Archery is full of judgment traps. We are asked to judge shots as good or bad. We are told we are doing some form element right or wrong. We ask “What is the right way to do xyz?” And judgments have things associated with them: emotions and self-knowledge. Once you start down the judgment road, it is hard to turn back and the negative consequences can get locked in.
For example, one of the tenants of Lanny Bassham’s Mental Management System is that “self-image determines performance.” (He’s not the only one who says this, but he’s the only one recommending this to archers.) If you judge yourself negatively and often, how does that affect how you see yourself? If you repeatedly call yourself an idiot, lazy, unworthy, etc. that is going to lower your self-image and actually affect your archery … negatively. Some people try to offset this by using “happy talk” about themselves, but like the negative comments, whether you believe these things at the moment determines their affect. If you try to BS yourself to better scores (You are a great archer. You can beat them all. Yada, yada, yada.) you will quickly find out that doing that doesn’t work. The reason is you have no evidence for those claims, so you know they are BS.
What and Why
Believe it or not, some progress can be made from the use of two words: what and why. When you shoot a bad shot, if you start an analysis with the word “Why …” as in ‘Why did I just dump that arrow into the six-ring?” or even “Why was that shot low?” you end up pointing at the only source of why answers, which is “you.” There are no teammates to blame, so a bad shot is due to something you did wrong, or an equipment problem you didn’t notice in time, or … you … you. By asking question that start with “what” instead, there is less emotional loading and judgment tempting involved. “What happened on that shot?” or “What is wrong with my bow?” are both questions that are lower on the judgment inducing scale. “What” zeros in on the thing needed to be corrected, not the person responsible for the error.
Why turns the inquiry onto you and we all suffer from a number of biases, one of which is called the recency bias. Whatever our most recent form flaw is consider the primary source of all of our ills. So, we tend to head off in the same direction no matter the issue. A “what?” question can help us avoid such traps.
One researcher, Tasha Eurich, author of “Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-Aware as We Think and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life,” pointed this out: “In the course of my research on insight, my team and I compiled a group of 50 … who were rated high in self-awareness (both by themselves and by others) but who had started out with only low to moderate self-awareness. When we looked at their speech patterns, our participants reported asking what often and why rarely. In fact, when we analyzed the transcripts of our interviews, the word why appeared less than 150 times, but the word what appeared more than 1,000 times.”
Becoming More Self-Aware Through Self-Reflection
Some have suggested that archers would benefit from psychological self-reflection exercises, to know more about ourselves. Knowledge is power after all, no? I still think of psychology to be in its infancy and so I tend to view such recommendations with a healthy dose of skepticism. For example, a number of researchers have found that the act of thinking about ourselves isn’t necessarily correlated with knowing ourselves. And it is self-knowledge, often referred to as insight, which seems to be the thing that helps archers mentally. In a few cases, they’ve even found that the more time their study participants spent in introspection, the less self-knowledge they had. In other words, we can spend endless amounts of time in self-reflection but emerge with no more self-insight than when we started.
Meditation, on the other hand, results in a greater state of calmness, which does support quality shooting. I recommend it to any and all so disposed as an aid to their archery.
If one is inclined to judge oneself negatively, we immediately are drawn to our limitations (I always …), to negative emotions (I am such a screw-up!), and we get directed to our past instead of staying in the present while shooting (Uh, oh, here I go again!). Asking What? instead of Why? can be used to help us better understand and manage our emotions (an emotional even keel is necessary for consistent accuracy). Evidence shows the simple act of translating our emotions into language — versus simply experiencing them — can stop our brains from activating our fight-or-flight command center. This, in turn, seems to help us stay in control.