Staying in the Present
Focusing on the shot we are about to play seems obvious and relatively straightforward, so why do our emotions and approach vary so much depending on the situation? Fluctuating emotions, lack of concentration at key moments and inconsistent focus have destroyed a lot of scorecards.
I once asked Rory MclRoy what advice he would give amateur golfers on the mental side of the game. He told me about “staying in the present”. He went on to tell me about the times in his career when he had found himself thinking about upcoming holes and that if he made a couple of birdies he would move up the leaderboard. He stressed how important it was to bring his focus back to the present.
Visualization and breathing techniques are great tools to help you return to and remain in the present. Developing the ability to stay in the moment is critical to achieving and maintaining your optimal performance levels. Like most great tools they are simple, straightforward and easy to use and will help you maximize the possibility of hitting the perfect shot.
Visualizing the shot you are about to play automatically brings the mind to the present. Effective visualization on the golf course is a skill that has to be developed and blended into a pre-shot routine. Worrying about the water on the right of a fairway will never enable you to reach your optimal performance state. Taking the time to look at the shot in front of you and then asking your self “What does a perfect shot look like here?” forces your mind to come up with an image. If the brain is asked a question it has to search for an answer.
Asking yourself the right questions will improve your performance. For example, imagine sitting down on an airplane and the passenger sitting next to you asks, “what it would look like if the airplane caught fire mid air? How long it would take to crash land? How many people would survive?” Even as you read this, your brain is working on an answer. Now imagine the same situation, but this time the passenger asks you what is the most relaxing flight you have ever had.
Selecting the right questions to ask yourself will improve your enjoyment and success both on and off the golf course. Graeme McDowell asks himself two questions each morning: “What am I going to enjoy most today?” and “How am I going to get the most out of today?”
A great question to ask yourself when you are not in the present moment and feeling your anxiety levels rise is “How can I improve my breathing?”. When I mention breathing, to golfers I typically get one of two responses; firstly, “that’s nothing new” or a raised eyebrow of cynicism! Put simply, our breathing mirrors our emotional state, and directly affects our physiology and ability to enter and maintain your optimal performance state. As with visualization, focusing your attention on your breathing automatically brings your mind in the present. While there are multiple breathing techniques that can improve performance, the “reflex breath technique” is great tool as it is practical, simple and easy to use on the course.
Standing up straight, breathe out gently and completely, pushing your belly button towards your spine. Once you have emptied your lungs, it hold it for a few seconds. When you breath in, your body will automatically take a deep, relaxing breath, which has calming effect on your body and mind. Next time you watch golf on television watch how many of the players use this technique.
While these simple tools won’t let you play like Rory starting to think like him will certainly improve your scores and enjoyment. Clear visualization combined with concentration and focus improves the odds of you hitting the perfect shot dramatically.