You’ve have hit an absolute peach of a drive down 18 – one of your best of the day…
You are left with only a mere 140 yards to the flag for your approach shot. The green is a small entrance which is guarded by a huge pond to the left and two deep significant bunkers to the right.
You have been going along very nicely till now and a very good round is in sight (you could shoot your best ever score)… but now is a real test and it has nothing to do with anything externally.
Its what’s raging internally is the real challenge…
‘You’re going in the water’
‘You can’t hit this shot’
‘This is where you ruin the round’
Thoughts rage, body tenses and adrenaline pumps.
And it’s as if you can predict the future – you put a quick, tense swing on it, and the ball flies left – straight into the drink.
A catastrophic triple bogey later and the round is turned to mediocrity…
But how is that even possible? You haven’t missed one left all day…until now.
But you know deep down why you just done what you done. Mentally you wasn’t prepared, you let the situation dictate you and if truth be told – you wasn’t equipped (yet) to handle it.
Any of this sound remotely similar?
The tension, the poor result and then the denial.
If so…I urge you to read on.
I come from a place experiencing all these things and worse, so not many no better than me what mental torment feels like on the golf course.
But how much time are you paying this 5 and half inch course?
#1 You’ve Been (RE)Framed
I probably don’t need to bore you about the power of confidence. You know how powerful it is.
If you are confident – you feel relaxed, you feel empowered, you feel awesome , you feel like nothing can go wrong,…
Basically, it feels bloody good doesn’t it?
And one really powerful way to gain confidence rather than cripple it, is something called Reframing.
It’s a bit of a fancy word but it basically means turning a negative experience into a positive.
Let’s have a look at this example:
You have just tripled the 18th hole to miss out breaking 90 – you shoot 91.
Reaction 1: ”I Completely choked today, I was so close to breaking 90 and threw it away at the end. I will never break this milestone and I will always be crap under pressure”
Reaction 2: ”Overall a really solid round, getting closer and closer to breaking this milestone. Just a little bit more work needed and I’ll smash it”
Which one of these reactions builds confidence and which one completely destroys it?
You’ll see I hate positive affirmations later – I think they suck but this is so much more than trying to override a negative thought with a positive one.
Reaction 2 is actually completely true, it’s not some positive baloney that you don’t really believe.
You did have a solid round. You are getting closer to breaking this milestone…and you do need to put in more work.
Whether it be tightening your technique so those poor ones are rarer or whether you need to do some mental work so you handle yourself better next time.
The statement is true…
But far too many go for reaction 1 which in mild terms… is utter bullshit!
Anyone can make a triple at the last. Of course you can break that milestone and of course you won’t always choke under pressure.
But the problem is, golfers perform at the level they believe they can perform at, so if you keep reacting in this way. Guess what…
You’ll get exactly what you start believing.
This is really powerful, so get REFRAMING and build that confidence even in the face of adversity.
#2 See it Before You Hit it
”Oh god here we go – another visualization tutorial. Yes I know, I should visualize the shot before I play it”
I can hear your thoughts already.
If I had read this title a year or so ago – I would probably be thinking the same. I used to have the same doubts about ‘picturing the shot’.
I mean how much difference does it actually make?
You know greats like Tiger, Nicklaus, Hogan and now Spieth talk about the importance of visualization, but could it work for you?
Brain Tells the Muscles
Before we move, our brain has to send our muscles signals. That’s pretty obvious right?
So this is what in effect visualization is – it’s a powerful technique which strengthens those signals and if done well will send crystal clear messages telling our muscles exactly what you want them to do…
If you are not doing this, you are missing a trick!
Let’s say I want to visualize a high draw. I see the ball off the clubface, I see it get to the point when it starts to bend, I see it arc into the target, I see it bounce and spin slightly left and settle next to the pin.
It is pretty vivid and my body and swing do the rest. I don’t think about any part of my swing…my brain has giving my body all the information needed to put the correct swing on it.
Of course my technique can fail me occasionally and that intended high draw goes off at right angles and actually fades…I am only human.
But I do notice a distinct correlation between how vividly I see it beforehand and the results.
So the better you become at this – the better the results.
Now we have come to the conclusion that visualizing your shots is a must, now you have to decide which type or use both.(there are two)
Outcome Visualization – This what I have described above, you see the ball off the face, trajectory, spin, roll etc.
Process Visualization – You imagine yourself swinging the club and then the ball, trajectory, etc. Kind of similar to watching yourself in a movie. That’s how Jack Nicklaus described it.
Ben Hogan used to use process visualization when making swing changes. He would sometimes spend hours on the range without hitting very many balls because he would spend a vast majority of it picturing the positions he wants to create.
There’s only one reason why greats like Tiger, Hogan and Nicklaus visualized and it’s because they got results. They didn’t do it for their own good health or they enjoyed watching pretend movies of themselves.
So it’s something you cannot ignore, as it will save you strokes…so that’s why it has made this list.
#3 Process Goals Win
Another sure fire way to add unwanted pressure and anxiety to your rounds is to add some nice little outcome goals into the mix.
Goals come in three different types:
Outcome – ‘I want to win the club championship’
Performance – ‘I want to shoot 89 by 22nd July’
Process – ‘Today I want to make sure I do the same pre-shot routine before each shot’
Outcome goals are required but on a longer term basis and should be firmly put into the back of your mind before a round.
Performance goals have been scientifically proven to also lessen anxiety before a round but process goals is the real winner before a round, so we’ll focus on them.
The main problem with outcome goals is, you can’t fully control them.
You can’t just go out there and say ‘my goal is to win’ because this is completely out of your control
Even if you have 45 points – someone could have 46.
And because you can’t control these goals they tend to control you. Every thought is this ‘target’. And anything else will be perceived as a failure.
When I was a junior – I was obsessed with getting my handicap down. That’s all I cared and thought about. Before each round I knew what I needed to shoot to get down to the next level
This mind-set added so much pressure on everything to the point where all I was trying to do was ‘not to do’ stuff.
– Not make the bogey
– Not 3 putt
– Not duff that the chip
And as soon as I inevitably came off the course NOT achieving my desired outcome, I felt like a failure and to be honest, it was actually quite painful at times.
Now what If I had set process goals?
You know the things that you can control and the things that if you do well, will give you good outcomes.
Process goals are great…
– You can 100% control them.
– Outcome becomes less important.
– You will always come off the course satisfied (as long as you did the processes)
– You end up improving the processes that enable you to play consistent golf.
– Confidence will rise once you do them (if they are challenging enough)
So types of process goals:
– No reaction after bad shots.
– Stay in your ‘game face’ for the whole round.
– Go through pre-shot routine on every shot.
The goals should be challenging enough so if you complete them, you feel like you’ve achieved and improved.
So if you are a massive hot head on the course – the first goal will definitely be a challenge and if completed will give you a sense of accomplishment and build confidence.
One other thing to note that is really important when setting these – write them down. Put them in your phone, on the back of your hand, on your scorecard, tattoo them to your chest – anywhere you can see them, ingest them and make them become real.
Keeping them in your head won’t work. Far too much rubbish goes through our heads every second, so they will just get sucked into the abyss and will be nowhere near as powerful.
#4 Do Not Fall Into the Reactive Trap
You notice in my process goals I have noted ‘ stay in your game face’
What does that mean? Glad you asked…I learnt this from a brilliant book from one of the top sports psychologist – Dan Abraham.
If you watch the big boys on TV – What do they all have in common?
Apart from their supreme ability and talent – one other thing is very apparent. They are brilliant at staying in the same demeanor for the entirety of the round no matter what the outcomes. They walk and play at the same pace whatever the situation.
Tiger used to walk chest out with a nice controlled walk and his routine would always be the same pace…
Dustin Johnson – You wouldn’t be able to tell from his demeanor if he was 10 under or 20 over. He keeps everything the same slow/relaxed pace. He doesn’t quicken up his routine just because the pressure gets more intense.
Staying in there demeanor is actually a conscious action – Tiger talks about it in his book about the importance of always staying the same pace and the amount of effort he put into it this.
But why is this useful?
Well being like this means you are in control of the situation – you are not reacting and letting the situation control you.
Let me give you an example.
When I get nervous on the golf course – I walk, talk, swing, move, do everything far too quickly. This causes me to become tense and far less free on the course.
I let certain situations control me…
But now once I have set me pre-round goal of ‘staying in my game face’. I make a real conscious effort to walk slower and more controlled round the course. I am conscious of not reacting to poor shots because this takes me away from my game face. I drum up conversation between shots to keep me in a relaxed state.
I picture the game face I want to portray and I act on it.
What I have found this to have help with:
– I am far less tense in nervy situations
– I feel a lot more control
– And the very conscious thinking of my actions lessens the likely hood of unwanted feelings or thoughts coming in. (THIS IS HUGE)
What should your game face be?
Whatever you think will get you your best results. Slowing everything down works for me because I get very uptight – so slowing down makes the most sense.
But if you’re the complete opposite and you’re so relaxed you end up losing concentration. Then your game face might be one of intense focus and more abrupt movements.
Not one size fits all here – all that’s important, is you find what’s best for you and action it.
#5 Just Think Growth
Which category do you fall into?
Now ask yourself another question – which category will get you the most fulfillment, fun, results and overall satisfaction playing golf.
Human beings love the feeling of growth, it’s a major factor of being happy.
Far more than always seeking recognition or praise from other people – in fact this is proven to do the complete opposite and more likely to make you depressed.
Those people smashing selfies every 10 seconds – more than likely unhappy.
So if you are more show than growth – what do you need to do?
The first critical component is to view failure completely differently. Most people hate failure which makes them do everything in their power to avoid it.
But what if you started viewing failure as just lessons?
Thomas Edison the inventor of the light bulb reportedly had 1000 failed experiments before he succeeded. When asked ‘about failing 1000 times’
He responded with ‘I didn’t fail 1000 times, the light bulb was an invention with 1000 steps’ in other words ‘lessons’
Once you get into this mindset – you really do become primed for growth.
- You take on that new technique that you know will make you better golfer even though you might ‘fail’ a few times to get there.
- You don’t dodge that tournament because you see it as a learning curve and experience. Whether you come last or not isn’t important.
- You don’t avoid playing with better golfers because you see it as a great chance to learn from them and grow your own game. Whether you embarrass yourself in front of them is nor here nor there.
- You don’t avoid having lessons because you are embarrassed of your swing.
You see the difference?
People who are not willing to experience failure remain stagnant and don’t grow. There’s absolutely no chance of growth without failure.
You can really use the idea of re-framing to deal with failure a lot better as well.
So after reading this…
Think to yourself – what have you been avoiding purely for the risk you might fail (doesn’t even have to be golf)?
And go and do it…
#6 Bad Thoughts are NOT the problem
Two things I detest in the psychological world…
– Positive thinking
– Controlling your thoughts
I personally went through a pretty rough patch. For about 3 years, I suffered very severe anxiety which even left me housebound at times. I was scared to death 24/7. I thought I was going mad every waking minute…
I had every bad thought imaginable from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed.
It sounds bad but I am actually glad it happened to me. (If this is you at the moment – this site saved me)
In this time – I read up and researched every corner of the internet. I read books, watched videos, listened to podcasts. I learnt so much on what does work and what doesn’t in regards to ‘controlling’ ,’trying to stop’ or ‘overriding’ your thoughts.
In short – these things make it worse.
And recently I read an awesome short FREE EBOOK from Mark Manson which makes an unbelievable amount of sense to me. In the book, he highlights an idea from Zen.
It’s the idea that we actually have two minds. A thinking one (can’t fully control it) and an observing one (our control)
Don’t switch off – this is kind of interesting. It made me realize that we are not our thoughts. Thoughts crop up and we decide how to act or treat them with our observing mind.
So how does this help golfers?
Well he states in the book an idea of how we can perceive anxious thoughts/feelings. Let’s say you’re nervous on the 1st tee.
There’s two ways to interpret this:
– I am nervous
– I feel nervousness
‘I am nervous’ perceives that you are your feelings and ‘I feel nervousness’ perceives it as just a feeling you are experiencing and you are detached from it.
Or what about it this, you have a thought:
– ‘I am going to hit it in the water’
Most people attach themselves to this thought and then believe them. What do golfers do?
Do what they believe, so consequently they tighten up and the ball has a very good chance of going in the water.
But what about if you thought of it like this:
‘I am just having a thought of hitting it in the water’
This shows thoughts for what they really are, just thoughts. You have observed it in a way where you haven’t added any emotion and the thought dies away.
One thing I learnt through my suffering is that the more I wanted the thought to dissipate, the more it came and the more powerful and ingrained it became.
The key is – to see thoughts as thoughts and let them in.
Don’t try and override them with positive nonsense or controlling them in some way. Give them space and they die away.
So, next time you are faced with 140 yards into the 18th which is guarded by water and that thought …”you’re going to hit it into the water” crops up.
Remember – you are just having a thought about hitting into the water and let it pass. Then visualize and tell your muscles what you really want them to do.
I really hope you take some ideas from this article – I am intensely passionate about helping others with the mental side…so I would love to hear your thoughts.
If you are still struggling to break that 90 barrier – please check out our ebook which other golfers have found really useful.