For a period of time, I participated in training for competition at shooting matches. I put many rounds downrange in an effort to become as proficient as possible at a perishable skill that I found relatively enjoyable.
Fortunately, I was able to train at my nuclear security jobsite and in my off time, as ammunition was less expensive at the time. Interestingly, I found that the only occasion when my mind was fully at ease during that period of my life was when intently focusing on the mechanics of marksmanship.
It was in the United States Marine Corps (USMC) that I initially learned how to shoot properly. “Breathe in, breathe out, pause, tip, squeeze,” was the mantra taught by my Marine marksmanship instructor.
Breathing in was a method to oxygenate blood. Slowly breathing out allowed lung capacity to decrease once oxygen-rich blood was available. Delaying breath work afforded an opportunity to shoot when in a natural pause between each respiratory cycle.
Focusing on the front sight tip, with the target slightly blurred (out of focus), allowed for improved shot grouping. Unlike a shotgun, handguns and rifles generally require steady pressure (squeeze) in order to activate the shooting cycle without shaking the weapon, which could otherwise decrease accuracy.
Remarkably, the most proficient I’ve ever been with mindful breathing was when training how to discharge a weapon. To be exceedingly clear, I’m talking about mindfulness as a means of stopping a human threat through the legal termination of life.
When employed by a subcontractor to the Department of Energy, I was able to enhance marksmanship skills learned in the USMC. This allowed me an opportunity to begin training for competition shooting.
Not all shooting days were successful. Some days, I shot terribly! Moreover, there were some moments during which my hands shook uncontrollably, my legs felt numb, I became nauseous, and I sweated profusely—sometimes to the degree whereby gripping a weapon became challenging.
Explaining this phenomenon, one source states, “In sports, the yips are a sudden and unexplained loss of ability to execute certain skills in experienced athletes.” Rather than an expression of triumph, such as “yippee,” the yips aren’t as exciting.
When working with clients, I explore how similar excitement is to the experience of fear and anxiety. Think of when you were last enthused, frightened, or anxious.
What was that process like? What were you thinking? Were there any other emotions present? How did your body feel? How did you behave?
Imagine being on a cruise for your first time. Maybe you’re excited about the adventure. Midway through the trip, alarms begin blaring and the captain informs passengers to make their way to the lifeboats.
Conceptualizing this experience, how quickly did eagerness turn into desperation? Aside from what beliefs you maintained about the occurrence and the label ascribed to the emotion, how different was the ordeal from excitement to that of fear or anxiety?
You likely would experience altered heartrate and breathing patterns, perspiration may increase, you may feel numbness or tingling within your body, and your thoughts may race. This is common during excitement, fear, and anxiety.
One of the major differences between the subjectively pleasurable experience of excitement and the introspectively uncomfortable result of fear or anxiety is how we frame the process. Broadly speaking, perhaps most people prefer excitement over fear and anxiousness.
This preference is associated with one’s interpretation. Influencing this perspective is, at a core level, what one believes about the experience.
When departing the dock on a first-time cruise, you may think, “This is going to be wonderful!” As sirens sound and calls to emergency evacuation vessels are announced, you may believe, “This is a terrible experience!”
The key point I’m emphasizing herein is that our belief about the action—not the actual occurrence itself—is how we disturb ourselves. An example of this was highlighted in Alanis Morissette’s song “Ironic,” which is filled with un-ironic examples, as the singer stated:
Mr. Play-It-Safe was afraid to fly
He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids goodbye
He waited his whole damn life to take that flight
And as the plane crashed down
He thought, “Well, isn’t this nice?”
In this example, Mr. Play-It-Safe’s belief about the plane crash—though perhaps unexpectedly Stoic—likely led to a less than awful experience when presumably dying. Noteworthy, the death was likely going to occur whether or not he went down screaming.
Be it associated with fear of dying in a plane crash, anxiousness associated with a cruise, or excitement to embark upon an adventure, our belief about an event is what can drastically alter outcomes. This is the essence of the yips. Per one source:
Tips for overcoming the yips:
Give yourself a reality check – Reality checking is a method to determine the validity about a belief or assumption.
–Do you know how to perform the skill?
–Have you performed the skill successfully in the past?
–Can you perform the skill with regularity during practice?
–Is there any physical limitation preventing you from performing the skill?
–Is the belief that ‘I can no longer perform the skill’ an accurate one?
Recognize that the yips may feel like a physical issue, but it’s often due to fear of failure, performance anxiety, and high expectations you feel to perform well.
Each of the aforementioned questions is akin to the disputation of beliefs I use when working with clients using Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). This form of “reality checking” would have been useful when I had less than artful days while shooting at the range.
It wasn’t the pressure of competition with other shooters that led to my bodily sensations, commonly referred to as the “yips.” Rather, what I believed about my performance is what led to unnecessary fear or anxiety and an unpleasant or unhelpful behavioral response.
Perhaps you, too, have psyched yourself out when wanting to perform in an expected manner. For instance, maybe you frame a lackluster performance on an exam as the experience of “test anxiety.”
In reality, it isn’t the exam that causes your reaction. Rather, what you believe about the exam results in your cognitive, emotive, and behavioral outcome.
Would you like to know more about how to transform the yips into a yippee situation? I’m not entirely convinced that an either-or, good-or-bad goal is useful.
More realistically, do you want to know how to practice unconditional acceptance so that you can tolerate the yips, a yippee situation, and whatever is between the two? I may be able to help.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
Alanis Morissette. (2007, May 18). Alanis Morissette - Ironic (official 4K music video) [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/Jne9t8sHpUc
Cohn, P. (n.d.). How do you know if you have the yips? Peak Performance Sports. Retrieved from https://www.peaksports.com/sports-psychology-blog/how-do-you-know-if-you-have-the-yips/
Greater Good Science Center. (n.d.). Mindful breathing. The University of California, Berkley. Retrieved from https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/mindful_breathing
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Hollings, D. (2022, November 14). Touching a false dichotomy. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/touching-a-false-dichotomy
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