General, Shooting Analysis

Revisiting the Mental Program

Back in January of this year, when I was first getting started, I established the skeleton for a mental program that would help me remain consistent shot to shot. This program consisted of five basic phases: Initiate, feel, see, control, execute.

Sling up (if needed)

Initiate Phase

Load weapon

Feel Phase

Rehearse how the shot will feel after a successful hit

See Phase

Rehearse what the shot will look like

Control Phase

Get into position

Check NPA

Align sights

Deactivate safety

Control breathing

Execute Phase

Squeeze trigger

Release trigger after rifle settles

It didn’t take long for me to practically abandon this construct. I think it just ended up being too “complex” with too many steps. I would like to simplify it based upon all my practice throughout the year since I first established this program. It was a fine theoretical framework based upon not really ever practiced marksmanship. But, having sent a lot of shots downrange, I think I can do better.

The basic phases, I think, are good. I will remove the sling up phase, as getting into the sling is not part of my timed process. I will start either already slung up, or without a sling. Similarly, I will remove the step for getting into position. The way I envision it now is that I will already be into position before beginning. Check and adjust NPOA, of course, will remain.

I am also planning on already starting loaded. I think the “load” step was geared towards shooting a bolt gun. But since my range does not permit anything over 5.56 at the moment, I have not been shooting the bolt gun at all. The AR-15 already starts loaded, negating the need for this step.

However, I still need an “initiating” cue. Lanny Basham, in his book With Winning in Mind, describes the initiating cue as something physical. Golfers may tap their club twice on the ground. In the baseball movie For the Love of the Game, Kevin Costner says the phrase, “Clear the Mechanism” before pitching the ball. The movie emphasizes the point by showing how the “initiation phrase” helps him tune out the crowd and distractions. Since I will no longer be using loading the weapon as an initiating cue, it needs to be something else. My first instinct is to say that it is clicking off the safety. However, this presents a new set of problems.

At the Appleseed event in August, I found that I would click off the safety when I thought I was aligned to the target, but then would leave it disengaged while adjusting my position. While the weapon was always pointed in a safe direction, there was more than one instance where I left my finger on the trigger and ended up squeezing just a bit too much while adjusting my hips, resulting in a shot placement error. My second instinct is to make this physical cue something like closing my eyes, taking a deep breath, and exhaling. I will experiment with the latter today.

The feel and see phases are intended to allow me a moment to visualize what this shot will feel and look like. I think the original plan would be fine if I was competing in archery or high power, where there is only one shot fired with little time pressure and a large gap from shot to shot. However, since my recent practice has revolved mostly around dropping into position and firing a series of shots, and ostensibly under time pressure, I think a more realistic approach is needed. Either this phase must happen before the initiation step, which I don’t think fits into the program very well, or I must abbreviate it substantially down to just a few seconds. In reality, that’s probably all I really need. Visualizing the shot should include what the grip, sling pressure, cheek weld, trigger squeeze will feel like, as well as what the sights will look like the moment the weapon fires. This can all be condensed into one step that takes only a couple seconds.

The control phase was intended to let me get into position, check NPOA, and breath. Again, I think the first step can be moved to the ‘pre shot’ phase. I think checking sight alignment and NPOA are pretty much the same step, so that will get reduced to just checking NPOA. Breathing is, of course, important.

Lastly, is the execution phase. I don’t see much need in changing this. Squeeze the trigger, follow through, and inhale. If there is another shot, then repeat the control and execute phase as needed.

So, with this adjustment, the new program looks like this:

Sling up
Get into position

Close eyes
Inhale deeply

Visualize Shot

Check NPOA
Adjust NPOA if necessary
Deactivate safety
Find natural respiratory pause

Squeeze trigger
Follow through
Repeat as necessary

I think this looks simpler, and I don’t have to remember the individual steps since they are already what I’ve been doing. When I first thought of pursuing this approach, I had wanted to have a phrase to repeat over and over in my head. I had originally said I was going to use, “Aim small, miss small.” But, to be honest, I haven’t been doing anything. Instead, I’ve either been completely focused on the target, or distracted by other things (sweat in shooting glasses, bruising on sling arm, etc). I think I need to revisit the phrase usage to something that is more applicable, perhaps “Hit the middle.”


3 thoughts on “Revisiting the Mental Program”

    1. I like that, and it would work well for iron sight shooting since it reminds me to focus on the front sight (which I don’t always remember to do).


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