Confidence, Part 1: Understanding


Confidence: A reasonable belief, based on prior measured performance, that there is a likelihood of successfully accomplishing a given task, where the performer has knowledge of the necessary requirements for that task.

Overconfidence- an unreasonable or misplaced belief in one’s abilities without a thorough evaluation of one’s skill and/or knowledge of the requirements of the task at hand.

Uncertainty- doubt in one’s ability to perform based on inexperience, lack of knowledge of one’s own abilities, or of the challenge difficulty.

Confidence is an indispensable tool for a rifle shooter.  There are many technical processes involved in firing that need to flow along unimpeded for the shot to be released correctly.  If doubt creeps in the chain of those processes gets disrupted, causing the level of one’s abilities to be upset.  Lack of confidence can therefore cause the shooter to miss a shot he would otherwise be capable of.

On the other hand, overconfidence can cause a shooter to make decisions that can lead to a miss.  Mistaking internet lore as normal reality, conflating 3 round groups or bench groups with realistic hit probabilities in the field, or even thinking that the extreme spread of a 10 round group is indicative of the extremes of one’s limits are just a few ways to fall into the trap of overconfidence.  Having a belief in abilities that one does not possess (credit to Derrick Bartlett for that line) is a sad way to exist.

In my own shooting, up until last year perhaps, I experienced a cycle of overconfidence followed by uncertainty.  Those conditions are both associated with a lack of information.  I do not believe I was alone in this respect, and believe that most rifle shooters are in this cycle as well.  I confused what I wanted to be able to do with what I should  be able to do.  I repeatedly set myself up for failure by expecting a mythical standard, and repeatedly being confronted with what I actually was able to do.  I can tell you that the drive home from the range is a downer when the expectations were set too high on the way into the shooting.

How does one cultivate real confidence to take on a given task?  A quote from Sun Tzu came to mind:

“One who knows the enemy and knows himself will not be endangered in a hundred engagements.  One who does not know the enemy but knows himself will sometimes be victorious, sometimes meet with defeat.  One who knows neither the enemy nor himself will invariably be defeated in every engagement.”

The first piece of the puzzle is to know what you are capable of as a shooter.  What you think or hope you can do is not valid data.  A paper target will not lie, but I’ve sure seen that it’s not uncommon for people to interpret what the target tells them in creative ways.  The ego can lead a person to near blindness in order to protect itself.  It’s necessary to fire enough shots to have a valid sample with which other shots taken in similar conditions can be predicted, and then to accept each shot regardless of how badly you wished you hadn’t fired it.

Measuring performance can be difficult, but it’s a step that can’t be skipped.  To make it easier to figure out where to begin, some of the primary variables to take into consideration are time, terrain, and the target.  They are all related, and all will be components of how difficult and demanding the shot will be in the field.

Terrain presents an overall context to the shot and will likely be a decisive factor in determining the shooting position.  That indicates a need to test enough positions to cover the possibilities of height requirements, with and without support.  The amount of time available to fire a shot is inversely proportional with the difficulty of that shot, everything else being equal, so it’s necessary to know what happens to your performance in a time crunch.  The target generally chooses the terrain, sets the time limitations, and its own size finishes off the formula of shot difficulty.  Actually an additional factor is what the target is doing in terms of movement, but to make the matter of measurement one that can be practically carried out we can put it off until later.  For one method of combining these measures, see my October 2014 archives, in which the entire month was a presentation of my position analyses.

Until you are able to accurately and precisely measure your performance you will not, as Sun Tzu says, “know yourself”, and if he is correct, you’ll be subject to defeat in every engagement.  Shooting in a consistent way and measuring it is work. There is no way around that, but work is required to get most worthwhile things done.

3 thoughts on “Confidence, Part 1: Understanding

  1. OH Yeah you said it all and the more I read on the internet the more I’m convinced there is a lot of overconfidence out there (one of the few exceptions being this blog)

  2. There really isn’t much in the way of a standardized, systematic method for regular shooters to approach rifle shooting and measure their performance, so it makes sense.

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