Repetition builds and reinforces neural pathways. It makes routine actions basically automatic, requiring very little concious effort. This is a good thing!
When we do an action that we’ve already repeated many times before — think about grabbing the gear shift on your car as an example — we can easily be thinking about other stuff while we do that thing. You don’t have to consciously, carefully look for the gear shift and then consider how to get the car into gear. Instead, when you get into the car, you just pop it into the correct gear and off you go. Easy peasy.
There are two places where repetition can trip us up.
1) When something changes, either with our gear or our environment, so those earlier repetitions don’t match the new situation. For example, if your car’s gear shift is on the steering column, but you borrow your spouse’s car that has the gear shift between the seats, there’s a chance that your well-practiced, repeated action of popping the car into gear from a lever on the steering column will instead turn into an embarrassing situation with the windshield wipers.
2) When we practice doing the wrong things, or practice doing them in the wrong way. Repetition works just as well to reinforce bad behavior as it does to reinforce good behavior. It works just as powerfully to build ineffecient or unsafe habits as it does to build solid, safe habits. This is why it’s so important to get good training from experienced, qualified sources and then practice the things we learned.
Practice always builds habits that last — good or bad.
Not long ago, I saw a guy at a gun store take an “unloaded” gun and absent-mindedly press its muzzle against his own left palm as he pressed the trigger while he was talking to the clerk. I have no idea what he thought he was doing. But what he was actually doing was reinforcing a dangerous habit of not paying attention to or caring about where the gun was pointed.
That habit could (and very likely will!) reach up and bite him some day — and when it does, he will also likely join the ranks of many, many people who say stuff like, “Well if you just check to be sure it’s unloaded…” But the problem isn’t the loaded or unloaded status of the gun. It’s the deeply built-in bad habit that was caused by repeatedly doing something dangerous with the gun until that motion became something the shooter did without conscious thought. It became a habit.
The “unloaded” status of the gun is the final layer of safety, not the first or only one. The first layer of safety is the shooter’s own good habits.
- Learn safe, efficient ways to handle the gun.
- Practice those actions often, so they become good habits.
- Pay attention to your surroundings so you notice when the situation has changed enough that your built-in habits need your conscious attention.