Mindset Matters: The Key To Finding Your Zen While Shooting


Tank either meditating, practicing his Zen,
or praying to Santa for that special gun.

Shooting is the perfect mesh of gross and fine motor skills. However, there’s a seldom discussed component of shooting, and that’s the mental aspect of being a good shot.

Sure, you’ve been pounded, prodded, and pestered about stance, grip, and trigger press by instructors. You’ve probably even had the difference of sight alignment and sight picture explained to you to the point of nauseum. But one thing rarely covered, and one I believe to be as important to the fundamentals of marksmanship is mental attitude.

It's All In Your Head

Mr. Bolgiano was my junior high physical education teacher. Back then, during the Paleolithic Period, gym was separated by sex, there being only males and females. You were required to dress in issued gym shorts, a T-shirt and jock strap. During roll call, you responded “Here, dressed and marked” after your name was called, followed by the snapping of your jock strap. Marked meant your issued T-shirt had your name written on it with a laundry marker. The snap? Proof that you had on your emotional support unit.

Every class started with a half-mile run, followed by pull ups, monkey bars and dips on the parallel bars. Then, the class did whatever activity was scheduled by Mr. “B.” During basketball, Mr. “B” went over free throws. He explained a study was done years ago involving free throws. A group of men were tested on how many free throws they could make for 20 attempts. Scores were recorded and the men were randomly split into three different groups.

The first group practiced free throws daily. The second did nothing. The third group visually practiced every day, by mentally picturing themselves making basket after basket without ever touching a ball. They did this for a month and all groups were re-tested. The ones who did nothing showed no improvement. The ones who practiced daily improved. The interesting thing was the group who only mentally practiced improved just as much as those who actually practiced.

Mr. “B” called it Positive Mental Attitude, explaining it would carry you through any task at hand in life. Just visualizing a positive outcome and things naturally turn out for the better.

Pretty heady stuff coming from a middle-aged muscleman to a bunch of seventh graders during the 70s. But the lesson stuck, with me anyway, and I’ve always used it.

Back To The Future

As I got older, I read more about the topic in the form of warriors and was introduced to Zen. Zen is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word, ch’an, which means thought, absorption, or meditation. And meditation is at the heart of Zen, along with an emphasis on self-control and insight. Dag gone! Ol’ Mr. “B” knew what he was talking about!

I started using these methods when shooting. I realized I was always more successful when picturing myself making the shot, mentally rehearsing every phase of my shooting sequence, including stance, grip, sight alignment, sight picture, breathing, trigger press, and the ever-important follow-through. I still do it!

Zen Cycle

Have you ever noticed after an intense shooting session all your previous problems or worries seemed to have disappeared? This is because shooting can be a Zen experience unto itself. Shooting is a form of meditation. While focusing on the front sight and trigger press the way we’re supposed to, nothing else can enter your mind.

This flow of thought is cyclic. While thinking about stance, grip and trigger press, we’re also focusing on the front sight, sight alignment and sight picture. We try maintaining sight picture during trigger press. It happens in milliseconds, but we’re thinking about it.

As the thought process becomes automatic, we picture where we our bullet to impact. With practice, it all becomes automatic, a beautiful blending of fine and gross motor skills orchestrated by a well-rehearsed mindset. To my way of thinking, this is the best form of meditation there is.

So, my advice? Don’t overthink the process. Simply enjoy it while picturing yourself chewing out the center of your bullseye or shooting that big buck. Make the experience fun and before you know it, the shooting will become the form of meditation there is for you.

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