The concept of "It's 90% Mental" has created a bit of a stir in the shotgun sports industry over the last several years. As a mental trainer I have had a front row seat and been at the brunt of many of those comments and frustrations.
So, I'd like to take this opportunity to explain this concept and how I can have the audacity to actually say it's not just 90% mental, but It's 100% mental! A statement worthy of not only pissing off about 1/4 of the top shooters/instructors in the industry, but of also turning a few grandmothers over in their graves.
Let's start off with some basics. Your body is made up of cells, communities of cells to be exact. Your literally start off as a single cell organism called a zygote, which divides into two cell masses that go on to become an embryo. As cells divide... two cells become four, which becomes eight, and so on. Each new set of cells replicates the original cell's chromosomes.
But what is super fascinating to me is that some of these cells (which appear to be identical to anyone less than a scientist) huddle up together and go off to form communities of cells. Kind of like a group of folks deciding to go off and form a neighborhood with covenants, or their own league with rules. Some cells gather up together, and head over to become your heart, some your tongue, some your fingernails, some your brain, and so on. Cool, eh?
My point in all this... cells are pretty darn "smart." There's definitely a good argument to be made for what is known as cellular memory, aka: muscle memory and motor memory. Many of you have asked me about muscle memory. And, yes, all mechanics related to shooting or any other physical action do fall under the category of muscle memory. To be more specific, the performance of all actions and skills actually fall under something called procedural memory. Examples of procedural memories include your gun mount, your swing, riding a bike, driving a car, eating with a fork, and opening a door.
Procedural memory is a type of long-term memory. Long-term memory is found at the subconscious level of your mind.
When you first learn a new skill, you are very conscious about it. Meaning the new behavior is not yet engrained into your subconscious mind/procedural memory. When you engage in this new activity it occupies your singular focused conscious mind. This part of your mind gets overwhelmed easily as it can only focus on one thing at a time, juggling between up to seven items before you feel like you are losing it. Think about the times you are running out the door to a meeting, trying to find your keys and wallet, grabbing your coffee, being asked a question by your partner, while your cell phone is ringing. In this scenario you are frazzled by attempting to juggle just five items. This same feeling happens when you are first learning the mechanics of shooting, or if you've been shooting for years but hire an instructor to help you "fix" your shooting skills.
The juggling of the details of the mechanics can be overwhelming to your conscious mind. But not for long, thank goodness! The new skills get easier after you have repeatedly engaged in the same activity or skills. With repetition, skills get reinforced and shifted to what we call the subconscious mind. To be a good shooter, it's important that the skills that are repeated and reinforced are "good" ones... as those are the ones you want to heave on autopilot, in muscle memory, to feel instinctive, to be programmed in your procedural memory.
When the brain is looked at using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), scientists can actually see the above described changes as they occur when we learn and remember a new motor skills. One of the observed changes to the brain involves the increase in connections between different areas of the brain which are required for that particular skills. These connections are called synopsis pathways. There are many really cool videos on the internet that show these pathways being formed as a person learns a new skill. The first few times you participate in a new action, the path is being made. Similar to the first few times you walk through an area of the woods... there would be much underbrush and branches to navigate through. But the more times you walk that area of the woods, the more defined the path becomes, and the faster you can travel along it. The same with your brain, the more times you repeat a skillset, the more defined the pathway becomes; and the faster neurotransmitters can travel along it. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers that send signals to specific target areas of the brain needing to be triggered.
MRI scanners also show us how the brain actually changes during the process of learning new skills. At the very beginning of engaging in a new action or movement there's a ton of activity across the brain, but most of the activity can be seen in two areas: the pre-motor cortex and the basal ganglia. The high levels of activity in these areas are thought to be related to the fact that much thought and planning must go into a new action. With repeated practice of said action, it becomes effortless and more automatic. At the same time the activity in the pre-motor cortex and basal ganglia decreases. Hence, the skills become less conscious and more subconscious.
Thanks to specific changes in your conscious mind, subconscious mind, brain structure, and brain functioning you not only remember new skills, like your shooting techniques and mechanics; but they get easier as you continue to improve upon them.
Without the amazing mental phenomenons described above, none of your shooting abilities would feel "as easy as learning to ride a bike."
Still questions It's 100% mental?
Let's break down the phrase and define the word "mental."
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a definition of mental is "of or relating to the mind" ("mental," Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionaru/mental. Accessed 12/5/2020.)
And then the word "mind"...
Some definitions of the mind are "a: the element of complex of elements in an individual that feels, perceives, thinks, wills, and especially reasons; b: the conscious mental events and capabilities in an organism; c: the organized conscious and unconscious adaptive mental activity of an organism" ("mind," Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionaru/mind. Accessed 12/5/2020.)
Now that you can see how the mechanics are mental...
In my next article I'll dive into why It's A Mind Game, and how your mindset, thoughts and beliefs will always trump your mechanics, expensive gun, best ammo, fancy chokes, and stylish prescription shooting glasses.
Dawn Grant is the owner of Amelia Shotgun Sports in Yulee, Florida where she offers lectures, clinics and workshops at her Mind Training School. Dawn is the author of 7 Strokes In 7 Days: Quick And Easy Break-Through Mental Training That Will Revolutionize Your Golf Game And Life; and the inventor of MindMastered.com.
You can learn more about her, and her Online and Live training programs at DawnGrant.com