Chemical Hack to Shoot Better Faster


People are busier today than they ever have been, and shooters are no exception.

We’ve got a billion dollar firearms training industry that promises to help shooters get better, faster than they could on their own.

But what if I told you that there is a simple way to accelerate the learning process?

To cut the number of repetitions necessary to have earned confidence that you could defend yourself with a firearm?

And, if interested, to cut the number of years it takes to achieve mastery of fighting with a gun.

Today, I’m going to pull back the curtain and tell you one of the tricks that I use and that you can use to do just this…and it applies to more than just shooting.

I’ve got to warn you that this is an over-simplistic explanation…it’s kind of like saying, “press the long skinny pedal on the right” to move a car instead of going into the details of ideal fuel:air ratios and other minutia. If you have technical comments/corrections, please make them, but realize that the purpose of the article is to help people shoot better…not be neuroscientists.

Shooting is an emotionally charged activity. Depending on the person, their associations with guns and the situation, it causes the release of dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins, adrenaline, and sometimes cortisol.

It’s pretty awesome.

Dopamine, as an example, gets released in greater quantities when something is new or novel.

Endorphins can get released for some people because the body interprets the loud bang and recoil as a threat to safety…or just because of the surprise.

I’m not sure what causes oxytocin to be released when shooting…it’s what’s released by a brand new mother when she starts nursing and during/after orgasm and most people kind of like it.

Adrenaline gets released for fight/flight and sometimes shooting excites the fight or flight response.

All of these are generally thought of as “good” brain/body chemicals. And one of the ways your body prioritizes memories is by the amount of these chemicals that are flowing at a given time. If you have a ton of these chemicals flowing, what you’re doing and just did will be easier to remember. If you have none of these chemicals flowing, it will be harder.

The challenge we run into with shooting is that these chemicals get released because of the simple act of shooting…regardless of how well you shoot.

Put another way, it’s easy to train the brain to associate the release of happy chemicals with the bang and general experience of shooting rather than with the specific performance of the bullets that leave your muzzle.

When you release these chemicals, your brain takes a snapshot of what you’re doing and all of your sensory input immediately prior to the release.

And the problem is that you
release these happy chemicals
every time you shoot…
regardless of whether you shoot well or not.

If you just go out and slap the trigger like a trained monkey & make lots of noise…you’re STILL going to release the happy chemicals and guess what behavior is going to be reinforced?

That’s right…slap the trigger like a trained monkey and you’ll encourage random performance.

To add to this, more dopamine is released when an activity is new and novel than when it’s something that the mind considers normal, so the more you shoot, the less dopamine you’ll release…unless you keep doing new and novel things.

Now, if you spent that initial time when a lot of dopamine is released just making things go “bang” and not focusing on fundamentals, then at some point you’re not only going to release less dopamine when you shoot, but you’re also going to release cortisol (the stress hormone) because of a lack of accuracy and consistency.

So, since neural pathways are created faster when you release lots of happy (or sad) chemicals, you want to have no emotion when you mess up and a lot of emotion when you do things right.

(This is when you’re trying to learn a complex motor skill…when you’re trying to learn NOT to do something, like touching a red-hot stove, sticking your elbow or foot out around cover, you want a lot of emotion when you screw up to create the negative association in as few reps as possible.)

How do you do this?

  1. Dry fire. Dry fire is not as stimulating as live fire, and that’s a great thing. If you can start developing habits and neural pathways (muscle memory) with dry fire before switching to live fire, your live fire will be a much higher quality. Then, when you release happy chemicals after each shot of live fire, you’ll be reinforcing good technique vs. simply releasing happy chemicals because something went “bang” in your hands.This is why it’s so important to do 80-90% of your practice with dry fire. Simply doing more dry fire will mean that you’re setting yourself up to reward good behavior in particular rather than simply rewarding ANY behavior.  This is why dry fire is so much more effective than live fire for transitioning from static shooting to dynamic shooting.
  2. I have a trick that takes advantage of the fact that happy chemicals help build neural pathways faster. It makes me look silly, but I don’t care…it works. In short, if I’m trying something that’s challenging and I accomplish it, I IMMEDIATELY make a big deal of it by pumping my fist, smiling, and yelling a bit. If it was exceptionally good, I might even do a little happy dance. I do this for both live fire and dry fire and I try to do it as soon as possible.The sooner you do it and the more senses you involve in the process, the better the association will be between the action that you want to reinforce and the release of the happy chemicals. If I screw up, I remain emotionless, assess, plan my next shot, and move on. I never chastise myself…doing so won’t fix what just happened and it will negatively affect my next shot.  Face it, if you’re head’s not in the game and under control, you’re going to throw shots all over the place. Get control of your mind and the bullets will follow.

    This is 180 degrees opposite from what most people do. Most shooters try to remain calm and dignified when they do well (like it’s normal) and visibly upset when they mess up (like it’s unusual). I understand it…part of it comes from wanting to appear humble and not a bragger and part of it comes from posturing in front of other shooters. Appearing humble and what others think won’t help you shoot better in less time, but manipulating your brain chemistry to build neural pathways faster WILL.

    This is a great tool to use for live fire, but it’s especially good for dry fire practice because of how much control you can have over your emotions during dry fire. When you reward the brain with happy chemicals for good performance, it will burn that neural pathway fast and deep so that it can follow the same path to happy chemicals again in the future.

  3. Earlier I mentioned that “new and novel” activities release more dopamine than activities that you’re used to.  In short, that means that there’s value in new, unique, and fun training methods and targets.  Interestingly enough, some scientists think that the optimal time for positive feedback to release the most dopamine is .1-.2 seconds or less and the audible feedback from steel targets (depending on the range) is right in that range.  So the next time someone asks why you like shooting steel, you can tell them that they maximize dopamine release.

There’s another angle to this…particularly with newer shooters. If a new shooter shoots a gun that hurts or get bad results early on, their body will release cortisol and they’ll have an aversion to whatever they did to cause the release of the cortisol. This could be because of improper ear protection, excessive recoil, a bad grip on the gun that causes cuts/bruising, or a poor choice of caliber/conditions for the new shooter. This is a bad neural pathway and, if not managed, the brain can associate all firearms as being the start of the path to pain/cortisol. I suggest quiet, small caliber guns and big, close, reactive targets for new shooters. Ideally, a bb gun or even airsoft and big balloons & aluminum cans and then .22 and .223.

If you’re teaching someone, you also want to be careful about yelling. The military uses yelling to see who will crack under stress and as a tool to inoculate recruits to stress. That’s great when you have several weeks with someone who’s essentially captive and when you’re building soldiers, but not great when you’ve got a limited amount of time with a loved one or student and are trying to instill solid fundamentals and create positive associations with shooting.  Skip the yelling when teaching.  Add it in later on when they are comfortable, they’ve got their technique dialed in, and you’re moving on to stress inoculation.

With that in mind, answer these 3 questions in regards to your current training:

  1. Are you overly critical (internal dialog or audible) when you make mistakes shooting? If so, do you heap equal praise on yourself when you do well?
  2. Could you see yourself blunting negative responses in future dry and live fire and increasing your positive feedback when you do well?
  3. When working with others, do you see opportunities to leverage these hacks to help them get better faster?

Questions? Comments? This is kind of a deep one, so fire away by commenting below.

For more on the science and practical application of the lessons in this article, click here: Praxis Gunfight Training.  This is the best product on the market today for integrating the mental, neurological, and physical aspects of shooting.  It teaches foundational skills that will help you control your emotions in extreme stress situations and shoot like an unflappable grizzled pro with ice running through your veins.


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  • Robert Freddie: Lain

    Reply Reply June 2, 2020

    This is a very good article. I always reward myself and chastize myself for good or bad. And it is sometimes pretty loud both ways. I do not dwell on the bad I just try to correct it. Again good article.

    Thanks for all the help you guys give out.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply June 3, 2020

      lol…you’re already doing better than most. It’s much more common for people to remain completely silent when they do well and make a big show when they do bad.

  • Lucy

    Reply Reply May 3, 2016

    Great article! This can be used for other activities where skill development is important. I used to bowl and to practice I cleared a space in my living room and practiced my approach, backswing, and release WITHOUT A BALL over and over again. When it felt “right ” I jumped around and got very excited. When it didn’t, I just made an adjustment and did it again. My game got a lot better with ONLY practicing that way. I can see how great this will be with my shooting practice and I am going to start using these tips right away. Thanks for sharing!

  • Taelin

    Reply Reply April 25, 2016

    Great article .. 2 things I’d like to add, as I’ve studied the brain as well, the reason the oxytocin is released, is because oxytocin is a feel good chemical giving the sensation of love, bonding, closeness – a connection. SO the shooter is literally bonding with the action of shooting or the firearm itself. Crazy shite. That’s why some people “really love” their guns. They really do.

    Not only is dry firing awesome, but another angle to shooting, is the technique I learned from knife throwing. Do this right after your dry firing. Stand 6″ from the target. Then live fire into the target.

    Hit the bull’s eye. If you can hit the center 50 times, move back a foot and continue. Do it in one foot increments all the way back to the range distance you want total confidence in.

    This fires all four chemicals, plus it reinforces a massive level of confidence in your muscle memory that you can always hit the bull’s eye.

    In short – you’ll have a mental, emotional, physical, chemical star line up of confidence in your mind and body that will serve you well. This little gem of an exercise works with anything form darts, basketballs, pitching, archery and even throwing rolled up paper into the trash.

    The beginning is labor intensive – lots of focus and alignment internally and externally. The rewards are awesome.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply April 25, 2016

      Great stuff, Taelin! I do that final string starting at 6′. Closer than 6′ and the paper moves too much…get too close and the muzzle blast goes right through thin targets.

  • Ted

    Reply Reply April 21, 2016

    Thanks I take this into my practice and celebrate when shooting an X or ten between shots during this weeks practice and Match. Thanks

  • J

    Reply Reply April 19, 2016

    Great Article and very true!
    As and Ace Competition shooter and Veteran that depended many of times on my skills and my weapon I can truefully say practice makes perfect when it comes to pressure under fire.
    If you can keep your emotions or nerves in check it will serve you well IF the time ever comes your life depends on it.

  • Boozer

    Reply Reply April 19, 2016

    I am an owner operator of two firearms training simulators. I have a short amount of time to instill good techniques on my clients. You are oh-so-right. Positive reinforcement trumps criticism every time. Great article.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply April 19, 2016

      That’s awesome on your setup…let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.

  • Mike Brady

    Reply Reply April 19, 2016

    Like everything else I have seen from your company, I think this is really good information. Shooting is definitely a mind over matter game and I really appreciate learning about the total picture. I find the teachings to be applicable to all aspects; handguns, long distance, carbine.
    Thank you

  • Lloyd Lowe

    Reply Reply August 13, 2015

    Wow, this seems like the stuff at MLM conventions (it works well there) so I too will be acting a bit more excited at the range. Thank you.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply August 13, 2015

      Hey Lloyd,

      I’m not sure if you know just how correct you are 🙂 The best MLM conventions are carefully scripted to take advantage of every motivational psychological hack that the organizers know. I have been to some that were great and I’ve been to some where I physically squirmed because they were so fake and uncomfortable.

      With shooting and being emotional, don’t do it as a show or for anyone else. Do it to lock in the positive feedback loop with good shooting performance.

      At LEAST, put a big smile on your face. A real (not fake) smile will release dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. If you’ve got more latitude, pump your fist. More latitude? Give a little shout. And, if you do something amazing, have your own little party. It sounds silly, looks silly, and is silly…unless and until you realize how powerful it is.

  • John

    Reply Reply August 12, 2015

    I was never a believer in Dry firing until I read One of Bill Rodgers books. Dry firing really helps.

    This is why I bought your Dry Fire Cards to take me to the next level. What a great idea and a great training tool. I do a little dry firing any time I enter my room I have set aside for my gun smithing. I’m in and out of that room all day so I get a bunch of Dry Fire Practice. A little bit a practice throughout the day goes a long way in muscle memory. I’m normally at the gun range training about two to three times a week. There was one time I was busy and sick and couldn’t make it to the range but did a lot of dry firing. When I got back to the range it was like I had did live fire for that month. Dry firing really works and your cards take it to the next level.


    • Ox

      Reply Reply August 13, 2015

      Thanks, John!

  • Holly Ellis

    Reply Reply August 12, 2015

    Thank you for that info. It makes sense. Hopefully I will get myself regrouped as i haven’t shot for several years. My first and definitely not my best experience was shooting at railroad ties encased in a steel box in my basement.

  • Darrell

    Reply Reply August 12, 2015

    When I’m training a new person I start with dry fire. I then move to a silenced .22 and we shoot large steel plates. It works.

  • Michael

    Reply Reply August 12, 2015

    I LIKE it!
    This is a well written article that takes a complex issue and brings it down to simple laymen terms.
    Too bad doing cartwheels on the range is frowned upon!

  • Billie R Hobbs

    Reply Reply August 12, 2015

    This is WITHOUT A Doubt in my military mind; the best article I have read in many, years regarding TRAINING With Firearms.
    I will PASS these tricks, on to my students, friends, and Most Importantly I will begin using them myself…
    So if you hear of a fella acting like a teenager gettin his First Kiss on a gun range in Arizona, don’t worry it’s jus’ me practicing, and rewarding myself with a HAPPY DANCE and Some Exclamatory…

    • Ox

      Reply Reply August 12, 2015

      Thanks, Billie. I wish I could take credit for all of it, but I can’t. I’m chomping at the bit to tell you who inspired them, but he specifically told me he’s overwhelmed right now and asked me not to send him any more business for the next month, so I’m respecting his wishes. I will say this…if you’re in Arizona, you’re a stone’s throw (or less) away from him.

  • Valdemar Hallett

    Reply Reply August 11, 2015

    I am a 2x retired L E officer and had many frustrating days at the range on qualifying days and some not so good instructors at the first agency I retired from and excellent instructors at the 2nd agency I retired from that is (Duluth Georgia Police Department). Between the excellent instruction and the strong desire to be an above average shooter I began a regimen of dry firing and use of a department loaned airsoft semi-auto. Please Take my word for it dry firing really works!!

    • Ox

      Reply Reply August 12, 2015

      Amen to that. Glad your 2nd agency was as good as it was.

  • David Eberhardt

    Reply Reply August 11, 2015

    David Morris & Ox always produce thought provoking and valuable articles. This one is esp[ecially good! Thanks.

  • Dano

    Reply Reply August 11, 2015

    I like the new format. Keep up the good work.

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