Pushing outside your comfort zone

February 21, 2014  
Categories: Assorted Ramblings

When you train, do you do it on your own, or do you bring some friendly rivalry into it? Do you train outside your comfort zone? Are you willing to set ego aside and ask for help where you need it? COWAN! thinks that’s just the thing to do, as long as the shooters you’re asking advice of aren’t solipsistic fuckwits. (Grunts: solipsistic). Training is as differnt from practice as improvement is from maintenance. Mad Duo


Pushing Outside Your Comfort Zoe


Both training and practicing are social events; at least for me.   When taking a course, you are usually among your peers and frequently training with those at or near your skill level.  The class is developed for people at a certain level and most classes will have an apogee of techniques where each person is expected to reach.   Because training is often structured to introduce new skills, refine existing ones and correct bad habits, you are usually working outside your comfort zone.  Even if you are attending a class that teaches skills you are already proficient in, working among your peers pushes you just a little harder to perform at your best.  Self-reflection is the name of the game; we cannot learn what we think we already know. Realizing this fact when stepping on the line with an open mind does exactly what training is supposed to do, which is to push us through the uncomfortable and conscious actions to unconscious competence.

Ah, but practice…. Practice is what we do on our own.  Usually we want to bring along a friend or two, work with our co-workers, fellow officers or members of our unit and work through refining skills proficiency.  For the citizen, practice is usually not structured as it may be in a police department or military unit, meaning that it is up to us what we practice and how we go about it.  If it’s up to you, you might fall into the trap of working on skills where you are comfortable and proficient and pay little (or no) attention to skills that you need improvement on.  This is where fitness and firearms are very, very alike.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I consider physical fitness integral to firearms training and practice.  Dexterity, agility, peak performance and time-to-fatigue are all improved by exercise.  People who take physical fitness very seriously are always pushing towards their “PR” or Personal Record…a goal, whether it be max dead lift, run time, max repetitions in an exercise or body measurements; the more you are into fitness, the more you like to see results.  It’s hard because it’s worth it, though because it’s hard, some people start down the exercise road and then find excuses to take breaks, skip days, or stop all together.  Well, firearms practice is no different.  Gyms are expensive, so is ammo.  Making the investment in both can save your life or the life of a loved one…cost justified.

Just like fitness, firearms practice has “plateaus,” we reach a certain level of performance and can’t seem to push past it.  This is usually when some people go to the internet for advice, buy a few DVDs or ask friends how to work up to that next level.  The others, those who reach a plateau and stall out, are either discouraged or unaware that they can reach a higher level of performance.  This is because we are doing what we are comfortable with in practice, we are in our comfort zone and it’s what we know and can repeat proficiently.

This is called maintenance.

There is nothing wrong with maintenance, it keeps the edge sharp, but it doesn’t make the blade any more efficient.  When left to our own devices, we may rationalize our inability to push past this plateau as having reached our maximum level of performance.  That could be true, everyone has a performance wall they cannot climb; but I like to think my wall is determined by physics and time, not my opinion—I, like many others, will lie to myself.  Not consciously, mind you, but there are lanes of thought we get into when we hit a wall. Those lanes make it much easier to assume this is as good as we are going to get than it is to assume we can perform better if we push harder than we are.  Even knowing that there are others out there, even people we know, who have hit the same wall at some point and then pushed past it, we may just assume that we can’t reach their level of performance.  Of course this can be true, but personally I like to believe it’s up to me to make that decision.

Goals set by others, not set by ourselves, are far more likely to bring us over a performance wall.  This may shock you but I’m not going to quote a study or link to a professional psychology paper (this time) to justify this because I consider it to be pretty common sense.  If I am left to my own devices, I may resign myself to having reached a goal and that this level of performance is as good as I’m going to get because despite the work I put in to reach it, it’s comfortable to remain there and much harder to push on.  Plus, most alphas don’t like asking for help.  Well, find someone doing it better than you and repeat after me: Can you help me?  Four words is all its going to take, and these four words are just as powerful as what the answer should be: Let me show you.  Now, we don’t usually have an obligation to help others when they ask for it, but if you are like me, you feel like you have a responsibility to do so.  Peers, friends, fellow shooters, or those I meet in the gym.  If they ask for help, I’m going to give it but they have to be willing to ask before I can.

Before you can ask for help, you have to know what it is you want, which is usually pretty easy but if you find yourself with a problem, a wall you can’t climb, you may not know what exactly to ask or who to turn to.  The simplest solution is to find a shooter that consistently performs at a level above yours and ask them how they got there.  Hopefully they will be able to articulate it, because knowing how and knowing how to explain are two different things and can be mutually exclusive.  Learn from good habits, even if those habits may be different from yours, but always keep a mind to reality.

If you carry concealed in the appendix, you are not likely to reach the draw speed of someone who carries exposed at the hip (but it’s possible).  If you want to learn to work the trigger faster, find someone who does it without sacrificing accuracy and mimic their practice techniques.   Be humble and don’t make excuses. If you can’t afford thousands of rounds, budget what you can and over compensate with dry fire time.  You don’t have to fire a single round to work on draw proficiency, or reloads.  Isolate one skill at a time to keep from getting frustrated, build to proficiency and then begin combining skills until you are at a realistic level.   When it’s time to shoot, have your peers build your drills.   A realistic drill that’s just outside of your ability created by someone else is a challenge and it’s uncomfortable, which is exactly what we want.  When you build your own drills you are likely to stick with what’s comfortable and that doesn’t help you grow.

Form comes first, without form there is no efficiency; I always keep this in mind when being challenged.  I don’t expect to meet the standards of performance on my first attempt, or even my tenth.  An especially challenging drill, such as a “hostage” drill at distance requires precision accuracy and that accuracy may take time to build.  Many shooters can consistently hit a 6” or 8” circle at 10 yards when it’s isolated, but put that same circle over the shoulder of a hostage target and it becomes instantly more difficult for the beginner.  Partially shroud that circle and it becomes more difficult.  The efficiency of the draw, the proper grip, sight picture and trigger control will see you to success no matter how uncomfortable you were to begin with.  If you fail, try again; that’s what practice is for.  Practice until you consistently succeed, then practice until you can’t fail and then ask for something harder.   If you spend more time on the pistol than the rifle, change it up.  Work the rifle fundamentals, dry fire and then push outside your comfort zone with someone else’s drills.

Is this more beneficial than just finding drills online in a forum or from a book?  Absolutely.

If a peer creates your drills and is present while you practice them, they can help you reach their level of performance by giving instant feedback on the mistakes they made getting there and the methods they used for success.  Books, articles, DVDs and forum advice can be practice supplements but in no way replace instant feedback from a peer.  In a broad sense this is no different than taking a training course; instructors teach techniques, give roadmaps to success and run you through scenarios and drills.  We are right there with you to help you succeed, to help you reach a basic level of proficiency and then you can practice on your own to move beyond the level of performance we set forth.  Working with a peer does the same thing; you are getting from them what you may not have yet.  Realism starts with believing you can do better.

Being better is all about being willing to ask for help.

Train accordingly.


We like this meme’s sentiment. Click the image to see how much we agree.


COWAN! has never been accused of being taciturn, but we like to think he brings up some damn valid points (plus he looks good in silkies doing PT). Read more about him here.

Aaron Cowan

Aaron Cowan

About the Author

Aaron Cowan is a patched Minion and an idiot savant of the tactical variety from a little place we like to call Hotlanta (though apparently no one from down there actually calls it that). COWAN! is the Lead Instructor and HMFIC of program development for Sage Dynamics who believes every article should be roughly the equivalent of a doctoral thesis, which is of course something we absolutely appreciate. To call him thorough would be to damn him with faint praise. We call him COWAN! because anything in all caps with an exclamation point after it must be awesome. A former infantryman turned PSC contractor and LEO, COWAN! has served in several SWAT and training billets. He also has an unseemly and disturbing fascination with horse head masks. Sage Dynamics is a reality-focused firearms and tactics training company that provides practical instruction for the civilian, police and military professional. An identical twin whose brother went on to become Agent 47, COWAN! is the author of the Rushing Winter novels and the designated fluffer on the set of numerous training videos here on the Sage Dynamics YouTube page. Sage Dynamics is on Facebook here; you can follow them on Instagram here and of course you can read his occasional informed and sagacious rumination here on Breach-Bang-Clear. Grunts: rumination.


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