Importance of Mental Conditioning and Reality Based Training

Physical conditioning and training is an important part of of maintaining a healthy body. In a similar way, we need to exercise the “muscle” between our ears and maintain mental fitness. Our ability to think, problem solve, and plan a response during a violent confrontation is equally, if not more, impactful on the outcome of any incident.

The Importance of Mental Conditioning —

Our mental conditioning impacts more than our performance during a violent attack. Our ability to remain focused and aware is important during training as well. Mental conditioning also drives our ability to handle the gun safely, even when we are tired or stimuli overwhelms our senses. Consider how mental conditioning or lack of it impacted the following incidents.

Using Firearms is Inherently Dangerous —

We’ve seen accidents happen recently on the movie set Rust where actor Alec Baldwin thought he held an unloaded gun when he pointed it at another member of the crew and pressed the trigger. This lapse of judgment cost the other crew member their life. No doubt there were systemic problems with safety protocols, but here is one of several posts that suggest that at the time of the deadly incident, actors and crew were tired from directors rushing and overworking them. I'm not suggesting this as an excuse, just that mental conditioning could have played a factor.

A recent incident where an officer mistakenly fired her handgun instead of a TASER as she attempted to control a combative suspect made the news recently. It's clear the officer did not intend to shoot the suspect. Nevertheless that's what happened. It's easy to chalk this one up to “poor training” which is certainly part of the problem. But even people with good training make huge mistakes like this under pressure. The more we can replicate mental and physical stress in training, while including decision making and thinking, the better we can think during the actual fight.

In this incident, an officer unintentionally shoots a fellow officer during a house search for a suspect. Would anyone doubt that he received training on the officer unintentionally shoots? He could probably repeat them back verbatim if asked. So what happened? There isn't just one factor, but could poor mental conditioning be at least a contributing factor?

And there are also numerous accounts of a lack of mental conditioning in the sense of diligently following safe gun handling at all times. Instances of live round being mixed in with training rounds during dry fire training in a gun shop, resulting in an unintentional shooting. Or a retired police lieutenant, who shot and killed another officer after training because he “thought he had a training gun.” Lay people call both of these incidents, accidents because the shooter never intended to shoot the victim. However, in addition to poor safety protocols that allowed live guns and ammunition in a training environment, there was the individual's lapse in following the safety protocols they learned, which are incumbent on the one holding the gun.

Train Realistically —

I mentioned that proper training includes subjecting our body to the physical and mental stressors are likely to face in a real-life incident. But as we see, establishing proper safety protocols is important to limiting disastrous consequences for mistakes while we learn and train. There are even times instructors take the idea of “training how you fight” to unsafe places. But even if we are not conducting force-on-force training with other people, we need to maintain awareness and mental clarity when conducting dry fire practice alone at home.

Here is one article from a series called “When Dry Fire Isn't Dry.” The series included reader-submitted stories documenting incidents of unintentional discharges inside their home. Simple mistakes happen and if you are not careful, it can happen to you. You definitely don’t want to shoot your 60 inch TV or someone on the other side of your apartment wall if you make a mistake.

Principles of Safe Training —

In another article on our site, we've listed some strategies for setting up a safe dry fire area in your home, and some for when you are on the road.

I believe that when training off the range, an unloaded gun is great, but an inert gun is ideal. That is why I highly recommend using a BarrelBlok device whenever possible. But the BarrelBlok isn't for all occasions, and sometimes you need to use other training devices.

Here is a method I use and recommend whenever you conduct dry fire practice, no matter what type of training device you're using.

  • FIRST remove all live ammunition from the room that you are training in and out of reach.
  • SECOND check your firearm any magazines you will be using that are safe and do not contain any live rounds. I prefer the bright orange dummy rounds because they are very visible and different from regular live rounds. Still double check!
  • THIRD out loud tell yourself that you will be dry firing

Now do your dry fire drills, practice magazine changes, and move and shoot simulation.

  • Don’t leave the room where you previously made safe

When you are done practicing:

  • say to yourself OUT LOUD, that dry fire is over
  • say OUT LOUD that you are LOADING your firearm
  • say OUT LOUD that the firearm is loaded when you put the live ammunition in the gun

The reason for saying these things out loud, such as the gun is loaded or unloaded, is to engage as many senses as possible to prevent you from having an accident.

Replacing a TV is a painful experience, but nothing compared to living with the regret of injuring another person due to negligence.

What strategies do you employ to maintain awareness, establish safety systems and protocols and keep your mind sharp while training?

About Rob Beckman

Rob lives in Cincinnati, Ohio and was introduced to firearms and the outdoors a long time ago in the Boy Scouts. He writes blog articles for and his own site http;// on self defense issues. He is a USCCA Senior Training Counselor, a NRA Training Counselor, and and has received his Firearm Instructor Certification from International Association of Law Enforcement Instructors (IALEFI). Graduate of the MAG40 and Modern Samurai Project Red Dot Instructor Course. When not working he enjoys learning about nature and camping and educating others on hunting and trapping. His focus is on teaching responsibility in everything we do and always learning news skills throughout our lives.

1 Comment

  1. Lon J Loren on September 8, 2022 at 2:16 pm

    Safety with any kind of powerful tools is a lifetime pursuit. You can get hurt with anything
    go over the safety rules for any equipment.

Leave a Comment