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Firearms Training: Habits That Stick

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[This article originally appeared in CONCEALMENT #25]

How to Identify and Implement Firearms Training Routines

A habit is a behavior or practice that one performs regularly, and, once acquired, usually sticks around unless consciously broken. The effects of those habits add up and can amount to something rather significant. Small actions can lead to huge success — or the opposite. Here we’re generally talking about habits that involve your defensive prowess, but the lessons can apply to other aspects of your life.

Building habits that lead to success isn’t just about putting your life on autopilot. Have you ever driven home from work, pulled into the driveway, and realized you had no idea how you got there? Autopilot got you home, but it also shut your brain off. You must be intentional about what you do and how you do it. Not only is this imperative for making an impact over time, it’s also essential for your safety.


It’s impossible to know what habits to implement if you haven’t identified your goals. Before you do anything else, get clear on those goals. What are you training for? What skills do you want to develop? Where do you want to end up? Physically jot down your goals — they’ll become the basis for your firearms training habits. It’s particularly helpful to have a dedicated notebook to keep track of training goals, habits, and progress, whether an actual notebook or in your favorite app.


In order to pave the way for habits that stick, first eliminate habits that aren’t serving you or your goals in a positive way. This includes training scars (bad habits formed by previous, inadequate training), distraction habits (like Netflix marathons to avoid doing something more productive), and any other unnecessary habits that aren’t aligned with your goals. 

To make change, you must be aware of what you’re actually doing. Carefully evaluate your existing habits as to how they’ll benefit you long term. Are they helping you work toward your goal? Are they contributing to your desired outcome? Get brutally honest with yourself. This might be uncomfortable, and that’s a good thing. 

Making a list of your training habits

Habits you may need to break might not necessarily be a firearms training habit but could be something that impacts your training or mindset. For example, perhaps when you intend to do a dry-fire session at home, you grab your phone to look up drills. Autopilot takes over and you end up scrolling through social media instead, because that’s become your usual habit whenever you grab your phone. By the time you finish scrolling, your window of opportunity for dry-fire has passed, or you forgot what you were doing there in the first place. It’s not a training habit per se, but it sure did impact your training. Make sure to look at the big picture when evaluating your habits.

Post a list of your firearms training habits where you keep your EDC so that you’ll see them every day when you get ready.

Post a list of your firearms training habits where you keep your EDC so that you’ll see them every day when you get ready.

It can be a challenge to identify your own habits when it comes to shooting, so it’s important to work with a qualified instructor. Ask the instructor to keep an eye out for any bad habits. These can be related to shooting, manipulations, administrative firearm handling, attention to safety, and more. Be open to feedback and adjustments, and write them down. You’ll use this feedback to identify habits to eliminate or implement.

An alternate method, and a good way to keep yourself in check between training sessions with an instructor, is to record training sessions on video. Review the footage and see if you can spot any bad habits. Send it to trusted shooters in your life to get their take too — others often will recognize things you can’t (or don’t want to) see yourself. Again, be open to feedback.

Home-defense training, retreving a gun from a hidden gun safe.

Once you know which habits aren’t serving your goals, work toward eliminating them. Some habits you’ll have to abandon completely, some may shift a bit to better align to your goals, and some may need to be replaced by something entirely new.


Now you have a clean slate to start building better habits that stick. It’s important to begin with the end in mind. Take a peek at the goals you’ve written down and think critically about how to achieve them. What specific steps do you need to take? What regular behaviors will help you achieve your goals? What constructive feedback have you received that you should implement? Write them all down. Just as when evaluating habits to eliminate, evaluate potential new habits by how they’ll benefit you long term.

Dry-fire drills at home

Once you know which habits to implement, set yourself up for success by making a plan. According to habit expert James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, there are two key ways to successfully implement a new habit: plan a time and location for your new habit to take place, or stack the habit onto another habit that’s already a part of your normal routine. 


Research shows that new behaviors are more successfully implemented when you plan the specifics, down to when and where the habit will take place. From your list, identify habits that you can plan into your week or day, and write them down. For example:

I will review my training notebook in the kitchen every day at 8 a.m.

I will practice with my dry-fire training system at home every day at 8 p.m.

I will go to the range on Saturdays at noon.

With a plan in place, you’ll know exactly when and where to accomplish your new habits. 

Laser-based dry fire systems are fun and effective methods for firearms training

Laser-based dry fire systems are fun and effective methods for firearms training.


The second method is to stack habits by pairing new habits with existing ones. From your list, identify habits that you can stack with behaviors that are already a part of your normal routine. For example:

I will review my training notebook when I drink my morning coffee.

I will practice my draw from concealment when I get dressed.

I will practice with my dry-fire training system when I finish eating dinner.

In this case, you’re using an existing behavior as a reminder to accomplish your new behavior. Soon enough, that new habit will be a part of your normal routine as well.

As your new habits become routine, remember to stay present. It’s easy to tune out or let autopilot take over. You must keep your head in the game to increase your capabilities. Stay focused and be intentional.

Training at the range


Planning and stacking habits are fantastic ways to implement new behaviors, but it’s still helpful to have some additional accountability factors in place to set yourself up for success. For example, you can work and train with a buddy who has similar goals to keep each other on track.


Humans are heavily influenced by their environment, so give yourself visual cues. Post a list of your firearms training habits where you keep your EDC so that you’ll see them every day when you get ready. Place a note on your bathroom mirror so that you’ll be reminded of your habit every time you’re in the bathroom. Keep your dry-fire training system in a visible spot in the living room so that you’ll be encouraged to dry-fire. Remove social media apps from the home screen on your phone. You get the idea.

Digital cues work, too. Remember those habits you planned for a specific time and place? Add them to your calendar and set alerts to notify you when it’s time for that habit.

Firearms Training App


Few things are more satisfying than checking something off your to-do list. Use a habit tracker app to keep on top of your new habits. Some apps have stats that can show you how often you’re completing your habits, allowing you to see what’s working or not working over time. If pen to paper is your jam, add a habit tracker checklist to your training notebook and check them off on a daily or weekly basis. 


When you’re full steam ahead on your goals and new habits, it’s important to check in once in a while. Reevaluate your habits on a monthly or quarterly basis. Are your new habits working for you? If not, don’t worry — there’s a fair amount of trial and error when it comes to implementing new habits. Perhaps the planned habits are better suited for a different day or time, or the stacked habit needs to be paired with a different behavior, or you need different environmental cues. Give yourself the opportunity to adapt to a new habit, but don’t be afraid to make adjustments if it’s not working.

In the same vein, your habits need to keep up as your goals and skills evolve. Some habits you implemented as a beginner or when you were breaking bad habits may no longer be relevant as your skillset improves. Keep evaluating your habits as you progress and make adjustments as needed to keep up with your current goals and skills.

This will put you on track for increasing your capabilities in a big way with habits that stick. Remember, small habits add up to significant progress over time. 

Habit tracking apps can keep you on top of your habits and assess progress over time.

Habit tracking apps can keep you on top of your habits and assess progress over time.

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