If only it were that easy. For many of us, we know when we are a bit too riled up on the course. We feel the adrenaline pumping, we notice the thoughts racing, we can’t seem to make a decision, and we start to deviate from the plans we know have the highest likelihood of success. We start gambling a little more and try to make that risky shot, doubling down on the idea that we could salvage the hole if we can pull it off…
And now we’re in a worse position after, predictably, not making that risky shot.
So rather than just trying to talk yourself down, let’s learn how to actually engage your body and mind in a way that gives you more control.
Let’s start by getting a little science-y. The brain is a very sophisticated place most of the time. In the case of getting riled up, it’s a little more archaic and simplistic. Our brains are pretty bad at differentiating threats. So a bear running at you on the golf course – a threat to life – is going to lead to a pretty similar physiological response as a bad shot – a threat to your round. Everyone has a slightly unique fight or flight response but we all feel a little fired up and over-aroused. A little bit of this is good – it can even improve your performance. But too much and you’re screwed.
So we need to figure out how to tap into that process and get it slowed down. The very first strategy is to slow down and pay attention to your breathing. The majority of our life is spent not paying attention to our breathing. But breath is a powerful control knob. By slowing it down, we turn down the volume on that arousal. There is some data that tell us that six breaths a minute, or less, is the golden zone. So take a few moments to breathe in at a count of five and out at a count of five. And actually pay attention to that.
Once you’ve got yourself a little more locked into your body, take a second to identify five different things you can see, four different things you can feel (maybe it’s the club in your hand, your feet on the grass, the shirt on your back, and the sun on your skin), and three things you can hear. This allows you to get focused on right now rather than all the possible crazy shots you can hit or all the ways this can derail your round.
Now that you are slightly more present, you need to focus on the exact spot you want to put the ball. See it. Then think about three steps that you need to take to get it there. Perhaps you need to focus on your backswing timing, staying strong through your hips, and not pulling your shoulders up too fast. Remind yourself of those three things, and ONLY those three things, as you approach the ball. Then execute.
In summary, just relax…right?
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