Enhancing Your Cognitive Skill

Here is another installment from Joseph Plandowski, our favorite Sports Psychologist.

Practice Incorporating cognitive skills into your training with shooting is a primary place to practice and learn how and when to use them and how to use them efficiently. Though many of us at times do not get to go to the range and shoot as often as we like, due to cost, location, and scarcity of rounds. Along with Covid-19 regulations. Many shooters have discussed doing dry fire practice in regards to trigger pull, using a Mantis, and practicing movement, getting into position, and building a shooting position. In a past article I discussed the use of imagery/visualization during off range train ups and many of you have incorporated this into your on and off range training. The over arching concept to most if not all cognitive/mental skills is that you have to work on/develop awareness of your thoughts, physiology, and behavior. It is great to practice these mental skills when you are training on and off the range, but this is just 2 places in which to practice mental skills. There are many other places and opportunities to practice and develop your mental skills, besides during marksmanship training. One of the end goals of mental skills training is to make the use of these mental skills more automatic within your mental processes, which of course includes your shooting. To take your mental skills development/training to the next level and aid in the development of making these mental skills an automatic/unconscious process think about other areas in your life where you can practice these mental skills, besides when you are practicing marksmanship skills.

 Basically, what I’m telling you to do is practice being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and physiology throughout your day and during different activities, some areas of psychology call this mindfulness and being in the moment. The idea of writing about this topic came to me a couple of weeks ago after a major windstorm in which a tree was blown down in my back yard. It wasn’t that big of tree in my perception, so I decided just to use hand tools to breakdown the tree for my fire pit, you know free wood. Besides hand saws I got an axe and said this should be fun and be good exercise. Feel free to laugh at me at this point if you have ever cut up a tree before. As I started swinging the axe multiple times, I realized how swinging an axe has similarity to marksmanship. You have to determine what your target is, and you want to be consistent in hitting that target/targets too. 

In shooting this is successfully engaging your target, along with being consistent in your shooting process. In chopping up a tree trunk with an axe you also have determine your targets, where you want your axe head to land on the wood, and monitor and determine the swing process that allows you to hit the tree truck in the targeted areas consistently, otherwise your energy and other bodily resources and time are wasted. You are not efficient and/or do not reach your goals. I also started being mindful of my thoughts in regards to my axe performance. If I started thinking while swinging the axe “This sucks!”, “I won’t be able to cut through this wood.”, “This is taking forever.”, and “I’m so out of shape.” my accuracy and effectiveness in using the axe to cut up the tree trunk decreased significantly. I also notice that in order to swing the axe multiple times and for an extended number of swings I had to be mindful of my breathing. When I started to inhale on my raising/back swing of the axe and exhale during the down swing of the axe I was able to get more power to my swings and be more consistent in having the same power in each swing. I was managing my energy.

 Basically, in using both an axe and hand saw I practiced my mental skills during other tasks and areas of my life besides shooting. By being mindful and deliberately using mental/cognitive skills in tasks and areas of your life outside of shooting you will be able to develop your mental game for shooting more quickly which will help you to use these skills automatically/unconsciously while shooting. You are creating a habitat to engage in adaptive thinking and adaptive mental processes that will carry over to your shooting. By practicing/using these skills when you are not shooting/engaging in shooting train-up you will be more prepared when you get to the range because you don’t have to warm up your use of mental skills as much and you can focus your time and train-up on skills you can only practice on the range. Basically, you will have your mental game ready to use from the start to the end of your range time.

Joseph A. Plandowski, M.A.
Performance Enhancement Consultant
Hat Trick Consultation, LLC