Sunday, February 02, 2014

Performance anxiety...

Humans are social animals. One of the most universal fears among members of our species is looking dumb and incompetent in front of the other monkeys in the troop.

In technological western cultures, it manifests itself in dreams where one goes to work or school and inexplicably finds one's self naked when expected to present a paper or lecture. It's an apprehension about, not just being unprepared, but being unprepared before the group.

This is what prevented me from getting any real firearms schoolin' for many years. I mean, it was one thing to go to a basic safety or preparedness lecture with a half-dozen folks or so, and then maybe fire off a couple rounds while someone made sure I didn't have my thumb behind the slide and kept the gun pointing the right way, but a gun school where I might have to shoot at small targets? Or ones further away? What if I missed?

And so, beyond a few basic classes of the "Step 1: Remove price tag from gun..." variety, I never had any formal gun schooling until that Todd Jarrett class at Blackwater from ParaUSA basically pushed me into the pool. Where I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I didn't drown and, even if I sometimes did miss stuff, it wasn't the end of the world and I learned a lot. And it was... *gasp*!

Now I have no problem (or at least a much more manageable problem) with showing up at a class with a dozen strangers in polo shirts and khaki pants, most of whom can probably shoot better than me. I'm not there to impress them with my mad skills; I'm there to learn something. If I knew everything, I wouldn't need to be there in the first place, would I?

All these old feelings were stirred up by a recent post by my friend Kathy, who really framed this issue well by comparing it to swimming lessons. Brilliant analogy.

*I think the same thing can keep people from shooting in competition. A lot of local club-level stuff is very fun and casual and laid back, but you're probably going to miss the target some, right there in front of God and everybody. Unless you're some prodigy, it's unlikely you're going to show up and be winning the game from day one, but if you don't give yourself permission to risk losing, you can never get better. It's kinda zen that way.


Anonymous said...

My shooting buddy can outshoot me at our little one on one shooting competitions...unless someone is watching. Even if someone is in the next shooting bay, but not paying attention to us, he falters. He's actually stopped a practice session before we got started when someone showed up to watch from the next bay.

QUESTION - why do you put the micro text at the bottom that I have to cut and paste into notepad to be able to read? Is there a way for me to embiggen it?

rremington said...

This post is full of win. I have been shooting for close to fifty years and until I took my first class last year, I think a lot of what held me back was probably the sub-conscious fear of finding out I didn't know everything.

Like you said, it doesn't bother me not to be the best shooter in the class, I'm just there to get BETTER.

J. Sullivan said...

Complacency, not failure, is the opposite of success.

Drang said...

Me, I've been putting off classes because I'm a cheapskate.

Yrro said...

Funny thing for me: I've been doing the same thing because I'm embarrassed about the guns I'd bring to the class.

I've got an 1911 with sentimental value (it belonged to my grandpa) that won't go 50 rounds without a malfunction, and a GP100 that I love and I trust my life with, but that is... incredibly less than ideal for the "put 500/rounds a day through it" sort of pistol classes.

So to take a class, I have to save up for a new gun, the cost of the class, and $400 worth of ammo, or feel like I'm going to feel like a dick while everyone waits for me to clear another malfunction drill.

I keep telling myself that this year I'll make myself set away enough for it, but no luck so far.

Keads said...

I try to go to a class at least once a year. I have two goals: 1. Learn something 2. Don't be "That Guy".

Blackwater was fun! I totally agree with that.

Alien said...

Back when I lived at (redacted) the club I belonged to did IPSC once a month. We were close to a certain locaton, so we usually got members of a particular LE organization which had IPSC matches at their home base the following weekend.

We saw LOTS of new holster, new sights, new everything, being tried out, and they knew since we had limited space (4 stages, and stage 1 always had to be rearranged to make it into stage 4) we tried to make the stages as difficult as possible.

We saw lots of brain farts and missed targets from them at our place as they ironed out new stuff and tried out new thinking. Some of us shot at their place the following week and it was always interesting how many of the folks who shot both places went back to tried-and-true equipment and techniques at home.

Anon 11:53 - try this: hold CTRL down and roll the mouse scroll wheel top to forward to embiginate.

Gerry N. said...

I enjoy more or less informal shooting matches. You hear some of the best excuses for missing. The one I use most is Random Gravity Wells near the target.

Gerry N.

NotClauswitz said...

The last few "naked" dreams I had completely lacked all the anxiety factor. I walked around naked in the dream and did the normal, usual stuff - and I kinda enjoyed it. I guess it comes from being worn down about performance - that's a young person's game. I'm old now and know it, I'm accustomed to being a C-Senior rider - you crash a lot and the main goal is to improve on when you hour-out. The anxiety I have about taking a gun-class with a new/unknown instructor is about whether the Instructor is going to muzzle everybody and whether I'll get home safe. It's about whether I'll have the courage to walk-out of a class where I feel like it's not going right - or worse, anxiety if I'll even notice the bad things!

tailwind said...

To paraphrase the great Yogi:

Shooting is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.

TBeck said...

The students trying to show off are probably the ones most likely to go home with an extra crease in their leg.

Scott J said...

I'm with Drang. I'm cheap (but also prone to blow money I shouldn't, go figure) and have let that keep me from gun school.

I wanted to go to Gunsite from the first time I read "To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak The Truth" but I was only making about $15K a year at the time and even less when I went back to college.

After college I focused on other things and eventually convinced myself I didn't need gun school because I would compare what I could do on paper to what "average shooters" could do on paper.

When I decided to get serious about the hobby again in 2008 I eventually decided in 2011 I had to join a private range (the public land stuff wasn't cutting it). The one I joined requires you to compete in at least two of the monthly matches they host (any discipline). I selected benchrest and IDPA since it looked interesting and was somewhat revolver friendly.

My NRA Highpower background prepared me for benchrest but my thinking I was a good shot was crushed by all the movement (me, the gun and the target) in IDPA. Thing is I wound up hooked on the latter I haven't shot bench in ages.

Now all my income I can allocate to shooting either goes into supporting IDPA (and adding Steel Challenge to the mix this year) or playing around at my club's 500 yard range.

But....the point of all that is that you're exactly right about performance anxiety. Even with all my experience I get it before every match. If I'd paid $1,500 plus expenses for gun school I figure the anxiety would be even worse.

Angus McThag said...

Que Ms White: "They're all going to laugh at you! They're all going to laugh at you! They're all going to laugh at you! They're all going to laugh at you!"

KM said...

I know repetition is good for the ol' neuro pathways but the amounts of ammo some classes say to bring is ridiculous. Is there any *real* learning going on with really high round counts or is it, "it must be good look at all the spent brass"? At some point there are diminishing returns.

Tam said...


I've found that, for me at least, 500rds/day is pushing it in a pistol class, and that's if the instructor is on the ball and has the class paced right.

Which instructors have you been to that had too high of a round count?

mikee said...

As a former swimming instructor, I can say with great authority that there are two problems teaching kids to swim that are also two problems with teaching firearm use.

First is the one mentioned in the link - if you don't know how to swim how do you do the class? Easily overcome through gradual introduction of concepts such as learning to blow bubbles under water, breath in above water.

The other problem is that some kids think that since there is a teacher present, they can try any damn idiocy that comes to mind in class just to see how it works. Teaching kids to safely dive off the diving board and to do racing starts from the pool deck were my specialties.

But there was always one kid with a really red belly by end of class, because he needed, and took, no instruction to belly flop again and again.

Those are the kids who grow up, go the gun range, and cause everyone else to flinch watching their antics.

Tam said...


"If I'd paid $1,500 plus expenses for gun school I figure the anxiety would be even worse."

Tiger McKee's right there in Langston, AL. Classes seem to run $200-$600, depending.

Scott J said...

Thanks for the tip, Tam. I'll look into that.

KM said...

Which instructors have you been to that had too high of a round count?
None. The class I've taken was "Do it until you can do it right" then move on. The grocery bags full of empty brass got filled on my own practice time.
Shorter, very focused practice sessions are better for me than many hours where my interest can wander. Works that way for shotgun/rifle/golf practice too.

Will said...


If your GP100 is your self protection gun, then take it to class. If the instructor(s) laugh at it, you picked the wrong school.

Now, if you are expecting to move to relying on an auto in the near future, then get the auto first.

Get a handful of speed loaders. I suggest the Safariland MKII, the push to release type, as they are much less fumble prone than the twist knob release type.

First class I took, one of the women was shooting a GP100. Told me she carried it in Los Angeles. She had no problems keeping up with the other students. 1000 rnds in 4 days. Ran into her at a sub gun class about 8 months later, and when I asked about the gun, she told me she had switched to a Glock. For some reason, I neglected to ask why the switch.

Tam said...


I mean this in the nicest possible way: Elaborate excuses are still excuses. I convinced myself I was a self-taught prodigy due to my special learning style, too. I was wrong.

lelnet said...

Me, I've only ever had the high-anxiety fears over things with consequences. (Being naked in class? Nah. You won't flunk for being naked. That dream was always about showing up for the exam in a class I hadn't actually taken, and ending up destitute in the gutter because I only got a C.)

Likewise with gun-related fear dreams...they never happen about classes. Only situations where the targets I miss can (and do) shoot back.

Anonymous said...

Guess I'm the jump in type. First match was not by choice. I was at the DPMS 3-Gun match to take pictures for the company. Several people had been stuck in airports and/or lost guns so they told me I was shooting to fill out a squad. Borrowed guns, no experience, the boss and Jerry Miculek for squad mates. Haven't been worried about making a fool of myself at any match since. I went to Gunsite, learned a bunch and got really comfortable with my gun.

KM said...

So the class I paid for wasn't a class? Interesting.

Tam said...


I'm sorry, I completely misread you. I'd blame the hour, but that would be a chump move on my part.

Please accept my apologies.

Anonymous said...

After college I got turned into a interpreter guy by the gubbermint. I learned to screw up in new ways every day, all over the world, in front of perfect strangers - many of whom were not going to like you no matter what you said. My advice: if you cannot get it wrong in front of other people, stay out the the interpreting business.

But I still have those 'walking in public in your underwear dreams'. I don't think we ever really get over those.

KM said...

Tam, no apology needed.
It's just the format we're trying to converse in.

Yrro said...


I'm still trying to figure out what a FAST with a revolver should even look like :)

I don't disagree with you at all, just noting that it bumps up my motivation threshold in a very similar way to how you describe. I'm very fond of the GP100 as a general gun, but I do wish I had just started with a Glock. I'm too fond of the thing to sell it, though...

I've got the good speedloaders and I practice with them. I need to get a better pouch.

Scott J said...

Yrro, look up my friends at Master Tac on book of Face.

He molds some great speedloader holders out of kydex.

Claude said...

The maximum effective range of an excuse is zero meters.