17 October 2012

The Memory Game

Shooting is a physical skill, but there is a mental component that is as or more important than the ability to hold a gun and pull the trigger. One of the hardest for me to get in line is remembering what I need to remember, when I need to remember it. Just as important is remembering what I need to forget, at least for the moment. Since I have a sanctioned IDPA match coming up, I'll talk about this in the context of shooting for score, but many of the same principles apply no matter what the context of your shooting.

Two of my earliest posts talked about the muscle memory required for safety and gun handling. Those are, of course, the things that need to stick in your mind no matter what. For a match, it's important to add to those basics in a couple of ways. First, you need to remember those safety rules that may be specific to your sport or range - things like the 180 degree rule. You'll want to make sure that your gun handling skills include not just basic loading, unloading, and firing, but also malfunction clearing and similar manipulations. Add to that another long-term memory item: the rules of the particular game you are shooting. For me over the next few weeks, that means reviewing the IDPA rule book [pdf] and not letting myself forget pesky rules like not being permitted to drop a magazine if there are any rounds in my gun (pages 41-42). Keeping these things in the back of your head means not having to waste brainpower remembering them actively, making shooting a course of fire less stressful and allowing you to focus on the actual shooting part.

Another area where longer term, more subconscious memory is helpful is learning whatever course of fire you will be required to perform. While you won't always get a month to study up on stage diagrams, like you may be able to for large matches like USPSA Nationals, even just paying attention during stage briefs and taking full advantage of any stage walk through time that you get (but be careful about limits like the rule against personal walk throughs in IDPA). Again, this is an area where not having to stop and think about what you're supposed to be doing will pay off in letting you focus on your shooting...especially important when the course of fire is a "memory stage" or otherwise unusually complex. Tactical sequence, I'm looking at you!

Now that you've filled your brain up with all the things you need to remember, there are also things you need to forget, sometimes very quickly and sometimes only temporarily. A major challenge I've been working hard to overcome is to not think about a bad performance any longer than I have to while I am still at a match. It's important to consider what needs to be fixed to improve performance later in the day; it's not productive to  keep repeating the same mistake for an entire match. However, it's equally important to not beat yourself up over a past flub that you can't fix now. Whether it's a single pulled shot when you are shooting limited rounds at a target or a stage you flailed your way through, you can't take that bullet back. It's best at that point to pull out the lessons that you can quickly, then move on rather than let an early point of failure ruin your performance for the rest of the day. The time to dwell on your mistakes is after last shots, not while you are trying to rock your last few stages to make up for lost time and lost points. Similarly, the time to relive your triumph over an awesome course of fire is not while you are approaching the next challenge you're shooting for score. That's what photos, video, and shooting journals are for.

One of my themes that is probably starting to become clear is that to be a successful shooter, you need to remove as many distractions as you can so that you can concentrate on what matters - whether that is the act of shooting itself or the problem you are trying to solve that just happens to involve your gun as a tool.