How Do I Shut Off Conscious Thinking During My Shot

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Okay, we all know archery is a mental game. We gather a lot of shooting info in our heads but when it comes time to score what do you do to shut it off and let the subconscious take over?
Tony Bergh, President, Archery Shooter Systems
(through the Archery Networking Group on

Nice question. I will think about it some more but let me give you an analogy. Sometimes it is important to focus your vision intently on some task. What you are focused on becomes a large part of your reality as everything else fades away. Sometimes it is necessary to not be focused visually. If someone says there is a deer out that direction, do your eyes flit from bush to tree to find them or would it be more successful to relax the focus of your eyes and wait for some motion to draw your attention. Mentally, being focused unconsciously is like that. You avoid “concentrating” which I claim is a conscious activity and “focus” unconsciously upon the task at hand.

It helps at first if you use a “trigger” to create this state. Golfers do this while putting. They tap their putter on the ground or do a forward press or … or … just before they begin to putt the ball. It can also be something like a phrase of key words to start the process (e.g. Here we go!).

The only way I know of to train yourself to not think consciously while shooting is committing wholeheartedly to “the Rule of Discipline” which says

If anything—mental or physical, anything at all—
intrudes from a prior step or from outside the shot,
you must let down and start over.

The application here is that in practice and competition if a conscious thought pops up while you are immersed in your shot, you must let down and start over. If you do this religiously, you will train yourself to not have conscious thinking during your shots. It needs to be where it belongs: between your shots.

I assume you know why this needs to be, no? If not: you can consciously think about only one thing at a time, while subconsciously you can think of many things at once. Being only able to think of one thing at a time is no problem through much of the shot sequence because you need to be focused on just what you are doing “now.” The problem lies when you get to “aiming.” When you are aiming you must split your attention so that part of it is on aiming and part of it is on finishing your shot (hopefully something associated with your back tension). If you are thinking consciously at that point your mind will flit back and forth between the target and your back (or its surrogate). Everyone who has tried to do this consciously has reported failure.


Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

2 responses to “How Do I Shut Off Conscious Thinking During My Shot

  1. Don

    I really wish I had better words to describe this observation, but there are certain kinds of thinking that when I’m engaged in it I become worse at tasks requiring coordinated parallel actions (so archery):

    Verbal thought (Thinking in words and sentences)
    Numerical thought (Thinking in numbers or quantities)
    Algorithmic thought (Thinking about steps or sequences)

    I don’t think it’s just me that this happens to, I think it may be a function of neurology.

    I’ve worked to silence these three kinds of thinking when I’m shooting. When I’m strictly practicing or working out a bit of technique I will allow myself think about technique descriptions (verbal thought), distances and angles (numerical thought), and the shot sequence (algorithmic thought), but even in these cases I try to limit the amount of language going on in my head. What I want to do is to associate a feeling to each step, not a description.

    Another thing I think I do is I “put my mind in” different parts of my body during the shot sequence. It always ends up in my rhomboids before the release happens.



    • Well, we all have our demons. I had a student tell me that he talked himself (in his head) through every shot. I was astounded. I am, as you may well imagine, a very verbal person. As a retired chemistry professor, I tend to think analytically and mathematically. when I shoot, there is none of this going on in my head. In practice yes, competition no. My impression is that I do not need to be lead through a process that I have repeated a zillion times. Do you need to talk to yourself to make all of the little corrections you make to your steering wheel to keep your car in your lane? or to keep a bicycle going where you wish it to go? While competing my attitude is that of an observer. Collecting visual and tactile information not to be analyzed in real time. My subconscious mind can do that, so all my conscious mind needs to do is observe. If anything goes wrong, I let down and start over. Have you every let a shot down but didn’t know why? That was your subconscious mind watching over your shots and making sure they conform to appropriate standards.

      Between shots I think analytically: why was that shot in the bottom of the spot, the aperture was in the top half when the shot was loosed? Did I drop my bow arm? Nope? Did I short draw the bow? What am I going to do differently on this next shot? The only thing I allow myself to do differently is to focus my attention on the thing I want to do everso slightly differently/better and only when it comes up in my shot sequence.

      All of the thinking activities you mention are conscious ones and I do not recommend them at all when shooting for score.

      Locating your mind in various parts of your body (a hobby of mine when I was young) is also not recommended except in practice when you are training your subconscious what to “look for” and monitor while shooting normally. We train consciously and execute subconsciously. Only the fact that the shot is so slow allows us the illusion we can do it consciously. Compare an archery shot with hitting a pitched baseball. As Yogi Berra said in reply to the question: What are you thinking about when hitting? “If I was thinkin’ I couldn’t hit nuttin’!”

      Of course, sport science is still in its infancy and I can’t prove any of my contentions. I wish I could because I am currently working on a book on the complete mental side of archery. Nothing is certain, all we have is anecdotal evidence.

      On Fri, Feb 21, 2014 at 1:09 PM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:



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