What is the big deal with mindset?

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Many trainers in the defensive shooting world talk about teaching “mindset” to their students. What is that? Can it even be taught?

Some instructors post lists of what you’ll learn in their courses, and one of the items you’ll often see listed is “mindset”: the mental state of being willing to defend yourself using lethal force. They believe (at least I assume they believe) that they can teach this in a short lecture at the start of a weekend class.

I don’t believe that can be done, because mindset — the pre-existing desire to prevail against an attacker and the resulting willingness to do whatever is necessary to do so — is a deep conviction, not a rationalization or intellectual justification.

I believe that the mindset to survive, to emerge from an attack as the victor against the attacker, is one that students either have or they don’t; it’s not something I can give them with inspirational quotes and epic stories, because it comes down to a true belief in their own value as human beings. If someone doesn’t feel they have value, that their life is worth protecting, that it is important for them to live, I can’t change that. Perhaps a psychologist, given an appropriate amount of time, might be able to alter their lack of self-worth, but I can’t — and I’m not arrogant enough to believe I can.

(Actually, I am arrogant enough to believe I can, but intelligent enough to know I cant!)

Luckily, the decision to carry a defensive firearm, the tool of ultimate force, is itself a manifestation of the student’s belief in themselves. Someone who has decided to carry a lethal self-defense device already has the necessary self-worth. They may, however, lack the confidence to use that tool when it becomes necessary.

This isn’t a matter of mindset; it’s a matter of learning when the use of lethal force is warranted and how to use it efficiently. The decision to protect themselves has already been made, now they just have to learn how to do it. They need the confidence that comes from skill development.

Confidence, therefore, is something that can be taught, and I do so in every class I teach. In this last weekend’s class in Ohio was one gentleman who was new to defensive shooting (actually new to shooting in general) who had made the decision that he was not going to be a victim. What he lacked, however, was the confidence to physically employ his legally concealed revolver. By the end of class he’d gained the confidence he needed because he’d started to develop good defensive shooting skills (and in fact was doing quite well.) He learned how to use the gun, which was the only piece of the puzzle he’d been lacking.

His mindset, however, was his own. I didn’t give it to him; he had it when he came through the door. I suppose I could take credit for it by confusing confidence with mindset, but integrity compels otherwise.

It is my conviction that any teacher worth the title should understand what he or she is truly teaching, and to be honest about that with his/her students.

-=[ Grant ]=-


About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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