As you’re preparing to hit a golf shot, what are you thinking about?
b) The possible results of your shot (“into the water and my score is sunk,” “please don’t let me top it”).
c) Nothing at all.
If you answered “c,” congratulations. Most golfers play best when they swing unconsciously. It’s a very rare state, indeed.
If “b” was your pick, then your mind is distracted from the actual task. Those who said “a” are at least on the path to proper thinking.
Most professional golfers, especially those who work with mental coaches, adopt what’s called a “process vs. outcome” or “process/now” approach. Amateurs, on the other hand, tend to fall into a results-oriented mindset.
What’s the difference, and what does it matter?
Focusing on the process means staying in the moment, taking the game one swing at a time. The golfer repeats the same sequence of steps before setting up to shot and, if necessary, calls up the same swing key(s) before taking the club back. In other words, he thinks only about those things he can control – and that excludes big-picture consequences that may affect his score. In other words, he doesn’t get ahead of himself.
Results-oriented golfers do the opposite. They’re distracted by the possible outcomes of a shot, causing their concentration to wander and, many times, creating jitters and tension from fear of a bad result (thus making a bad result all the more likely.)
On top of that, letting your mind drift toward possible outcomes prevents you from channeling all your mental energy into the shot at hand. You may forget a specific swing key, fail to account for the wind or choose the wrong club. It’s difficult to achieve good results when that happens.
The best way to shift from results-oriented to process/now thinking is to develop and maintain a consistent, easily repeatable pre-shot routine. This will force your mind to focus on a handful of thoughts, one at a time, all related to the current shot. The key is to limit the number of thoughts in preparing for each swing; otherwise, the brain becomes cluttered and performance suffers.
Learn to think with a “process/now” mentality and you’ll like the outcome a whole lot better.