Monday, March 7, 2011

Be aware, be very aware

The mental aspects of golf is something that appears to hit home and strike out equally with all levels of golfers. There are pros who consider themselves "old school" and not in need of stuff like that, and there are 30-handicappers who swear by it. My own maturity in this area has been slow, but thanks to books like "Zen Golf" I have started to improve in this department myself, and for this hacker the benefits have been significant. It's a wonderful journey to start being aware and able to manage the things that go on in your own noggin, and the non-golf implications to this maturity may be even greater than what it does for me on the course. I'm not a teacher, nor a writer in this area, but what I can share with you is a concrete example that has helped me significantly. To demonstrate, I will discuss the three phases of awareness that I migrated through in order to make progress. The problem is related to the thoughts you get popping into your head when you're partway through a better-than-average round. You start to think about what your final score might be. Maybe this will be the first time you break 90. You think about what your handicap will be after this round, or whether you have a chance to win the tournament you're playing in. Invariably, your level of play drops drastically and irrepairably. Phase 1 - Not-so-blissful Ignorance At this point, you usually don't realize these thoughts are getting into your head until it's too late and the round is over. Looking back you sort of have an idea what was going on, but at the time you were way too busy and you had way too many things going on in your head to notice these warning signs when they first pop up, much less actually do something about it. Phase 2 - "Oh, shit" Awareness As you start to read about these topics and think about what's going on in your head you eventually get to the point where you notice when your head starts drifting in the wrong direction. The problem is, you don't know what to do about it other than to go "Oh shit, here come these thoughts again." Phase 3 - Awareness and management You will notice that at no point will I discuss what to do to avoid these thoughts, or how best to get rid of them. That's because you can't. So what to do, then? You need to train yourself to recognize your thoughts and emotions without labeling, judging, or fearing them. You just observe what's going on just like you would observe a car driving in and out of your line of sight. The second part is to be able to get your mind into the right state before the next shot. Advanced methods include just clearing your mind, but most of us have not practiced enough meditation to be able to do that at will. What has worked for me is to have a pre-swing routine and a swing thought specific to the shot I'm about to play that I focus on. The bad thought doesn't go away, but by having something positive and productive to think about it's of less consequence and of less impact on my game. It may or may not be for you, but I highly recommend you at least take a look. Keep'em in the short stuff.

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