Guest Golf Blog By Tom Sterner, Author of The Practicing Mind
Golf has been called an art and practice is to the arts — whether music, dance or golf — what breathing is to life. Practice is integrated and inseparable from these experiences. Surrender to the practicing process is what makes refining your skills pleasurable instead of drudgery.
There are many aspects to “practicing” the game of golf. There are the obvious things such as the full swing, sand play, chipping and putting. But, there are also the mental aspects of managing your mind, your thoughts and your round. All of these require an “awareness” of what you do in a given situation...what you should do, and a plan to get there.
All champions know how they work and how they think. They have an awareness of their self-talk.
Here are some practical ways you can make the most of your practice session and not only improve your mental game, but your score as well:
• Practice Being Quiet –- Find ten minutes a day (or every other day) to sit and train your mind to be still. This will greatly increase your awareness of the things you are saying to yourself and will allow you to begin having more control of your thoughts when they are not serving you on the golf course. You can’t control what you are not aware of and this simple exercise when done daily will definitely help you step up your game.
• Process NOT product –- Golf is a process. The score is the product. Focus on the process and the product will take care of itself.
• Maximize Your Lessons –- What you do immediately after your lesson is part of the lesson. Take a few moments after each lesson to solidify your personal interpretation of what you learned and what you need to work on between sessions by writing down your thoughts. This will help to solidify in your mind what you have just learned and it is great for review in the future.
• Practice doesn’t make perfect...practice makes permanent. Understand how your brain works and creates habits. Repetition = Habit (good or bad) and repeating the desired actions with a conscious intention of achieving something speeds up the process. Repeat and Relax. Know that what you are repeating with intention will become a part of your game. You don’t need to force it. Your brain will make it happen.
This is true for physical actions like your swing mechanics and it is also true for how you think. If you don’t like the way you think you have to work at repeatedly thinking differently. Critical self-talk, re-living poor shots or missed putts are just a few examples of “bad” mental habits. They can and must be unlearned to reach your potential.
• At least 50% of your swing practice should be AWAY from the range. This helps to keep you mindful of whatever aspect of your swing you are working on and keeps you from being distracted by undesirable ball flight, which is normal during times when you are working on one particular aspect of your swing.
• When you work on mechanics use the four “S” words. Your brain can learn anything and much more quickly if you don’t overload it with too much information at one time:
Simplify what you are working on to speed up the learning curve.
You do this by working on small sections of your swing.
Work with short intervals on each mechanic and perform at least some of the repetitions in slow motion.
This helps to force your brain into the present moment and to increase your focus and intention thereby facilitating the process of habitualizing your desired mechanics.
Write it down….
Process NOT product….
Repeat and Relax….
Four “S” words Simplify, Small, Short, and Slow
Following these tips will help you maximize the effort you put into refining your skills and your goals will flow toward you with much less of a sense of struggle. Mastering a skill efficiently with the least amount of effort is a skill itself and what you learn through your practice sessions with golf will serve you in all areas of your life, so know that you aren’t just working on your game. You are working on yourself.
Thomas M. Sterner is the author of Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life. He serves as staff mental performance coach at Applecross Country Club, a Nicklaus design course in Downingtown PA, where he helps golfers of all levels improve their game. Visit him online at http://www.thepracticingmind.com.