I. Why discuss flinches? The flinch is, by far, the most common and most serious marksmanship problem in handgun shooting. There are more pistol-shot targets at a typical range with a low-left pattern than without. It is ubiquitous among newer shooters.* For many, the problem persists for years. Some never overcome it. The flinch is particularly pernicious because its root cause - the blink - basically imposes a roadblock to further development. Improving one's handgun shooting is often a matter of making incremental refinements to a variety of techniques and fundamentals - there's always something to work on - but if a flinch is present and persistent, not a lot of headway can be made on other things until it is solved. As one might expect, a problem that is both common and serious generates a lot of threads. Unfortunately, these often begin with a vexed shooter posing the wrong question. They may ask about trigger control or sight alignment or even grip, when they are simply flinching and shoving shots low and left without any visual awareness. They will get lots of advice that is relevant to the question they asked (which was derived from their own self-diagnosis), but irrelevant to their actual problem. They get good medicine - for someone else's ailment. I thought it would be useful to have a post - and subsequent thread - that deals directly and unflinchingly (ha!) with this issue. I hope that it may help someone. II. Why I am writing this I'm not an expert in very much when it comes to shooting. I'm a passable USPSA/IPSC shooter, and I can hit things that casual shooters struggle to hit, but I'm not a national champ (nor am I likely to ever be). I know lots and lots of people who are better pistol shooters than me. But I DO know what it is like to struggle against a profound and persistent flinch - and what was required for me to overcome it. I know what it is like to be unable to consistently hold the A-zone of an IPSC target (or the -0 zone of an IDPA target) at 10 yards when under no time pressure. I know what it is like to fill target after target with a pattern that looks like a comet, with a few centered shots and a long, diffuse tail of many more shots trailing out to the low and left (I'm right-handed). I know a bunch of things that people told me or that I read online that were supposed to cure this problem. I know which of those things did not work (a lot of them), and even which made the problem worse (again, a lot of them). Fortunately, I also eventually learned what worked. I know that I have shared this information with a number of other people over the years who were struggling with a persistent flinch, and I have seen it work for them. I think this is a topic I know and understand well, from the perspective of both patient and physician. III. What is a true flinch? In handgun shooting, for purposes of this discussion a flinch is: A reflexive/subconscious anticipation of the shot firing that manifests in both a blink/fluttering of the eyes and a pre-ignition push of the gun opposite the anticipated recoil.** OK, let's unpack that. 1. "A reflexive/subconscious anticipation of the shot firing..." We're talking about a phenomenon that begins without (and even against) a conscious decision. Our brains are pre-programmed from birth to protect our most precious sensory organs - our eyes. Loud noises and rapid motions near our faces are things that our brains - the very old parts of our brain, not the human-defining prefrontal cortex stuff - understand as needing to generate a protective response. This is happening at a reflexive, not deliberative/intentional, level. After we've fired a gun a few times, our brain knows that, once the trigger gets pressed far/hard enough, the pistol suddenly takes on an apparent "life" of its own, albeit a brief one. It makes an instantaneously violent sound so loud as to be beyond what our ancestors would likely have ever encountered in their hunting and gathering. This explosively loud sound is accompanied by the sensation of the previously-inanimate object in our hands suddenly having a will of its own, moving back and up towards our face with a sudden drive that can be resisted, but not completely. Human brains are very good at noticing patterns, and then predicting future events based on that pattern (if you've ever tapped your foot or bobbed your head along with a song that you've never heard before, that's what you're doing). Given the virtually 1-to-1 correlation between the trigger and the big-noise-object-jumping phenomenon, our brains notice this pattern very readily. Once our brains recognize this pattern, our brains start to anticipate it. As the trigger gets closer to breaking, our brain starts to prepare for what it knows is coming (ignition, noise, and motion)... and it does it at a subconscious level. 2. "that manifests in  a blink/fluttering of the eyes" Human beings relay 80-90% on visual inputs for information about the world. In prehistoric times, a blind hunter/gatherer was basically as good as dead. We are strongly disposed to protect our eyes, and our eyelids are a part of that. Unfortunately, as soon as we allow our subconscious to activate the protective effects of our eyelids, that shuts down the visual data coming into our brain. Now, we blink many times every minute just to keep our eyes lubricated/moisturized, and that doesn't seem to pose big problems in terms of our general awareness of the world... but most of the time, we're not trying to observe fraction-of-a-second events. Shooting is something that happens, though, in a fraction of a second. So losing our primary data stream for the duration of even a rapid blink can effectively blot out all record of the moment of ignition and what was happening with the sights in few hundredths of a second beforehand. It is this "redaction" of the record that defines a true flinch, and distinguishes it from most other bad shots. It literally blinds us as to our own actions, and what might be done to fix them. Once you are getting visual input, you will begin to make rapid and easy improvements in marksmanship, because you will be able to literally see your mistakes as you make them, and you will be able to self-cure the vast majority of them. It's like driving a car... if you kept blacking out on the road, not only would you have lots of accidents, you wouldn't learn anything from them and wouldn't get better as a driver. But if you were able to start maintaining awareness, you'd learn to drive acceptably well in short order. 3. "and a pre-ignition push of the gun opposite the anticipated recoil." If all that happened was a closing of the eyes, theoretically we could still make the same hits. If the gun was aligned with the target, and then we kept it there and pressed the trigger, the bullet would go to the same place. But that's not what happens. The same subconscious reflex that closes the eyes causes some amount of force to be input to the gun in anticipation of recoil. For right-handed shooters, this will generally be a shove down and to the left. The special hell of the flinch is that, because we closed our eyes just before we began to shove the gun off the target, we don't see this happening. We decide to pull the trigger, we blink, we shove the gun, the gun goes off, we open our eyes (no need to anticipate it any more, the gun already did its noisy thing), and we are baffled and frustrated at yet another low-left hit (or outright miss). There are other more subtle marksmanship errors that cause occasional misses, including low-left misses. Desire to fire a shot while the sights are "perfect" and immobile, a focus on getting the next shot ready even while the prior shot is still underway, and failure to isolate the trigger finger's contraction from the rest of the hand - these are all other errors that can and do cause misses and off-center shots. But these are all different than a true flinch - and are comparatively easy to combat with conscious effort, as opposed to the brain-stem-driven flinch. IV. How do I know if I've got a flinch? There are several good ways to determine whether you've got a flinch. The most definitive way is to get some high-resolution slow-motion video of yourself shooting. With the quality of cameras on smart phone these days, this is very doable for most people. Get the camera positioned so that your dominant eye is in the frame and in-focus. Turn on the slow-motion camera (or have a friend do it). Shoot some shots. Watch the video. If your dominant eye is fluttering, blinking, closing, or squinting just before/as the gun goes off: you have a flinch. Another method common before slow-motion cameras were in everyone's pocket was the old ball-and-dummy drill. Have a friend load the magazine or cylinder of the gun with a mix of live and dummy rounds (or, if you haven't got dummies, just an unknown number of rounds). Shoot at a target. If the times when the gun doesn't go off you shove the gun dramatically downward and notice that you blinked as you did it, you have a flinch. Note: The ball and dummy drill is slightly too sensitive. Almost all shooters who care about recoil control will develop a timed push down against recoil... but they will push after the shot, and without a blink. It is unrealistic to expect the gun to stay totally still on a dummy (although many people will say that it should). What you are looking for is a big dip, usually with the muzzle dipping in an angular fashion (as opposed to a muzzle-level straight down displacement of the whole gun, which is more common with a post-ignition return-from-recoil input) and a blink. As I will explain below, the ball and dummy drill is not a treatment for a pronounced flinch - it's a diagnostic tool. V. How do I stop flinching? If you've recognized that you've got a true flinch, congratulations. A lot of people never make it that far. For some reason, people who are flinchers don't like to acknowledge it, even to themselves. Rather than recognizing that it indicates that they have good reflexes, they think it signals something about fear. Well, that attitude won't help them solve the problem. A simple recognition that you have a flinch is the first step to the cure. A. The eyes have it What next? To cure a flinch, there is one key insight that you need to have: The key role of the blink in the flinch. Shooting is, first and foremost, a visual activity. When we blink, we turn off our conscious awareness of where the gun is aimed... and the subconscious reptile-brain impulse to push against the gun's impending recoil takes over. Worse, because our eyes are closed, we cannot monitor the sights and we cannot even see the flinch in action. We just see shots straying far from the last point-of-aim that we saw, and it's baffling/frustrating. Once shooters manage to keep their eyes open and visual perception running well enough to see the push happening, they're pretty quick to stop doing it. B. A matter of trust OK, so can we just decide to keep our eyes open? Well, some people can. These are the people who quickly move through any flinch phase. But for those of us who struggle with a persistent flinch, the subconscious fights against the conscious intent to keep the eyes open. And it is fundamentally a question of trust. Remember that the blink reflex/anticipation in a flinch is a subconscious action. The fundamental problem is that your subconscious thinks that allowing the gun to go off while the eyes are open is dangerous. Our rational brains can recognize that the projectile comes out the other end, that we have enough grip on the gun to prevent it from whanging us in the face, that we are wearing eyepro against any small debris, etc., but our subconscious doesn't trust that. It wants the extra security of covering our precious eyeballs with eyelids. Thus, the long-term cure is to build up enough "trust" in your subconscious that the gun will not harm you just because it fires while your eyes are open. The bad news is that there is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem here. The only way for your brain to begin to "trust" that keeping your eyes open throughout the shot is safe is to accumulate instances of keeping the eyes open with no injury resulting. The good news is that every time that happens, the trust grows. The trust is not diminished by the gun going off with the eyes closed. So you're not going to damage your shooting by trying-and-failing to keep the eyes open on shots... you're only going to improve (on those occasions when the gun goes off and you see it go off). Your job, then, is to accumulate enough instances where your eyes are open at the moment the gun goes off for your subconscious to accept that this is a safe event and that it can knock that blinking stuff off. Different people's subconsciouses require different amounts of proof. I cannot tell you how many instances you will need. I needed quite a few, spread over multiple sessions. But there is such thing as "enough," and you can get them. C. Seeing it all So step #1 of curing a flinch is to pile up instances of seeing the gun go off. OK, how do we do that? Attention on seeing. Spend some time shooting without any concern over group size. In fact, shoot without any target at all. Just aim at the backstop and watch the gun go off. See how much you can see. See the brass eject. See the slide move or the hammer fall. See the muzzle flash (lots of people have never seen their own muzzle-flash!); with a revolver, see an B/C gap flash. Once you can reliably see the gun going off, you can focus your attention on the sights. Once you can reliably see the sights through the shot, then it's worth adding a target. Until then, don't worry about targets or groups. What if this is proving especially difficult? The good news is, there are a bunch of tricks we can use to try to mess with our perception and reflexes just enough to start piling up instances of seeing the gun go off. D. The bag of tricks Maximize insulation from blast/flash/noise. Double plug (earplugs under muffs). Find the lower threshold of what is blink-inducing, and shoot a lot of that. If a .22lr only induces a blink some of the time, shoot a lot of that until you blink 0% of the time with that power level. If an airsoft gun is enough to set off a blink, shoot that a lot. (I actually had a blink that was so sensitive that I did this... just the CO2 puff from an airsoft gun with a reciprocating slide would induce a blink from me. So I spent time in my house "firing" an airsoft gun that had gas, but no pellets, just to desensitize myself to it.) Conversely, sometimes it helps to shoot a few rounds of something that has a lot more blast and flash. Shoot a few rounds of full-power 10mm and even +P 9mm will seem soft by comparison. Sometimes it just helps to reset levels of what your subconscious considers "a lot" of blast and flash. Try firing 4-6 shots as fast as you can pull the trigger. You may time up the eyelid-flutter with the first shot or two, but you will eventually get out of sync (if you are really shooting fast) and see the muzzle flash. Every time that happens, it builds trust. You just need enough of those instances to start being able to keep your eyes open through single shots. Try firing a gun with an unfamiliar trigger. If your brain is very used to "timing" the blink with a semi-auto's short trigger, you may be able to "surprise" it with a DA revolver pull. You may flinch once halfway through the pull, then re-open your eyes as the trigger stroke nears the end. If the exercise of seeing the gun go off is proving very difficult, if you can, have an experienced shooter go stand next to you. Hold the gun in a firing grip pointed towards the berm, but with your finger off the trigger indexed on the frame. Allow the other person, standing safely to the side, to put their finger in the trigger. When you think the sights are aligned on the target, tell the other shooter you are on target. They will wait a short, but random period of time. You may feel your eyes fluttering as your brain tries to guess when the gun will go off, but within a few tries, your brain will guess "wrong" and accidentally see some shots go off. This can sometimes kick-start a willingness in the brain to "see" more with greater trust that nothing bad will happen just because the eyes are open at the moment of ignition. Chances are good you might shoot a really good group this way, too! Don't give up. When I was working through my flinch, I went to the range with a 500 round box of .22lr ammo and shot it all out my .22 pistol. I did this once a week for several weeks. I gradually got desensitized to it. Then I started piling up reps with centerfire guns. Have an experienced shooter check your grip. Grip has a huge influence on how the gun moves in recoil. An ineffective grip can make the gun jump around more, which is part of the input that makes your subconscious want to blink and shove the gun around. An effective grip can settle the recoil down quite a bit, and make it easier to trust that nothing crazy is going to happen when the gun goes off. Try shooting with both eyes open. When you close your non-dominant eye, that tends to partially close the dominant one. Leaving both open will cause a double-image issue, but remember that our goal is to see the gun go off, not do a lot of precise alignment. Once you get the blink eliminated, you can decide whether you should be a squinter or a both-open shooter... but for now, do anything you can to keep your eyes open and relaxed. Don't shoot into bright light. If you're shooting in bright conditions, wear tinted lenses. Again, don't pre-close your eyes at all. You want relaxed face muscles. Some people find it helpful to even slightly open their jaw/mouth. You want to be dispassionate, an impassive observer. There are other tricks I have not listed. Maybe others will chime in with some. E. Stuff that doesn't work I don't want to go into an exhaustive list of things that are unproductive, but I do want to address three things that are often floated as a cure for flinching - but are not, in my experience.. Dry fire: Dry fire is awesome. I am a huge believer in it. I would say I dry fire at least a little 5+ days per week. There's all kinds of stuff you can learn in dry fire. But, remember, your brain is good at noticing patterns. Your brain knows that an empty gun doesn't go boom. It knows there is no flash or blast or recoil coming, so it doesn't feel any need to protect the eyes or shove the gun around. Lots and lots and lots of people can dry fire with perfect accuracy and have a horrendous flinch with live ammo. Ball and dummy drills: This is a diagnostic tool, and can be useful to get someone to "feel" how much force they are really applying in the pre-ignition push, but I do not think it is a method for curing a flinch. Worse, if done in significant volume, you can train a kind of "free recoil" shooting, which can be usable for leisurely-paced shooting, but is totally at odds with the kind of recoil control needed for any kind of rapid shooting (which most people think is applicable to self-defense). Focusing on trigger control: I suspect this works for a percentage of flinchers, but for many people an acute focus on the sensation of the pressure building towards the sear break generates an unbearable level of anticipation and cranks flinching into the stratosphere. This is good medicine for some other marksmanship issues, but is generally not the cure for a true flinch. Alright, that's all I've got to say about this topic right now. * Though, paradoxically, not necessarily among truly brand-new shooters. ** Note that not all pre-ignition pushes are a true flinch. Sometimes, they are simply a result of trying to aggressively manage recoil and fractionally mis-timing some recoil control input. Sometimes, they are a result of too much tension in the firing hand combined with an overall clenching action of that hand as the trigger is pressed. Compared to a true flinch, though: 1) the shooter will have the ability to see it happening and therefore have some chance of conscious correction; and 2) these will tend to be intermittent in nature, resulting in the occasional "flyer" or "thrown shot," as opposed to the flinch's pervasive impact on half or more of the fired shots.