You Shoot Better Unconscious

Jul 21, 2017

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Written By - Greg Dykstra
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I consider myself extremely fortunate

to be presented with people from all walks of life and experience levels during our Precision Rifle Fundamentals classes. We literally have had people from all over the globe come to our training. I consider this aspect of my experience with such a vast array of people to be the cause of some of the most valuable lessons I've learned regarding my advancement as a trainer. You simply can not perfect the art of teaching if you are doing it in a vacuum. Physicists, plumbers, doctors, mechanics, farmers, and countless other professions are present in these classes. All of them arrive with varying levels of competency behind a rifle, and all of them leave with a newfound understanding of themselves. Not just as it pertains to shooting, but the power they carry within. Today we are going to discuss the boundless power of the human mind and how it can help you become a better rifleman.

Do you know what kind of power you're carrying around in your head? It is astonishing to me the number of people that are walking around each day feeling entirely powerless against their circumstances. The kind of hopelessness and despair people feel when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles would seem to be a natural reaction built into the human condition. The truth is difficult to grasp for some, but as with most truth, the lack of understanding of it does not determine its presence. The simple fact of the matter is that our mind controls our entire existence. How we perceive our surroundings, our emotions, our health, and in fact our very perception of time are all a function of the mind. There are countless methods which have been developed to reveal the secrets of how our minds work. There are simple tests which will confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that we often do not see things which are right in front of our face. There are other tests that will prove we see things which are not there. If you study the mind, you will find literally millions of examples in which people have done the most remarkable and unbelievable things simply because they believed they could. During high stress situations, people forget what they are incapable of and instead are driven by instinct. A lifetime of programming is washed away in seconds of adrenaline fueled power, during which time they become nothing if not superhuman. In that state, people can lift hundreds of pounds more than they have ever before. Their reaction times are reduced to the point where time seems to stand still. Their physical bodies go beyond the limits of their conscious mind and become purest form of human being. If only for a matter of seconds until their conscious minds take over again, they are truly the most powerful people on the planet. The fact that simple decisions of the mind can alter your reality and capabilities would seem beyond reproach. 

At this point some of you are likely looking for proof. Not proof of what someone else can do, but proof of what you can do. Proof that this power exists within you at all. You shall have the proof you seek. Do you recall the first time you tried to carry a cup full of liquid as a child? The hotter the liquid, the more full the cup, the more you tried to concentrate. The more you tried to concentrate, the slower you would go and the more you would spill, remember? You'd stare at the cup, watching the liquid slosh about and the more it would slosh, the more panicked you would get, the more you would spill. I remember the first time I encountered this vividly as I fetched a cup of coffee for my father. Whether he knew it or not, he is responsible for the very first revelation of the infinite power of my subconscious mind and its ability to control my body. He told me, "Pick your head up and walk, don't look at the cup." It took some faith, but I did it, and before long I could have jogged across the house with the full coffee cup in my hand and not spilled a drop, never once having looked at it. 

Think about that sloshing liquid in the cup. 

Now think about your reticle as it bobs around on your target. 

Before we get into that too deep, first I'll provide some more proof of the power you are carrying around in your melon. This is an exercise I have every Precision Rifle Fundamentals class perform. Look around the room you are in. Find a tiny object somewhere across the room off to your right or left. Then turn away from it, and close your eyes. Now, with your eyes closed, point at the object you identified with your finger. Keeping your arm up and finger pointing at the object, open your eyes and look at how closely you're pointing at the object. Thus far, every single member of our training classes has been able to do this without fail. They would be pointing almost exactly at the object they chose... without being able to see it. The proof is there folks. If you are reading this, then you have the power. Believing it is there is step one. Step two is deciding you're going to bring its power to bear on something specific. 

Further proof still can be seen among elite shotgunners. The conscious mind can not "think" through the problem of busting a clay or shooting a pheasant, while the subconscious mind can do it effortlessly. Some ten years ago I competed in a local sporting clays league with my father, brother, and some friends. After we dominated a stage we would often be asked "what was your lead on that target there?" Our response would be "I'm not sure." Some competitors thought this was just our team being snobby and not wanting to help out, but in truth it was that we sincerely did not know. You see, many shooters viewed shotgunning as a game of some kind of conscious mathematical calculation. Our team on the other hand viewed it as a purely instinctive sport. Meaning, we practiced and formed technique that would make the shotgun a part of our body. After that, we turned the entire affair over to our subconscious. Our team was a powerhouse. Some weeks... unbeatable.

When I was a young boy getting started in shooting a rifle, I learned everything about it from my father... just as many young boys did at that time. The internet didn't exist in its current form, so if you didn't learn from your dad, grandfather, or family friend, you probably didn't learn. Virtually every rifle given to me had a fixed 4x optic with a duplex reticle. From 22lr to .243 winchester. In my early teens it was completely unsurprising when I would shoot a rabbit over 100yds away at the end of our driveway. Kentucky windage was the name of the game, and it was purely instinct. You held for elevation and wind until you "got tone." That's what my father called it. Something he picked up from the Top Gun movie I think. Quite a truism if there was one. It was that feeling I received, an impulse, telling me that right there right then it was time to press the trigger. By the time I was 17 years old, I was spooky good with a rifle using nothing but 4x optics and instinct. I was able to shoot pheasants out of the air with my bow using this same principle. Pure instinct. 

This idea of instinctive shotgunning, archery, and rifle shooting was revealed to me at an early age by my father. When I became more interested in long range shooting the way we know it today, that's where my own development came into the picture. My father wasn't experienced in long range shooting. Kentucky windage works quite well out to practiced distances, but the farther the distance becomes, the more difficult it became. I realized quite quickly that first round hits past 500-600yds was very difficult with a duplex reticle. I won't bore you with the details of the journey, but suffice it to say I wasted tens of thousands of dollars on inferior equipment before I learned what actually worked well. After a few years of pressing the discipline, I reached a plateau. I had become a student of the science and could compute firing solutions at blistering speed. I was a consistent 1/2 to 3/4 moa shooter and I could get a first round hit on a 2moa target well beyond a thousand yards.  Though sub-1/2 moa groups at 100yds or at distance eluded me. While my groups were respectable, the location of those groups would shift as much as 1 to 2 tenths of a mil to any side of the target. One day the rifle would shoot 2 tenths of a mil high. The next day it would be left. The day after it would be right... and so on. No matter how flawless my firing position, no matter how flawless my work at the loading bench, no matter how elite my equipment, I just could not seem to get those shots to consistently land where I wanted them inside that window. In my hunger for knowledge of this sport and my fascination with the science of it all, I had left something behind. 

Instinct & Our Subconscious Mind

Hopefully I've provided enough proof of your power for you to keep reading. If I haven't, then I suggest you set out and do some research of the power of instinct on your own. The fact of the matter is that your subconscious mind has seemingly infinite power, while our conscious mind is completely crippled in comparison. The conscious portion of our mind is extremely slow and clunky, while our subconscious mind is lightning fast and streamlined. So, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that anything our conscious mind can do, the subconscious mind can do infinitely better. The question then becomes: How do we let our subconscious mind gain control over our physical body to accomplish complex tasks in the physical world? Quite simply, your subconscious mind is already in control of your body. Well, parts of it anyway. Do you think about breathing? What do you feel when you inhale? Do you feel that? Inhaling. What about exhaling? Exhale. Most of you just interrupted your breathing cycle and all it took was for me to make you aware of the fact that you're breathing. Your subconscious faculty is in charge of core body functions. You don't think about breathing. You don't think about making your heart beat. You don't think about blinking. Yet each of these things happens thousands of times per day without you ever using your conscious mind to control them. If you try to use your conscious mind to take control of these aspects of your physiology, bad things can happen. Yet despite this, shooters will get behind a rifle and start molesting their body's natural respiratory cycle like they are being paid to do it. Why? - They are trying to concentrate. Remember the coffee cup? Concentration didn't help us there, and it won't help us here. Complex physical tasks which require massive hand to eye coordination of things in 3D space is simply not a task our conscious mind is optimized for. Our subconscious mind however is built for just that purpose. 

Have a look at this kid stacking cups. 

Here in this video you'll see scientific proof of the concepts I'm describing. They hook him up to sensors and monitor his brain activity. This young boy moves at blistering speed and performs extremely complex maneuvers and he does it without "thinking." He has simply "programmed" his subconscious mind to perform a specific set of tasks. That programming was done using our only known mechanism for turning complex physical tasks over to our subconscious mind. What mechanism is that, you ask? 

Repetition.

The more you do something, the easier it becomes, as a rule. There is proof of this everywhere. Familiarity breeds confidence. Confidence breeds competence. Competence breeds wisdom. The only mechanism that I am aware of by which you can turn over physical acts to your instinctive faculty is repetition. The first time you ever drove a vehicle it was likely very intimidating. You had to look for everything. The pedals, the shifter, the blinker, the lights, etc. After enough exposure to them, you can go straight to them in the dark while driving 75mph on the interstate. The vehicle becomes an extension of you. This is the nature of repetition and familiarity. You don't think about turning the wheel or hitting the brakes while driving. You just do it. You're busy watching other cars and traffic signals. This is a prime example of how something gets turned over to our subconscious. 

Now we'll dive back in and talk about that liquid sloshing in the coffee cup and what it has in common with your reticle bobbing around on the target. There is an exercise that I've often had shooters do whereby they crank their scope up to max magnification and shoot a 5 shot group at 100yds. I then have them go down to minimum magnification and fire another 5 shot group. Most of them are quite surprised to see the groups they fired at minimum magnification to be significantly better than the group fired at maximum magnification. The reason why this happens is that on max magnification, the shooter can see every tiny little movement of that reticle in relation to the target. Every tiny movement is amplified and accented. The wind twitching against the rifle, every little slip of the rear bag, and their very own heartbeat causing the reticle to hop around in cadence are all shown to the mind. The shooter, knowing he has to get the crosshairs to settle where he wants them before pressing the trigger is fighting all of those movements. He's clenching his firing hand, tightening his firing shoulder and arm, squeezing his face against the rifle, squinting his non-firing eye shut so he can concentrate harder, and putting a death strangle on the rear bag with his non-firing hand. All the while he is holding his breath at random intervals in a feeble attempt to get that crosshair to stay on the target just long enough for him to slap the trigger in the hope of getting a shot off. Having written that all out, it's a wonder to me that anyone has any fun at all while shooting. It seems exhausting, doesn't it? Meanwhile the group I have them fire at minimum magnification... they can't see any of those movements. They think they are rock solid, and because they can't really see much down there, they don't try very hard at all. This is probably the most common comment I get when examining those shots. They say "I don't understand. I wasn't even really trying to do that." Light bulb come on for you yet? It usually does for them, right about then. The harder you try not to spill, the more you spill. The harder you try to get that crosshair to settle, the more it will move. 

Have patience. The answers to your questions are coming.

So we know that our subconscious mind can control our bodies better than our conscious mind, and we know that repetition is how we turn certain activities over to our subconscious mind. This is a power of truly biblical proportion. Understand what I'm about to tell you clearly: Once you train your mind to do something in this manner, it can be very difficult to get it to stop doing it. It is for this reason that you must take great care to properly select the things you're going to hand over. If you repeat a bad technique, that technique will be the thing your subconscious will do. If you repeat a good technique, that will be used instead. Your subconscious does not have the ability to select good from bad, all it knows is that you've done this thing so much that you must want it to do that all the time. Some say 5,000 repetitions is enough. Some say 500. Some say 20,000 is the number of repetitions required for your subconscious to take over and have the act be second nature. I'm not certain of the number but I can tell you with certainty that more is better. The more you do something, the more power your subconscious will have over it. So choose the things you repeat carefully or you might find yourself in possession of some bad habits that might not go away very easy.

Learning what to repeat can be done on your own if you have a lot of time to shoot. It took me nearly 10 years of shooting, and a solid 3 years of shooting nearly every day to develop the techniques I now teach. A better way to learn the techniques is to come to one of our fundamentals classes. I'll shave 10 years off your learning curve in 2 days. Though while I can teach you the technique that is proper and explain in detail why it is correct, the act of turning it over to your subconscious is up to you. We don't have time enough during the class to get enough repetitions to concrete it into your mind. That takes time and discipline. Both things that people tend to have in different quantities. Getting the technique to be repeated perfect each time, moving slow and deliberate, is very important. It builds the foundation upon which your entire worth as a shooter can be measured. 

Relax. 

Turns out that the harder you consciously try to make a shot happen, the less likely the shot will land well. Forcing a shot almost never works out as well as it could have. We established earlier that the more you concentrated on complex tasks the worse things got. If you need further proof of this, go watch Magnus on netflix. It is a documentary about Magnus Carlsen, a young chess prodigy. Many would say the most impressive chess champion of all time. During the documentary it was clear that the more Magnus tried to concentrate, the worse he would lose. When he just "let go" and allowed his instincts to drive his choices, he was the most dominating person the chess world had ever seen. This theory holds well for most shooters also. If you just relax, you'll typically perform much better than if you are all spun up trying to worry yourself to a hit. So then if you aren't supposed to be trying hard, what exactly are you supposed to be doing?!?!?!

Quite simply, your efforts should be spent understanding the correct techniques to use, repeating those techniques, and realizing that your entire job is to create a desirable set of circumstances so that a shot can happen. Notice I didn't say make happen. The shot is there, you just have to create a desirable situation for it to reveal itself. During a shot, you can't be sitting there thinking about your breathing, trigger manipulation, grip, the heat, the rock digging into your knee, or the sweat dripping into your eye. You should have the core motions of the operation of a rifle repeated so much that it all becomes as instinctive as walking. You get behind the rifle, set NPA, interface the trigger, and from that moment on you should actively tell yourself to stop thinking and relax. The kind of focus I can achieve behind a rifle is unlike anything else I experience in my life. At no other time do I find myself that completely void of emotion and worldly concern. In a word - Calm. I've devoted my life to the discipline and have worked on it daily to ensure my interface with the rifle is as natural as possible. This allows me to blank my mind out after I connect. I'm just lying there waiting for tone. < That was the part I left behind when I began the scientific part of the journey of long range shooting. That was the missing piece that made the rest of it work. I still dial a firing solution, but the wind and small adjustments in elevation that come with tens of thousands of rounds of experience? That instinctive connection to the infinitely powerful quantum calculation engine inside my head is the only tool I have which is up to that task. When I realized that several years ago, I smashed through every plateau in front of me. They fell like dominos. 

TOO MANY MIND

Here you see Tom Cruise in the movie Last Samurai getting his butt kicked during sword training. This is a perfect example of a distracted mind. When you are lying behind the rifle you are worried about so many things. People watching, noises you hear, your rifle, your firing position, the firing solution you've calculated, the wind, your equipment, etc. The more you have to think about, the more stressed you become. 

Later in the movie, Mr. Cruise's character learns to accept his experience, claim it as his own, and stop letting uncertainty or doubt cloud his mind. He turns the fight over to his subconscious knowing with complete certainty that he has trained his best and is up to the task before him. Like this character, you must learn to get your conscious thoughts out of the way if you intend to become masterful with a precision rifle. 

Become One With Your Rifle System

Yeah yeah I know, seems corny. I thought so once too. Just because it seems that way, doesn't mean it is. If you look at any martial art or fighting discipline you will always see the elite masters in their respective categories exercising lives of extreme discipline. They have a calm confidence about them that seems supernatural. They can be getting attacked by 5 people at once, and they will appear to just swim through their foes. Granted there is a lot of orchestrated crap which is designed to sell special colored belts, but I'm talking about true fighting disciplines here such as ju jitsu, hapkido, and systema. Some dangerous folks walking around with those skillsets, I'm here to tell you. The elite in those fields have a knowledge of self that is unrivaled. You too must know yourself that way. 

This is not small task. The kind of time and repetition I'm talking about here is not going to be without sacrifice. You'll likely need to make some hard choices in your life to free up the kind of time and money required. Though I can tell you without a shred of a doubt that if you want to become a true student of the discipline, it is a choice your life will be built around. 

When I was first learning to develop this skillset I would often lay behind my rifle for hours at a time, observing a target and waiting for my shot. Waiting on that impulse. That instinctive nudge telling me it is time. At first, it would often come very slowly. It took me a very long time to shut my conscious mind down enough to let the subconscious take control. I was surprised to learn that trying to stop yourself from thinking was a hell of a lot harder than trying to think. I'd shoot all day long, to only have fired 3-5 rounds. It was exhausting. The mental jousting sessions I had with myself were legendary in their scale and irreplaceable in value to my advancement as a shooter. Other times when working on different issues, I would fire over 500rnds in a single day. That's kind of a lot when you are considering purposeful precision rifle rounds at distance. We aren't talking about mag dumping an AK into a berm here. Real, honest shots, demanding an explanation for every miss and an account for every hit. I still vividly remember some of those shooting sessions and what I put myself through for the sake of the discipline. Those were the building blocks of a foundation that is unshakable. The confidence built there could not have been purchased. It is priceless to me. 

Now I want you to think of yourself.

Have you put in the work to have true confidence in yourself and your equipment? Are you certain your rifle is mechanically sound? Is the optic you selected the very definition of reliable? Have you proven that beyond a shadow of a doubt? Are you certain your reloading equipment and techniques are good enough? Have you studied meditation and relaxation techniques? Have you attended focused rifle fundamentals training? Are you shooting frequently? I'd be lying if I told you I didn't think all of these things had to be there for you to become a truly outstanding marksman. Without putting in the work, you won't gain the confidence required. Without gaining the confidence, you won't gain the competence required. Without gaining the competence, you won't gain the wisdom required. 

Without wisdom you will not learn to shoot free of limitation. 


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No part of this website or any of its content may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the express prior written permission of Primal Rights, Inc