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The Four Corners Approach to Unlocking Peak Performance

This article contains affiliate links.

I have been trying to think of a way to best illustrate the relationship between all of the various topics we discuss here at The Everyday Marksman. As part of an introduction in the book I’ve been [trying to] work on since the start of the year, I needed a way to illustrate why I advocate the “basics is best” approach so much. I think I’ve got it, and today I want to talk about it- and maybe get your thoughts as well.

First, I want to establish the why. Every once and a while I come back to the idea that far too many people spend far too much money on more gear and equipment than they should. In the grand scheme of things, your equipment is but one component of a large picture. However, it’s the easiest component to build on since it only requires spending more money. On top of that, it’s the only thing that gun and gear companies have to offer, so they market the hell out of it. It’s their job to convince you that what you already have isn’t good enough, and you need the next thing.

Unlike ammunition, which is expendable supply, guns and gear are generally durable goods that last a long time. To stay in business, manufacturers require an ever-expanding customer base, or must find a way to convince you to keep coming back time and time again. While they may care about you, they also care about staying in business.


It’s not Just Gear

This idea doesn’t just apply to manufacturers, either. Many trainers try to convince you that they have special knowledge or insight that you haven’t seen before, and so you must pay them to teach you the special thing and bust through your plateau.

Don’t take this to mean that I don’t think there isn’t value in an experienced coach to brush up your skills from time to time. If it’s the first time you’re learning a particular skill, whether it’s shooting, tactics, lifting, or something else, then I absolutely believe there’s good reason to seek instruction.

Where I see the problem is people who keep taking courses to learn new variations of the same things over and over again rather than practicing what they’ve learned already to the point of mastery.

The problem is, again, that there isn’t much money to be made in telling you to do the hard thing and keep practicing. People want to be provided the easy path to performance, and they’re willing to pay a lot of money for it. Unfortunately, there isn’t one.

The Pyramid of Performance

That gets me to the illustration I want to talk about. I needed a way to show that success in marksman-related pursuits requires focus in more than one area at a time. Over-optimizing on one thing comes at the cost of the others, which results in lower performance.

I was reading through Alexander Bromley’s Base Strength: Program Design Blueprints, and he had a three-sided pyramid illustration showing the relationship between muscle mass, strength, endurance, and coordination to make his point. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that it was applicable to you and I in many contexts if I made a couple of tweaks to it.

Imagine a four-sided pyramid. The peak of the pyramid represents the maximum possible performance you should expect for whatever it is you’re trying to do. Being a geometric object, the maximum height of the pyramid depends upon the size of the pyramid’s base.

The base has four corners, each representing an important attribute of performance: Technique, Mindset, Physical Capability, and Equipment.

  • Technique describes your skill level with the task at hand. It could be marksmanship fundamentals, building a fire, pressing a weight overhead, small unit tactics, or many other things
  • Mindset represents focus, confidence, and self-image around the task at hand. It’s a measure of how much your head is “in the game.” Even people who are highly skilled at something make mental mistakes that hurt performance.
  • Physical Capability is a measure of your body’s ability to handle the task at hand without pain or exhaustion. The fitter you are, the easier everything else becomes. This is not just strength and endurance, but also includes mobility, body composition, and just plain old good health if the task requires it.
  • Equipment represents how effectively your gear supports the required task on demand. Our key metric is effective, not “better.”

Performance Growth

Raising your maximum potential becomes a function of expanding the base. In our illustration, we represent improvement in any one area by moving it further away from the center. The further each point gets from the “zero,” then the intersections with the other points and the slope to the peak must naturally get larger.

How do we expand the base? We move the technique corner further away through training and practice. Remember that training is the acquisition of a particular skill while practice is the repetition of the skill until mastery.

We improve physical capability through challenging the body to achieve related physical skills or working on our limiting physical factors like health and mobility.

Equipment improves through proper investment and configuration of our gear to meet the task at hand. Remember, it’s effective not better. A half MOA barrel is “better” but not any more effective than a 2 MOA barrel if the task at hand is a CQB shoot inside 25 yards. If the task is a precision shot at 500 yards, then the half MOA barrel is more effective for that task.

Lastly, we improve mindset through focus, awareness, and building confidence through our training, practice, physical skills, and comfort with our equipment.


Imbalances

The trick for success is that you must expand the base in all directions more or less equally to actually raise the maximum potential. Expanding one corner of the pyramid very far in one direction without expanding the others might move the peak of the pyramid up a little bit, but it is still limited by the other three points.

The most obvious example in our space is the person who invests a ton of money in high-dollar gucci gear but rarely practices and has a low level of physical fitness. It’s easy to keep spending money and pushing the equipment corner way out there, but until you invest in the other three attributes, your performance potential is going to stay about the same.

Keep that in mind when it comes to the all-too-common story of the person who buys a nice piece of gear, never actually trains enough with it, and then invests another [very expensive] piece of kit that they believe will finally take them to the “next level.”

The reality is that, for most of us, our equipment corner is already far ahead of everything else. This is why Jeff Cooper wrote that a master marksman is able to shoot up to the level of his rifle.

A marksman is one who can make his weapon do what it was designed to do.

An expert marksman is one who can hit anything he can see, under appropriate circumstances.

A master marksman is one who can shoot up to his rifle.

Taken another direction, you might imagine a “tactical tourist” who invests a huge amount of time and money into taking training courses and going to the range. When it comes to real-world employment of the weapon, their technique corner is well-covered. But if they lack the requisite physical fitness requirement to do anything beyond standing at a square range, then their potential is still limited.

One more example is the person who has invested in quality equipment, has a good amount of physical capability, and routinely practices, but does not yet see themselves as fully-capable of execution. As Lanny Bassham would point out, this person is also limiting their potential by having a lacking mindset.

Regardless of the task, performance relies on all corners of the pyramid being in balance.

Support This Episode's Sponsor
Today's episode is sponsored by Ammo Squared, a service that helps you stockpile ammunition like a squirrel stashes nuts- just a little bit at a time. Simply contribute an amount to your ammo account, tell them how to distribute it, and let them go find it and store it for you.

In recent updates, they even let you sell back unwanted ammunition or send it to someone else. I've been using it myself for over a year to build up practice ammo, and you should definitely check it out.

Support This Episode's Sponsor

Today's episode is sponsored by Ammo Squared, a service that helps you stockpile ammunition like a squirrel stashes nuts- just a little bit at a time. Simply contribute an amount to your ammo account, tell them how to distribute it, and let them go find it and store it for you.

In recent updates, they even let you sell back unwanted ammunition or send it to someone else. I've been using it myself for over a year to build up practice ammo, and you should definitely check it out.

The Equipment Question

By saying that our metric of success for equipment is effectiveness, I know I’m going to ruffle some feathers. I want to reiterate that explicitly refers to effectiveness for the task at hand when combined with the other three corners of the pyramid.

I think optics selection provides a good illustration here. Let’s say the task at hand is hitting a target placed at 800 yards with a bolt action rifle chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. The rifle and ammunition themselves are capable of better than 1 MOA accuracy, so they are not in question.

You’re choosing between two scopes for the rifle. One is a 3-18×50 with a mil-hash reticle and the other is a 5-25×56 with a mil-tree reticle.

Which scope do you choose? I think there’s a high probability that most people today would opt for the 5-25×56 with mil-tree reticle because they perceive it as “better.” However, in the context of effectiveness for the task, both are pretty much equal.

Why do I say that? 18x is more than enough magnification for most people to see a target at 800 yards. If you’re struggling to see the target at 18x, then the problem is either your own eyesight (which falls under physical capability for the task) or the optics of the scope itself. That would fall under worse effectiveness of equipment.

When it comes to the reticle, both are perfectly effective if you assume that your practiced technique is up to par. Some people train and practice to use the holdover tree, and they would gravitate towards the second scope. Others, including me, train and practice to spin the elevation turret to dial for distance and then hold for wind. As long as our technique is up to par, then either option works fine.

But Matt, you might ask, what if the turrets for the scope you’re dialing aren’t actually accurate? Well then the scope lacks effectiveness for the task.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Apply the same idea to other pieces of gear like load bearing equipment. Once you get past a certain point in material quality, it’s no longer a question of “better,” but one of how effectively your gear configuration supports how you’ve trained and practiced to perform the task.

Your physical fitness is also a factor as gear gets heavier and the tasks more challenging.

A Well-Rounded Marksman

To wrap this one up, you can apply the pyramid of performance to just about any task. Smaller tasks like tying a knot require a smaller overall pyramid than larger tasks that encompass many skills. You can look at any large challenge, like successfully completing a small unit tactics course or competing in an NRL Hunter match as much larger pyramids that require you to break all of the supporting skills down into their own smaller ones.

When I talk about building Everyday Marksmen and tactical skills for living more adventurous lives, I’m thinking “big pyramid.” We need to be pretty good at many things all at once rather than really good at a couple of things every once and a while.

The challenge is that nobody wants do to the hard thing. Everyone wants the shortcut, the silver bullet they can buy to skip the whole process. That’s not how this works, unfortunately, and the sooner we can convince someone to widen their base in all directions then the more success they’re going to have in the long run.

Picture of Matt

Matt

Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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4 Comments
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Paul
Paul
Guest

I like it! Many things can be approached this way. Matt I caught your feature article in the May 23 ‘American Rifleman’ – great job and good pics!

Richard
Richard
Guest

Great analysis. I am trying to expand it to base shrinkage as well. I have more or less stopped chasing gear, my mindset is as good as it ever was but as I age my physical capacity is shrinking. Until recently, I was able to offset that with training in technique. However, my decline in physical capacity is impairing that as well.

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