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Mental Briefs For Better Golf

Positive Self Instruction for Better Golf

by Nick Rosa, Ph.D

How we mentally instruct ourselves can either hurt or help our game. Where applicable, making a simple adjustment in our self-talk strategy will improve our performance.

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Before suggesting the strategy change, I'd like you to say two things to yourself. First, say to yourself "Don't think of a dog.". Second, say "Don't think of the Eiffel Tower.". What happened? Right, first you thought of (imagined) a dog and then you imagined the Eiffel Tower. Why? Because, in order to understand a negative instruction, our brain must create and attend to an image of that which we are telling it not to do.

In addition to golf, I watch a lot of professional boxing. Every time a manager/trainer says to a fighter "Don't lay on the ropes.", sure enough the fighter will lay on the ropes. Why? Because, the fighter's mental attention is drawn to laying on the ropes. And, attention to this image guides the fighter's actions.

Think about the implications regarding our golf game when we say to ourselves: "Don't think about the last bad shot", "I've got to get rid of the yips.", and "Keep out of the rough.". Our mind would attend to the bad shot, the yips and the rough and our body will follow. Instead, the prescription is to frame our desired actions and goals positively; "Focus on this being a great shot.", "Be calm and relaxed.", and "Target the middle of the fairway.". Now, our self-instructions create images that prompt actions that are consistent with our desired outcome.

In a sense, the prescription for self-instruction is to use the same strategy that we use when ordering a meal in a restaurant. Rather than telling the server all the things on the menu that we don't want, we use a positively framed strategy and request what we do want. Let's do the same on the golf course and use a positively framed mental strategy. By mentally ordering what we do want, we are more apt to achieve our desired outcomes and improve our golf game.

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