Golf has an ironic relationship with time. It takes 3 to 5 hours to complete a round, but you are actually performing during only a fraction of that time. All the time between shots provides plenty of opportunities to think about and reflect on your performance. With so much pressure to execute each swing, golfers find themselves heading to the range, putting in countless hours of practice to elevate their games and lower their handicaps. However, even with all of that practice, you may not see the improvement you want, and that may be due to your golf mental training.
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The key to improving your mental game is to structure the way you think so it’s productive for you. The game of golf has enough hazards; implementing golf mental training can ensure that your mind is not one of them.
1. Own the moment
Have you ever played a round of golf in the zone? If so, what were you thinking? Most athletes report that they don’t think about anything, they just play. Many golfers make the mental mistake of focusing on their score, their opponent’s score, a previous shot or another hole. If you find yourself focusing on these things, you aren’t staying in the present moment and giving yourself the best opportunity to play in your zone. If you find yourself thinking this way, ask yourself, “what’s important now?”
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2. Watch your mouth
You’ve probably experienced a time when you’ve said to yourself, “don’t hit it in the bunker,” or “don’t hit a slice” or “I can’t hit it into the lake.” Then you take a swing and what happens? You hit it right into the bunker, the lake or a nice big slice. When we give ourselves instructions on what to avoid, that’s exactly what seems to happen. This is known as the theory of ironic processes, introduced by Dr. Daniel Wegner, who discovered that when we try to suppress a thought, it ends up coming back up.
Instead of focusing on what you don’t want to happen, structure your thoughts so they are action oriented, focused on what you want to happen. This will set you up for better performance, and you’ll see why in the next tip.
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3. Visualize success
Many golfers step onto the tee box and the first thing they see are the hazards—a treeline, a lake or a bunker. We tend to imagine ourselves doing just that, and similar to tip No. 2, we tell ourselves to avoid the hazard. But what we imagine has great power and influence over our performance. A variety of research in the field of sport and exercise psychology demonstrates the effectiveness of this technique on performance. Right before you’re about to perform, take a moment and imagine exactly what you want to happen. Include as many senses as you can. Doing so gives your brain specific instructions on how to perform so that when you step to the ball, you’ve already seen yourself being successful.
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4. Focus on your game, not your opponent’s
It’s easy to get competitive when you’re playing in a league or enjoying in a round with friends. However, your opponent’s or partner’s performance has absolutely no impact on how you play. When you start focusing on them, you aren’t focusing on the thing you need to do to be successful. If you find yourself worrying about or focusing on how well (or poorly) someone else is performing, refocus back on your game to play better golf.