Arousal Regulation in Shooting Processes

Joe Plandowski has been working with us for over six years. He has worked with multiple competitors and Soldiers. 


Before we start discussing arousal regulation everyone stop for minute and get your laughs and giggles out of the way in regards to “He said arousal.” If you are laughing and giggling you are on the wrong track of thinking, we are not talking about sex in this post.
Now that you are done laughing lets get into what is arousal regulation and how is it related to shooting. In in a previous post you were introduced to and we discussed Beck’s (1995) Cognitive Model and focused on discussing thoughts (B) and how they affect/guide your reactions (R: emotional, physiological, behavioral) which then leads to your performance. We do have a lot of control of our thoughts and many techniques focus on control your thoughts, but there is another entry point into this model/system which is the emotional and physiological part of the model.
As we have discussed earlier, at times you may be unaware of your thoughts and it can be difficult to tune into/identify them in the moment they are occurring. Even though this is occurring we may find it easier to identify or be more conscious of our emotions and physiological state. Being able to identify our emotions and physical state can help us to tell if things are going well or not so well for shooting, basically are you in or out of your zone/shooting bubble. When you have identified weather you are in or out of your zone you can then make use of skills and techniques to get into or back into your zone/shooting bubble.
The basic model of arousal that we will use here in relation to performance is the Inverted-U Model.

The Inverted-U model has arousal (physiological arousal) on one axis and performance on the other axis. The model is stating that as arousal increases performance increases, but only to a certain point. Once this point is reached as arousal continues to increase performance decreases. This is similar to a vehicle with a manual/standard transmission. Can you drive a car in 2nd gear and get somewhere? Technically yes, but your engine is not working efficiently as it should. If you try to go fast without shifting gears the tachometer is almost red lining and you are not getting any great performance and the engine and car is going to perform poorly. What you as a shooter wants to identify is what it feels like physiologically and mentally when you have a low arousal level and your performance is poor, what if feels like physiologically and mentally when you have a high arousal level and your performance is poor, and what if feels like physiological and mentally when your have the right arousal level and your performance is at its peak/optimal level. This is also similar to how you can only put so small or so large of a round in a gun with a certain camber size before you get decreased performance. Too small and it would not leave the barrel or won’t travel too far, too big and the round ruins the barrel or the gun blows up.
This right arousal level along with your right level of cognitive arousal (technically called cognitive anxiety, an adaptive level of anxiety helps you to focus on things that are relevant to your performance) where your optimal performance occurs, what is commonly referred to as being in the zone, is called the Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning (IZOF). IZOF is not just one pinpoint on the curve, it is an arousal area/zone in which it occurs.

You want to identify what low and high arousal levels feel like, both mentally and physically, for you when shooting or in other tasks so you can tell when you are outside of your IZOF. Once you have identified what its like to be outside of your IZOF you want to identify what it feels like physiologically and mentally to be in your IZOF. Doing these 3 things will allow you to know quicker when you are outside of your IZOF for shooting so you can start working on using skills and techniques to get into your IZOF and stay there for extended periods of time when you are shooting.

Joseph A. Plandowski, M.A.
Performance Enhancement Consultant

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