“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
PLAYING GOLF IS LIKE LEARNING HOW TO WRITE
I want you to think about when you first learned how to write. At first you had no idea what you were doing. You had to learn the alphabet and the difference between capital and lower-case letters. You had to learn about sentences and punctuation and how to write all those different characters. Then you learned how to put sentences together and eventually wrote paragraphs, and stories.
This evolution took time but each building block lead to better communication and comprehension. At first you had to focus on each letter making sure it was correct, but by the time you were writing stories, you weren’t thinking about each letter. Instead you were focusing on the story.
This is no different than learning how to play golf. Instead of learning the alphabet, it’s learning the fundamentals of the game; the grip, posture, and alignment. Writing a sentence becomes making a golf swing and learning how to control ball flight. Putting a few sentences together to make a paragraph is like putting a few swings together to play a hole. When 18 holes are put together, the story is complete.
Over time, “technique” and “storytelling” improve and scores start to come down. That’s why it’s so important to learn things right, not twice. That’s why it’s so important to lay a good foundation and build everything on top of it.
BECOMING A BETTER WRITER
There will ups and downs, twists and turns, and surprises around every corner both literally and figuratively. When playing great golf, life is amazing. There’s no thought about mechanics. Instead, focus turns to higher level concepts like visualization.
When playing a poor round of golf however, everything changes, and it becomes easy to spiral down a negative roller coaster of emotion. What we’re going to discuss in this article is how to develop and refine a process that brings familiarity to every swing and creates the perfect environment to perform.
THINKING WITHOUT THINKING
One of golf’s most overwhelming aspects is the fact that there’s no hiding from the results. Players who have difficulty committing to a shot typically struggle. Maybe they don’t feel like they’re good enough, maybe they let the pressure get to them and they talk themselves out of the shot, or maybe they’ve hit a bad shot on that hole before and that memory haunts them. Right away they’re setting up for failure before even swinging the club.
Many a great player have met their downfall from too much thinking on the course. It's a delicate balancing act between staying present and focused on the shot at hand without actually thinking about the mechanics of how to hit the shot. So how does one go from training a new movement pattern to allowing it to happen without thinking about it?
FINDING THE AUTHENTIC SWING
I believe the mindset going into a shot is more important than the mechanics of a swing or how beautiful it looks. That’s because when a golfer stands over the ball, they have an infinite number of options and ever-changing variables. The best option to choose is the one that feels right in the soul; the authentic swing.
With a proper pre-shot routine and a quick risk-reward assessment, it’s possible to determine the best shot for the situation based on skill and comfort while minimizing the miss in case it doesn’t go to plan. Great players hedge their bets on that shot that feels right in their soul and double down. Once they commit, they commit.
Because they had a vision for the shot in their mind, they can hit the ball with intention, and use the feedback from that shot to refine their process for the next shot. If they were trying to hit the ball high right and it went high left, they can learn from that shot. Consistency in pre-shot routine creates familiarity and comfort over the ball which leads to lower scores.
By controlling as many variables as possible, it’s easier to understand how the uncontrolled variables will affect a shot.
Compartmentalization is about creating structure and separation with your thoughts. This makes it easier for the brain to process information. It’s common to compartmentalize work life from personal life and vice versa, yet most golfers let each shot on the course bleed together and mess with their mind. The key is to get all of the “thinking” out of the way ahead of time so when it comes time to hit the ball, the only focus is on being present and executing the shot.
THE MENTAL LIBRARY
I like to use a mental hack I call the mental library to help refine the process that leads to an authentic swing. Every shot will end with one of two results.
If every swing starts with pure focus and intention, and is executed with commitment, there’s something that can be learned from every shot.
When the ball doesn’t fly as intended, it can be learned from. What didn’t go according to plan? What can you do next time?
If the ball does fly as intended however, that shot goes into a book on a shelf in the mental library. This library can hold books for putts, chips, pitches, drives, or different courses. The sky is the limit. When done properly, these books can be pulled off the shelf, tapped into, and at any time during any round reproduced.
Tapping is a powerful skill needed to pull books off the shelf in the mental library and replicate them. Tapping, based off the science of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is used to help rewire the brain.
Let's try and experiment... Don't think about a green elephant. What are you now thinking about? Probably a green elephant! Now don't think about that water to the right of the green or the bunkers on the left. You get my point. On a primitive level, the mind doesn't understand language, so it doesn't understand "don't." All it knows is you’re focusing on the water, therefore, that must be where you want to hit your shot. But what if this process could be rewired to create a greater chance of success?
Imagine standing over a shot that has water right, bunkers left, and you need to make par to beat your opponent. That’s an intimidating shot. It’s easy to get distracted by all that could go wrong. Instead of thinking about the negative, think about a shot in your mental library that applies to this situation. Maybe it’s a great shot you’ve had on that hole in the past. Maybe it’s a great shot you’ve hit with the club you’re about to use. Whatever it is, pull that shot off the shelf and imagine what it felt like to hit that shot. Put yourself in your shoes the day you hit it. Think really hard. Focus. Block out the noise. Now slowly tap your toes back and forth, right, left, right, left. Think of nothing but the result you want.
This alternating tapping helps focus in the visualization process on the intended shot and helps block out the distractions of the negative. This allows the authentic swing to appear. The only thing left now is to hold onto the feeling of that shot as you fire away. See it… Feel it… Hit it…
MEDITATION & BREATHING
To make the process of visualization and tapping work, a player must be able to calm down and focus their mind. I’ve found the easiest way to get better at this is through mindful breathing and meditation.
When meditating, I like to focus on my breath. The breath is in the here and now and keeps me present. I like to use a technique called Square Breathing because I can easily use it on the course without anyone knowing.
Square Breathing is when you inhale through the nose for 4 seconds, hold that breath for 4 seconds, exhale fully and completely for 4 seconds, then with nothing left in the lungs, hold that absence of air for 4 seconds. Repeat as needed until calm and focused. Here’s a videoquickly explaining Square Breathing.
Thoughts will come and go. The power of meditation is the ability to recognize thoughts as they appear, choose which thoughts get your attention, and let the rest pass by. Start by trying to make it 1 cycle of square breathing without losing focus. Then 2, then 3. Increase endurance over time. I like 5-20 minute meditation windows.
THE SECRET POWERS OF BREATHING
Breathing has secret powers. Because it’s one of the only functions of the body that can be controlled or left on autopilot, it helps us tap into the deeper powers of the mind. A consistent meditation practice based on breathing creates a priming effect that can be used at any time to trigger a relaxed yet focused state of mind.
Let’s say you set aside 10 minutes a day to square breathe for a month. You’ll be able to use square breathing during a round, find a calm yet focused mindset, tap into your mentally library, and extract authentic swings. When breathing and tapping are done together as part of the visualization process of a pre-shot routine, the result is authentic swing after authentic swing.
Every great player has a pre-shot routine. They may not all be the same but the principles behind them are similar. The key to a good pre-shot routine is compartmentalizing the process and doing the same thing time and time again to bring a sense of familiarity to each shot. In a game of infinitely changing variables, doing one thing consistently well makes a world of difference when it comes to being successful on the course.
THE FIVE QUESTIONS
These are the 5 questions that should be asked before every shot. They can be asked in any order and often interchange. Since they are always changing, the answers to these five questions are always changing. This is the opportunity to take it all in and assess the situation because in the next phase of the pre-shot routine, it’s time to turn the thinking mind off.
1: How Far?
2: What's In Between?
3: What's the Lie?
4: Where’s the landing area?
5: What club should I use?
The left brain is logical. It’s what helped answer the five questions above. Once the five questions have been answered, that information is downloaded into the subconscious and the left brain can be switched to the right brain via tapping, breathing, and visualizing.
With the right brain active, visualize the shot and take practice swings until a “feel” is found. Once the feel is found, address the ball, confirm things are a go, then execute. If at any point while standing over the ball thoughts of doubt creep in, abort and try again.
VISUALIZATION AND EXECUTION
LEARN AND REFINE
After a shot has been hit, it’s time to learn from it and refine the process. Following this pre-shot routine means every shot is a learning opportunity. After it’s hit, the ball either does what it was supposed to do, or it doesn’t. Shots that do, go on a shelf in the mental library, while shots that don’t, are used to learn in preparation for the next shot.
BONUS: MIND HACK
It’s amazing how a little positive reframing makes a huge difference on the entire process we just discussed. One of the hacks I use and teach is how to positively reframe the shot for the greatest chance of success.
Regardless of the shot, that shot is always your favorite shot in the world. A 53 yard lob over a bunker? Yes please! A 152 yard par 3 with water right? I love that shot! But what about that long and narrow par 5? Let’s get home in two!
It all goes back to changing perspective and focusing on the elements within control. Look at every shot in a positive light, play to strengths, and look for opportunities.
MOVE BETTER – PLAY BETTER