I remember Peter Allis commentating at The Open and saying “it’s a strange thing that a ball and a stick can do to a man”. While we know that negative thinking is going to impact on our performance and our mood, it can be difficult to stop. Darren Clarke has worked with a number of performance coaches and is constantly looking for new ways to keep positive and move forward.
Frustration builds up as expectations and results differ. Adopting an “anything is possible” attitude limits expectations. Ross Fisher’s simple approach of “I hit I go and find it and I hit it again” is a great example. Modifying your overall approach in this way improves performance by limiting and interrupting negative thinking before it really impacts your mood and physiology.
One of the primary benefits of this approach is that it removes positive reinforcement, or false confidence. “This is going in, this is going in, it can’t miss, this is going in” thinking is not going to improve your putting, because each time you miss your mind will register that it isn’t going in and will bounce to the other extreme of “I am going to miss it, I can’t hole anything, it is one of those days, I have never been a good putter” and other forms of destructive thinking develop. Playing the game with an “anything is possible” mentality removes these fluctuations. You may have missed putts on the first three holes, but it is still possible you could have your best putting round.
This is all well and good, but what do you do when you have just made a triple bogey, and you now have tension in your jaw, and you are fantasizing about snapping your putter? Negative thinking changes your physiology; addressing and reversing the changes is the most effective way of breaking the train of thought and returning to the optimal performance state as quickly as possible.
The three primary physiological results of negative thinking are (a) increased heart rate, (b) shortness of breath and (c) tension in the muscles. The quickest way to reduce your heart rate is to control your breathing. Our breathing mirrors our emotions and by focusing on it we activate both the left and right halves of our brain. A great technique to interrupt negative thinking is to imagine you are breathing through your heart. After just a couple of breaths you will noticeably feel your heart rate reduce and tension easy out of your body. A great time to employee this technique is when you are approaching the putting green. Use the fringe as a trigger to concentrate on your breathing through your heart. This gives you plenty of time even to implement the exercise, even if you are putting first.
Another simple technique is to adjust your posture. Starting looking up at the tops of the trees while walking to your next shot. Looking upwards automatically improves your posture, and will help to relax the muscles. Next time you see Phil Mickleson miss a putt, you will notice that when the camera zooms in on him afterwards he is standing tall typically looking up with a rueful smile on his face.
These techniques will help you interrupt negative thinking and help you return to your optimal performance state maximizing the possibility of you playing your best golf.