Always, there was the passion to help people. First it was children. After earning a degree in psychology, the job was as a children’s case manager at a mental health facility. There was involvement in Big Brothers and Big Sisters, then work at the state attorney’s office. And although she knew she was helping people, for Dawn Grant, “It just never felt big enough. I wanted big change, wanted to see results beyond the efforts of traditional therapy.”
Then came the book Many Lives, Many Masters by psychotherapist Dr. Brian Weiss, who turned to hypnotherapy to treat a woman wracked by phobias, anxiety, and chronic depression. “I couldn’t put the book down,” Grant remembers. “With in two weeks I was booking an airplane flight to begin training [in hypnotherapy].”
Grant sought out the best programs available, studying advanced techniques in hypnotherapy, convinced that “medical relaxation” held life-altering potential, especially for those open to, perhaps even desperate for, an alternative to traditional methods. Grant hung her shingle on Florida’s Amelia Island, seeing dramatic progress for those trying to quit smoking, lose weight, fight phobias, and combat anxiety issues. Almost immediately she fell on the advantages in mental training for athletes. Her clients now include elite performers in golf, more than two dozen PGA touring pros, including the great Vijay Singh, whose work with Grant was instrumental in his run to the 2008 FedEx Cup title.
Dawn’s led workshops at Hank Haney’s prestigious golf academy, and NSCA All-Americans Wendell Cherry and John Woolley, as well as shooters attending Team USA’s Super School, are among the stars from the clays shooting sports who have studied with her. Those dedicated to the program have reaped the advantages of harnessing their mental game to what Grant touts as the power of “selective thinking...recovering from the effects of fear-based consciousness.” And while that may read like new-age psyche-speak, the vast majority of us are all too familiar with fear-based consciousness.
“It’s the analytical mind that wants to chew up everything,” Grant says. It’s the inner judge and jury that reminds us we’re really not very good. That we’ve never had luck at a particular club, always struggle with rabbit targets, can't shoot when squadded with so-and-so, have never performed well a) in a late-afternoon flight, b) in windy conditions, c) on true pairs thrown below the stand, d) in shoot-offs, e) since bumping up to AA class....
“The reality is that fear creates tension in the body,” Grant notes. “All these thoughts— repeat, repeat, repeat— come down to our subconscious. Our body is reacting to them instantly and automatically. [Fear-based thinking] inhibits the flow of a higher energy, our true capabilities, our optimum level of performance and effect fear-based results in our lives.”
“Your character is underneath a microscope in competition,” Grant points out. For many of us, trying to be at our best in front of others “magnifies insecurities, confidence issues, performance anxieties. Think how fear, anger, worries affect your performance, how they get you out of being in the present. You want to be 'in the zone,’ to let go, to go beyond...allowing your mechanics to naturally flow from your subconscious mind, releasing fears, doubts, and insecurities.”
That’s what makes hypnotherapy such a great fit for mental training in the clays shooting sports. The world’s top wingshooting coaches steep their clients in deep practice, steeping their stroke in efficient fundamentals until those tenets become second nature. Grant laughs. “When a shooter says, 'l want to learn to shoot from the subconscious,’ I have my hand up high.” Just as repetition grounds shooters’ best move to the target, “thought patterns get repeated, too, and if reinforced are habits.” Many clays shooting athletes wrestle with a faulty belief system.
“Traditional therapy deals on the conscious level,” Grant points out. “Hypnosis accesses the subconscious directly.” For those open to the training, she says, “The change seems almost miraculous because we went straight to the source [of the ingrained habit].”
“In my world, it’s not about the gun, target lines, lead, gun insertion— that’s all mechanics,” Grant says. “What I do has zero to do with mechanics. My concerns are fears. Anxieties and insecurities, anger, guilt, resentment— how those play out against the backdrop of our squad mates, the target setter, the ref, the weather, the scorecard.”
Dawn mentions that many short-term “solutions” are simply avoidance behavior. “Wearing double headsets, not speaking to anyone, avoiding the leaderboard, 'forgetting’ a miss,” she says, "doesn’t address progress. Rather than avoiding or burying something, we can learn how to process [an event] as something valuable, maybe implement immediate change” that can help us on the next target, the next station, the next tournament.
Those who study with Dawn Grant, either on Amelia Island or through various innovative distance learning programs, begin by learning about the relationship between the conscious and subconscious minds. For most students, that information enables them to take better advantage of the notion that the guided suggestions of relaxation therapy, through hypnosis, is, in Grant’s words, "a tool in which they can observe and learn about their mind.” Part of that initial work is debunking the myths from popular culture about what hypnosis really is.
Grant says that hypnosis is nothing more than "a natural mental state of focus that enables a person to accept suggestion at a subconscious level of the mind.” She maintains that hypnosis by passes "hyper-critical thinking and allows for new information to be accepted by your subconscious: new perceptions, new beliefs, a new understanding based on suggestions given to you during guided sessions, through experience, and on the 'homework’ students practice between sessions.”
"There are tons of misconceptions about hypnosis,” says Grant, waving away popular notions that hypnosis is some sort of ninja mind trick or Howard Stern bit that reduces students into robots under the sway of the controlling therapist. "Truthfully, every human being goes into a state of hypnosis every hour and a half to two hours, every single day. It’s a natural process for your brain. We call it 'day-dreaming,’ 'zoning out,’ or 'spacing out.’
"A good example is when we’re driving a car. You know how to drive a car; your subconscious already has this down pat. Your conscious mind is free to wander off. You’re not unconscious. You’re not asleep. You’re not a robot. You’re not under someone else’s control.” Grant notes that even in this relaxed state, good drivers are "completely aware. The subconscious knows at all times what’s going on around you,” allowing us to instantly respond to road stimuli that require a fast refocus of our conscious attention.
“We also pass through this state every single time you fall asleep, every single time you wake up,” says Grant. "It’s that deeply relaxed state between wide awake and sleeping.” That’s the place her training will help students "recover from the analytical mind that has formed conclusions and formulated stories, most of them negative.... It’s a cleansing of the mind.”
In the early stages of her mental training, Grant serves as a student’s guide. In the beginning, she leads relaxation exercises into this natural state of mind where change of the conscious mind is rooted in schooling the subconscious. But for the techniques to become part of what she calls "an invisible tool belt” for continued growth, students must learn to manage them on their own and realize that the program is ongoing.
“All hypnosis is ultimately self-hypnosis,” says Grant. "You are in control. You simply learn how to allow yourself to go into that state.”
It’s obvious in talking with Dawn that she understands the game of sporting clays and the circumstances it presses on shooters. Part of her teaching using hypnotherapy helps clients develop what she calls "post-segment” and “pre-segment” sequences.
The post-segment training comes earlier in the program. It’s about learning to process what’s just happened, be it a “good” performance or “bad.” It uses details as touchstones: stepping out of the cage with an open shotgun, stowing the gun, getting in the cart, or gathering gear to walk to the next peg. Post-segment sequences carry shooters to what Grant calls “intermission,” a respite that allows the shooter to “have fun, be pre sent, enjoy the experience. You’re done processing the past, not thinking about the outcome [of the station just shot] or the next station.”
Grant chuckles. “It’s about being fully present, free of the suffering that comes from cruddy thinking. It’s about supervising and objectively managing the conscious mind in the face of all that stimuli. It’s learning to shoot, to compete from an empowered position.”
The post-segment sequence and intermission feed into the pre-shot routine that Grant says “starts the moment the person approaches the station and begins to draw conclusions about what [he or she is] seeing. The squad before you is frustrated. They’re throwing empty shells in disgust. The ref lets it be known that nobody’s run the station. Maybe it’s the target; maybe you are carrying around preconceived ideas about teal, for example.”
Grant-trained students practice techniques toward becoming “neutral data collectors” as they approach a new station and design their strategy for taking on the target. They learn how to slip into what Grant calls “a trusting subconscious...present in each body part and element as [they] attentively set [their] stance.”
Among the most empowering aspects of Dawn Grant's mental training through hypnotherapy is her regimen for enhancing concentration and managing what may be sporting clays’ most controversial f-word: f-o-c-u-s. “It’s not the Superman laser thing,” she cautions, “staring harder downrange, staring harder at the target.”
In part two of this series, we’ll talk with Grant during the 2015 NSCA US Open and share her approach for what she calls “purposeful, positive, productive planning” for targets easy or hard. Meanwhile, you can review her Peak Sports Performance website and creative learning platforms at www.dawngrant.com.
Randy Lawrence is an NSCA Level I Instructor. He retired from Hocking College’s School of Arts and Sciences as the institution’s only three-time Excellence In Instruction Award winner. Email Randy at email@example.com.