Imagine how good you would be if you just forgot all your bad shots.
Imagine how calm and collected you would be if all you only remembered your good stuff.
Okay I know this sounds like fantasy stuff, but actually, what sticks in your long-term memory is largely down to one thing…
When I was a junior golfer, I used to just wish I could turn my emotions off.
The tension, the self doubt, the fear at times – seemed to consume me at the most inopportune moments on the golf course.
I would be sailing along and almost out of nowhere, a bad memory or an emotion would begin to cripple me.
I remember the 7th at my old club. It was only around 340 yards long. A fairly generous fairway with out of bounds to the right and two big conifer trees hugging the left.
Not a walk in the park but nothing to cause too much concern.
But as soon as I arrived on that 7th tee, I was filled with fear. Bad images of my prior results would always consume me.
It was just a solid 4 iron up the left hand side. A shot I could hit in my sleep… but not on this hole.
I would even begin to think about this hole the night before a competition. I would often daydream about it destroying my round. It didn’t matter how well I was playing or how well I was swinging it. This hole always got me.
It actually became so bad, it even became a running joke at the club. On some occasions I would even hit up the 6th fairway, just to avoid the inevitable calamity.
Everyone I was playing with, saw this as a birdie hole. I was delighted with bogey.
It was 340 yards for god sake.
So WHY did it have this grip on me?
Emotions and Memories
Once you understand how emotion and memory intertwine, it doesn’t take much to understand why I was in such a hole on this hole.
As human beings we tend to remember emotionally charged events over your average day at work. This is kind of obvious.
I mean, what did you do last Tuesday for instance? I doubt you’ll have a clue without deeply thinking about it.
But I bet you can remember your wedding as clear as day. Or the birth/s of your child/ren.
Or even someone really picking on you at school.
These kinds of events spark off lots of emotion. This is one of the reasons why these events are so memorable.
And also, when we remember them we tend to relive the emotion that was attached to the event. Albeit not as powerfully.
So, what has getting married got to do with my issue at the 7th?
Well to put it politely, I used to be very, very hot headed on the course. I wasn’t an angry person in real life…the problem was that I just wanted it too bad.
All I wanted to be was a golfer. It’s all I thought about and it’s all I could foresee myself doing in the future.
So, when something didn’t go my way on the course… I would often go mad. I threw clubs, swore, shouted at club captains, cried after being knocked out of the county cup.
(Yes, that’s true)
I was on the side of the 18th green balling my eyes out! You had to see it to believe it.
So, you can imagine what happened when I hit one out of bounds on the dreaded 7th… This was a birdie hole and I have just done that.
I would get angry and frustrated. Cursing my way to the next shot with all kinds of negative emotions.
You know what happened next time I was on that tee?
I became more tense than usual.
My memory began recalling the emotional distress this hole had caused me in the past.
And due to tension being the killer of good golf.
I would often hit the same shot again which was usually a big high block straight in the trees.
Which of course was followed with more anger and frustration.
And the cycle began until I was eventually crippled with fear on this hole. And looking back, I believe it all began because of how I reacted to that initial poor shot.
It doesn’t matter that the event wasn’t as big as my wedding. In fact, recent studies suggest that it’s not the significance of the event that triggers the memory at all, it is the amount of emotion attached to it.
And when I hit bad shots, lots of emotion was created.
Detach From the Bad
It’s clear to me that how you behave after a golf shot is as important as how you behave before. (If not more)
So, if you are getting very tense on the course or on certain holes, or in certain situations. Then really become aware of your post shot reaction and what emotion you are attaching to the result.
If it’s often very negative then this could be one of the biggest reasons you have become so anxious and tense out there. Your brain thinks it’s doing its job by protecting you from the inevitable distress being on the golf course often causes you.
It’s important to realise that anxiety is simply a defence mechanism deployed by your sub-conscious mind when it thinks it could be in danger. This is to ensure you’re focused and alert to deal with it.
So, if you keep acting with distress, anger, frustration etc then your brain is going to carry on protecting you from these unwanted feelings.
You want to feel calm, relaxed and free on the course, so the key is to give your brain nothing to protect you from.
The ultimate is being able to detach to your poor shots. Just watch it sail into the trees with no emotion, with nothing. Almost view the ball as if someone else has hit it.
This way your memory bank is safe.
I now see bad shots in an entirely different light. Now they are a chance to show my sub-conscious mind that bad shots are not to be feared.
There’s no emotion, so nothing to remember here.
And I really am starting to reap the rewards. I am far less tense on the course and nowhere near as fearful of bad results.
Learn to turn a bad shot into your favour.
What about your good shots?
Obviously, the good shots you want to be firmly ingrained. You want an emotional response when you do something good on the course.
The problem is a lot of golfers react way too negatively to their bad play and way to subdued to their good stuff.
The goal is to flip this on its head.
In ‘Every Shot Must Have a Purpose’ the authors refer to this concept as a memory box. What and how much emotion you give off is going to be the biggest contributor as to what goes in your box.
So that initial few seconds after the ball has left the club is far more crucial than most golfers think.
I am not going to kid you and say this a five-minute process. Ingraining habits like this will take a bit of time but the key is to see every bad shot as an opportunity to further cement this.
See that slice in the trees as an investment. React negatively and your share price has gone down, act neutrally and it will move in your favour.
The fact is, the more neutral you can react to these kinds of results, the calmer and a better golfer you will become.
Practice this on the range. This is a great place to ingrain this habit. I can even get a little excited about hitting a poor shot just so I can practice it.
Also set a process goal for when you are out on the course. I talk about the importance of process goals in ‘Mindset Habits to Unlock Your Best Golf’ and the great thing about them is they deter your mind from the outcomes.
Golfers who focus too much on outcomes become overly tense. This is because they are not 100% in your control therefore their brain feels uncertainty.
Process goals however are 100% in your control. The key tip here is to write it down. Writing a goal down like ‘react neutrally to poor shots’ gives it so much more meaning.
- How much emotion you show in a situation has a strong correlation with how well you remember it.
- Anxiety is released when your brain thinks it’s in danger to ensure you are focused to deal with it. Reacting negatively to your poor shots only gives it reason to think you are.
- Stay as neutral as possible from your bad shots by detaching from them. View them as if someone else has hit the shot.
- Attach to your good shots by showing some emotion to them. Don’t go overboard as this may upset your equilibrium for the rest of the round.
- Neutral to poor play should be a process goal for your practice sessions and you’re on course performance.
- If I could change anything about myself as a young golfer. This would be it. It’s absolutely key.
- This habit will take time, so be patient.