14 January 2013

On Building New Habits

Politics aside, Beauty Behind the Blast is intended to be a blog about shooting. As with most sports, the new year is also a time many people choose to start or recommit to various shooting-related goals. With the price of ammo going up and availability going down, dry fire is probably becoming increasingly popular. Between that and the travel time to my range, beefing up my dry fire routine is one of my primary New Year's resolutions. Unsurprisingly, this isn't my first foray into trying to make dry fire a  regular part of my routine, but I've been working on new approaches I'm hoping will make this attempt stick - and maybe give you a few ideas if dry fire is one of your resolutions too.

While I'm only a few weeks into this round of making dry fire part of my routine, I think it's likely to be more successful because there are many parallels to how I made exercise a habit. Over three years ago, I decided I needed to work out more regularly. Since I'm still hopping on my elliptical five days a week, there must be some lessons to be learned there. I've broken them down to five key areas that I think made my morning run a sustained success and that I'm working on applying to my evening dry fire: finding effective motivation, making it a part of my day, finding a repeatable routine, allowing myself false starts, and - circling back to the first area - discovering that I enjoy the results of my work more than I dislike actually doing the work.

It seems pretty obvious, but it helps to have a reason for your new habit - one that you can articulate clearly. There's no universal right answer here because it has to be something that speaks just to you. Maybe it's wanting to be more comfortable with your gun. Maybe it's making sure that you have the handling skills necessary to effectively shoot in self defense. Maybe it's wanting to bump up to the next classification or place higher at your next match. For me, I find it helps to have a specific motivation. The first couple times I tried to make my daily workout stick, vague goals like "be in better shape" or "lose some weight" weren't really helpful. The motivation that worked was much more concrete: rehab my blown knee and make sure I was strong enough to reduce joint pain and prevent future injuries - or at least make sure that future rehab was easier. Similarly, I have a "story" about what I want to do with my shooting, and the goals I want to meet, to motivate me with my 2013 dry fire resolution.

All of the best intentions in the world aren't enough, though - if they were, all of us ladies would be our ideal size and weight, with the perfect wardrobe, and the most personally fulfilling careers. Therefore, like having a concrete goal, having a concrete plan to meet that goal is important. While there are many resources on specific dry fire routines, I want to concentrate on a few of the underlying process parts. First, it's important to build time into your regular routine for your new task, and to reduce as many of the barriers as possible to getting started every day. Second, your new task needs a doable, repeatable routine. My run is the first thing I do every morning before work, and I go so far as to lay out my exercise clothes the night before so that I don't even have to be fully awake to get started. I also have a set workout for every day of the week: If it's Monday, it's my day for a 5K.

Since I can't cram more into my mornings, I've decided that 7:30 each evening is the time when I'm most likely to be a lazy bump on my couch. I set a recurring task on my phone to buzz an alarm every night at that time to tell me to dry fire instead. On nights that I don't dry fire, I have to make a conscious decision to turn off the reminder. I've also done my best to reduce my excuses by setting up my gear to be as dry fire-ready as possible: holster, mag carriers, and belt are set up with an extra pair of pants, extra mags are pre-loaded with dummy rounds, targets stay set up against my safe backstops. I just need to step into a different pair of pants and open my safe (or snag my airsoft pistol) to get started. I've also done the preliminary homework to review a set of drills and pick out the ones I'll do, so I don't have to think about it when I get started. While there are some fantastically complicated exercises out there, you probably won't do them if they require more time to set up than to run through.

You've set your goal, gotten everything in order to dry fire, but then you skip a couple nights...maybe even a week or two. What next? Don't let it discourage you. Pick tonight to be the night you re-start the routine. False starts happen - sometimes because you get unmotivated, sometimes because your day job gets overwhelming, sometimes because you get stuck in a whirlwind of social life, sometimes because you get injured. That's okay. Take a deep breath, get your schedule cleared out, set your gear back up, and get back on the horse. I also keep myself on track by deciding in advance what allowable excuses will be. I commit to working out every day I go to work or work from home, but not on days I take off or am on the road early. Similarly, I've decided I will dry fire at least five minutes every night that I haven't live fired and that I get home at a reasonable time. That way, a night or even a few nights off in a row won't derail me.

And at the end of the day, a lot of making a good new habit stick is to make sure you want the results more than you don't want to do the underlying work. It's what stops us from having that brownie for a snack, because we really want to look good next summer. It's what keeps us hitting the books and struggling through classes, because we really want to get that degree/certification/license. And it's what inspires me to dry fire and practice, because I'm really looking forward to making my 2013 shooting goals. What about you?