Are You In Or Out Of Control?

There is a common theme amongst symptom centric psychological theories that suggests we as humans have little control over our thoughts and, consequently, our emotions can be put into a state of dis-ease at any moment in time, with little choice in the matter. A bit like a lava pool in a volcano, erroneous non-conscious thoughts bubble their way into consciousness and create the reality we experience, good and bad. Stress, fear, anxiety and “pressure” doesn’t happen TO you. You CREATE it.

You may attempt to deal with the bad symptoms with behavioral change techniques so you manage the situation better next time it occurs. This symptomatic approach to mental skills development leaves you forever vulnerable to the next lava bubble which chooses to pop up, a bit like putting out spot fires. Imagine the number of “pressure” situations you may experience in your golfing life when you find yourself in situations beyond your comfort levels? Another performance breakdown.

This feeling of vulnerability may be present when you are not actively engaging your mind with a series of specific tasks designed to occupy your attentional focus, just as you are doing right now as you read this article. There is no opportunity for erroneous thought whilst you are actively engaged in the reading process. When you stop reading your attention switches to something else and you are now ‘vulnerable’.

This is why the SECONDS prior to and during execution in golf (and any other life situation in which you have time to think before you act) are so critical to your performance but unfortunately they are not systematically coached in practice. Consequently, golfers are left to find their own way of occupying their attention during this critical time and it is erroneous thoughts during this period which creates great variability in your shot outcomes. Unfortunately, most do analyze their swing or putting stroke after a poor shot suggesting ‘it’ was the cause, rather than the symptom, due to dominant methods employed by ‘technique-centric’ golf instruction.

If the errant shot was simply due to poor attentional focus control, can you imagine the consequences of continually believing your technique was flawed every time you hit a poor shot? Constant and ongoing doubt about your technical skills throughout your golfing life. This is a very self destructive approach to developing any life skill, so why do golfers believe this is the pathway to performance when it clearly is not.

Target Oriented Golf teaches golfers techniques which engage your attentional focus on a series of specific tasks as you prepare to execute a golf shot, proactively using your self talk up until the moment of execution where the golfers shifts to a state of visualization. The mind is quiet, the eyes are still and the body experiences flow. There is no opportunity for erroneous non-conscious thought to manifest itself if the golfer is actively engaged with tasks. Generic coaching advice like “don’t think” or “just hit it” or have a “think box, play box” prior to execution will always leave golfers scratching their heads at the lack of consistency which follows, which manifests itself as a result of such simplistic psychological coaching advice. Golf demands more and you should too. The conscious mind abhors a vacuum. It will always be attending to something whilst awake, so are you in or out of control?

Some attempt to occupy their attention when preparing to hit a golf ball by using repetitious mantras but the very act of attempting to ‘block’ your non-conscious thoughts is one grounded in fear and trying to suppress what are perceived as ‘non-conscious involuntary responses’. This is akin to a child putting his fingers in his ears and screaming “I can’t hear you” at its mother whilst she is talking, when he knows he can. I coach people to think and behave in golf using the same natural behaviors they use in their daily lives. If you are using different mental techniques in order to perform on the golf course compared to how you perform other life tasks, you have to ask why? You may believe reciting mantras whilst carrying out a life task is normal human behavior, I don’t. It makes no sense to me to play golf if you spend all your time reciting mantras in order to stop your self from “thinking”. Thinking is not your problem but what you CHOOSE to think about certainly can be!

Clearly in a life threatening situations, the non-conscious survival systems are essential in order to activate the flight/fight state we rely on in order to survive. Unfortunately, our body can’t differentiate from a real or “perceived” threat we like to make up on the golf course. However, it is an individuals CHOICE how they perceive a non-life threatening situation, we don’t all react the same way. If we see a lion heading our way we certainly will but this is not the case in many other life situations, golf included. For example, 2 students may perceive a future examination very differently – 1 may be calm, the other anxious. The exam is not the cause of anxiety or both would always feel anxious. The individual does have choice how they perceive a situation and this is key to how to perform in the game of golf.

The future task (be it an exam or hitting a golf ball at a target) or its location in time is not the critical factor on or off the golf course. We have literally 1000’s of thoughts a day which exist in the future or past which do not create any sense of anxiety or fear so clearly time is not the critical factor in triggering an anxiety response. It is an individuals PERCEIVED control over the situation which determines how they respond, NOT the situation itself. This is very important to understand.

Clearly you can not directly correlate a future event with the anxiety response or you’ll be attempting to hit golf balls at a target whilst thinking about something else totally irrelevant to the task at hand like your swing, ball or humming a mantra. People look forward to going on holidays (the future) so you can certainly enjoy the challenge of hitting golf balls at targets anxiety free, when you feel in control of the situation. When the golfer understands the difference between focusing on their target rather than their desired outcome and focus on what they can control, the target provides a freedom to swing and putt free from conscious mind interference.

This is HOW we perform all life skills. It’s actually quite a challenge trying to hit golf balls at a target and doing it accurately, so removing it from the golfers attention prior to executing a shot is literally like playing golf with a mental blindfold on. The consequence of technical swing thoughts is even more destructive, as they also destroy physical flow, and yet there’s an entire coaching industry promoting the use of these very thoughts in their teaching methods, without understanding the consequences whilst learning, practicing or playing. It’s little wonder so many blame their ‘thinking’ for their poor golf when it is literally out of control or mis-directed.

Teaching golf below the neck and treating the human as a machine rather than emotion is common practice worldwide but it is not teaching golf in my world of golf instruction, it is teaching people how to swing golf clubs efficiently. It is clear we have to learn how to use the tools in order to carry out a task but we only perform a task when we stop thinking about using the tools. Think about how you ride a bike, drive a car or play an instrument and then think about how you try to play golf. Can you think of one other life activity you PERFORM successfully whilst CONSCIOUSLY controlling your physical actions? Now think about how you are learning/practicing/playing golf and ask yourself if you are really performing?

There IS a piece missing from your golf instruction jigsaw puzzle but the good news is you can find it between your ears. Target Oriented Golf shows you HOW to use it.

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