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It was one of those rare days when I visited a range to shoot handguns, in this instance, Quail Run, a full-service shooting facility southeast of Denver. Although a S&W .22 semi-auto pistol rested on a case next to my CZ 9mm, for no reason that I recall, I began my session with my Ruger small frame .357 /.38 Special. Ritually I loaded the cylinder with Fiocchi .38 Special, 125 grains XTP JHP ammunition. Reasonably good groups punched through the target gently fluttering in the wind some twenty-five feet down range . Fifty rounds into the exercise I stopped. An uncomfortable question seeped like quicksilver into my mind: What goals were I accomplishing? The groups were pretty good and I was having what is sometimes referred to as fun. But my primary reason for being at the range was to sharpen self-defense skills. I don’t shoot often enough to merely play around. If my goal was just plinking, I’d shoot .22s until the skin wore off my trigger finger.

Coincidentally I had been reading the book “Special Operations Mental Toughness” by Navy SEAL Lawrence Colebrooke. Extracting some of his words from my mind’s cobwebs, I committed to making every shot count towards a goal. Each shot had to lead to improvement. One of Colebrooke’s rules is “Prepare yourself to make a hard choice, should your conscience ever require it.” That is, prepare mentally and physically for challenges, no matter how unlikely they might materialize. This preparation is achieved through constant, realistic, and challenging practice sessions that replicate the actual "game day" conditions. Colebrooke wrote: "If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!"

Firearms self-defense classes instruct that the body changes under threat. The fine motor skills become compromised as adrenaline pumps into the body. The heart rate increases to jack-hammer intensity; peripheral vision decreases. I know these facts. My goal, thus, is to shoot, to train, in anticipation of what I know will occur. Colebrooke wrote: “Goal setting is critical to most any successful endeavor because it helps to focus your attention, prioritize efforts, enhance persistence, and develop effective learning strategies. Otherwise, suboptimal performance or outright failure is more likely as the person procrastinates or simply flies by the seat of their pants without a viable plan." Not to belabor the obvious, but such an outcome is most undesirable in a life-and-death situation.

So I adjusted. I focused more. I demanded that every shot have value; that every shot bring me closer to my goals. I refused to yield to the seductive foolish siren song of assuming I would make the right call under tremendous pressure. I had to use these moments now to improve the odds that I would do the right thing then: With this sense of purpose, I had more fun.

Michael Sabbeth


Michael Sabbeth is a lawyer and writer in Denver, Colorado. See his book The Good, The Bad & The Difference: How to Talk with Children About Values. Available at