Are you in “thinking” mode? Or are you in “trusting” mode?
If any of you are confused by what I mean, allow me to explain.
(Just as a precursor, I’ll be talking a lot about shooting sports, in case the photo didn’t tip you off. Bear with me - basically all of this is a real-life analogy that applies to ALL OF US, whether you’ve picked up a rifle or not. I’ll explain at the end.)
I’ve competed in precision 4-H shooting sports for about five years now. Contrary to what I was expecting, I loved it! The satisfaction of hitting the bullseye paired with the challenge of focused physical and mental effort is unparalleled in anything I’ve ever done.
Learning the skill of shooting an air rifle in order to hit a millimeter wide bullseye is extremely nuanced. You have to put in hours of practice in order to shoot well.
However, the physical skill of shooting is only the first part of the equation. To be successful in precision shooting, you must have excellent mental focus. When you are shooting at a 5 inch target that is 50 yards away, any small movement of the body can make a difference. A twitch of the muscles can bump a 10-point shot down to 5 points (and while 5 points may not seem like a huge difference, let it be known that at shooting matches, placings are often separated by less than one point. That’s right. ONE point. And this is 4-H matches, not the Olympics!).
So what happens when you’re in a competition setting, and your nerves are acting up? My mind starts racing, picturing worst-case scenarios. My palms get sweaty. I can’t seem to calm the jitters in my body. Every time that I pull the trigger or look through my sights at the bullseye, I’m adjusting:
What could I do better?
Does everything feel okay?
Should I shift my weight a little to the right?
Is my hand in the proper spot?
Am I missing something?
Now here’s the funny thing.
It seems like these questions are helping me, it really does. I mean, I’m adjusting to make my position the best it can be, so wouldn’t that mean that my shot will be the best it can be too? As in, a bullseye?
Wrong. In fact, being in this “thinking” mindset is not effective for competition. Instead of helping you perform, this mindset causes you to OVERTHINK and second guess yourself to the detriment of your final score.
Now, this “thinking mindset” isn’t all bad. In fact, it’s incredibly useful for training purposes. However, when it’s competition time, I have to let that go. I have to get into a different mindset:
The trusting mindset.
This is where I let all my training fade into the background and my brain essentially goes on autopilot. Interestingly, if you ask Olympic Rifle Shooters what they think about during competition, the answer is often: “Nothing. I don’t even remember most of my shots.”
That’s because they have allowed themselves to go into the “trusting mindset”: there’s no more need for questions, there’s no more second guessing. There’s only action.
This summer, I competed in the 4-H Shooting Sports National Championship Match on the Kansas Air Rifle Team. The National Match is a three day event with a different style of shooting every day. The first day of Nationals, I thought I had it all together. I thought I was ready. But as the clock started, so did my brain, firing off question after question, second guessing my positions, and all around frustrating and confusing me. I tried to stop thinking and go into autopilot, but that made me overthink even more - now I was thinking about how I couldn’t be thinking about thinking at all!
Needless to say, the day didn’t end how I wanted it to.
I knew I had to change something for the next day’s match. I opened my shooting manual and lo and behold, the chapter I had opened to was about the training vs. trusting mindset.
I needed to trust myself.
So I gave it a try. Every time I started to second guess, I repeated the phrase “trust yourself” again and again (side note: I also sang a Hamilton song on repeat in my head in order to distract myself. It was very effective. Thanks, Lin Manuel Miranda.)
The second day ended with a personal high score, qualifying me for the top shot final.
This isn’t a post to talk about my shooting “success” or wax eloquent about my rifle knowledge. This is a post about how we live our lives.
I think we constantly live in this land of questioning and second guessing. I know I do. And sometimes, that’s exactly what we need - sometimes we are in the “training mindset” and need to ask ourselves those clarifying questions to figure out the path of our lives.
But there’s a point where that’s not helpful anymore, and it becomes destructive. We stop moving forward when we question every step we take.
With the new year coming upon us next month, I’m going to challenge myself to just TRUST. Trust the decisions I’ve made, trust the path God is leading me down, trust that I can take the next step every day -- whatever that step might be -- and move forward.
What mindset are you in? Let me know in the comments!