Rory McIlroy is no stranger to success.
The 30-year-old from Northern Ireland has four Major championship victories to his name, along with four Ryder Cup wins and a pair of PGA Player of the Year awards. His 11 top-10 finishes so far this season are the most on Tour.
But he also knows struggle and adversity, and McIlroy’s resiliency was on full display in the recent Open Championship at Royal Portrush Golf Club. McIlroy posted a brutal plus-8 79 in the opening round. The very next day, he fired a 6-under 65. He finished a stroke shy of the cut line, but it was an inspirational performance that proved Rory’s mental fortitude.
McIlroy recently appeared on Nike’s Trained podcast hosted by Ryan Flaherty, and he outlined how important positive self-talk is in sport and in life:
You don’t need to do everything at once. You can chip away at it. I think everyone needs a mantra…I watched this documentary, Searching for Greatness, with Jerry Rice. And his thing was, “I know I can catch the football.” That was it. “I (know I can) catch the football, I (know I can) catch the football.” I read this great book, Obstacle is the Way, and Arthur Ashe had a mantra when he went out on court, to be “Physically Loose, Mentally Tight.” Four words, that was it.
If you keep saying that to yourself over and over, that becomes what you’re trying to do. It’s not about winning a football game, it’s not about trying to win a tennis match. It’s just about that. If you do that more and more and more. Then the result almost is a by-product. I think that’s the best way to be…
One thing I’ve really tried to do this year is not use the word “should.” I’ve just tried to wipe that completely out of my vocabulary. Because should is a very—you know, “I should’ve done this.” It’s just not a word that brings a lot of positivity. I associate it with negativity. Even just using positive words is a big thing for me. And that’s what self-talk is. It doesn’t have to be really aggressively motivating yourself. It can be calming, it can be, as I said—one of the things that I’ve taken from this year is that little mantra or that bit of self-talk from Arthur Ashe.
Any time I feel a little bit nervous on the golf course, I think ‘OK, you’re going to be mentally tight, and you’re going to be physically loose.’ Because the last thing I want to be is the other way around. If I’m physically tight and I’m trying to hit a shot, I’m guiding it, and I’m not—that’s never going to work. So the more I can just let my best swing come through and just let that happen, that’s when I’m going to have success.
Good stuff from Rory. He goes on to say there are a few “P” words he likes to repeat to himself, as well, including Perspective, Persistence, Perception, and Poise.
In this context, a mantra is a short phrase (it can be as short as one word) one can repeat to themselves aloud or in their mind that confirms the beliefs, qualities or characteristics they want to embody. It should be self-affirming, simple and capable of weathering adversity. An entire team can embrace a mantra, as Bill Belichick and his New England Patriots have done with ‘Do Your Job’.
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If you don’t have a personal mantra yet, perhaps it’s something to think about. Just having a simple phrase to repeat to yourself over and over that gives you strength when things get hard can help quiet the noise and lead you to focus on what matters most in the moment.
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