Bang.

This was the third shot that the sniper student missed. One more, and he was done. Out of sniper school. A failure.

I looked down and noticed that the student’s body position was still off despite my earlier coaching to correct it. The final round cracked off, and nothing else was heard—no sound of lead impacting steel at a distance, no “hit” uttered by the spotter. Nothing except the sound of what was now a former sniper student’s head landing on the shooting mat.

“Man, I think there’s something wrong with my gun,” he said as he lifted his head.

“Here, let me see,” I said as I settled into my shooting position next to him.

Bang. Tink.

Bang. Tink.

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I hit the targets with his gun, no problem.  

“Body position, dude.” I stood back up. “I told you that yesterday.” 

The day before, we had a long talk—well, it’d be more accurate to call it an argument—about the importance of body position while shooting. Unfortunately, this particular student had no respect for the “softer” skills of shooting: body position, breathing, diet. These were of no interest to him. He was a stereotypical gun nut who thought he knew everything there was to know about guns and wasn’t interested in learning anything else.

He had learned the technical aspects of shooting and had been told by someone in his past that these softer skills didn’t influence the impact of the bullet enough to worry about them. Technically, he was probably right—the shot I was asking him to nail was easy and the “lighter” elements of shooting were, independently, not likely to make a difference.

So why was he missing?

Collectively, they were adding up to a missed shot.

On their own, body position, breathing, and trigger squeeze have subtle influences on the impact of a round, but when you add them together, they can have a dramatic effect on the outcome. For example, let’s say that body position affects only two percent of your accuracy. In this case, the student’s body position was off, and that was affecting his breathing, which, let’s say, affects another five percent. Let’s also say his trigger squeeze was off, which affects another 10 percent. That’s now a sizable 17 percent—enough to achieve a miss.

My explanation of this to him countered what he knew about shooting, and he was more committed to being right—or what he believed to be right—than he was to passing sniper school. So he failed.

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Learn to be more effective

To this day, I’ve no doubt that sniper student still thinks there was something wrong with his gun and that all of that philosophical talk about body position and mental management was a bunch of B.S. Often, people get stuck in their current levels of performance and what they know because:

  1. They’re too lazy to learn
  2. They can’t stand being wrong
  3. They become blind to what is really going on. It’s like they just can’t stand to be a beginner.  

I dedicated an entire chapter of my book, “Raising Men: Lessons Navy SEALs Learned from Their Training and Taught to Their Sons,” to this very topic, because it is the person who is committed to the results—rather than the methods—that holds the power in any situation. And to be committed to results takes practice and recognition that you don’t know everything, even in fields for which you have studied or earned a degree.

How do you leave being right behind and move toward being effective? Here are four exercises to get you started:

  1. Start thinking of what you already know not as unchangeable facts but as your current best information. Always be ready to abandon your beliefs the moment you find something more effective.  
  2. Practice saying “I was wrong” or “That didn’t produce the result I wanted.” Get really familiar with failure. When we’re wrong and we realize it, we grow.
  3. Don’t be shy about pointing the finger at yourself. We need others to let us know when we’re bullshitting ourselves. If you can’t call yourself out in public, then those around you will have a hard time doing it as well.
  4. Learn new skills. Remain a beginner. High performers learn every single day. I know it’s a pain in the ass to always be learning new things, but it’s really the only way to practice being wrong on a consistent basis. I just started training in Jiu-Jitsu, and I love nothing more than having someone wrap me up and choke me out every time I try to deploy a recently learned move. It means that I have more to learn.

Debrief

  • In the comments section, tell me about a time you were more committed to being right than you were to being effective.
  • Is there a relationship—with a spouse, a parent, or a friend—in which you find yourself more committed to being right than you are to the relationship itself?

Eric’s new book, “Raising Men: Lessons Navy SEALs Learned From their Training and Taught to their Sons (St. Martin’s Press), will be available on May 3, 2016. To pre-order a copy, visit Amazon or Barnes & Noble.