When you get home from work, getting your dry fire reps in is your top priority, not something that you might get to after TV is watched or the grass is cut. When the weekend rolls around, live fire is getting done, period. If it overlaps with the game or whatever else, you can catch the highlights later. You must consistently “pay yourself first” with regard to time commitments and regular practice when pressing toward aggressive shooting goals, or you will simply never get there. Using “leftover time” is not an option for someone who wishes to attain GM level in this sport. As with anything else worth doing, you can’t expect to get more out of the sport than you are willing to put in.
So remember to suck it up, buttercup… and I will see you on the range!