Attitudes are learned habits of thought, and habits can be changed. This is true even if your pattern of self talk exists outside of golf as well.
If you are a negative and self-destructive thinker, you have learned to be. Habitually thinking in a negative and self-destructive manner will ensure the breakdown of even the world’s greatest swing during competition.
Consider learning the following skills that have been used effectively by many current PGA Tour players.
Develop the ability to recall the exact positive feelings, thoughts, and moods that you experienced while playing your all-time best tournament, or round of golf. In education psychology, mental state can be very important for effective learning and recall. The same can be said in golf. Feeling the same as you did in practice allows you to remember tips and mechanics that you learned without having to verbally go through the routine in your head.
While away from the course, periodically find a block of time-at least 30 minutes-during which you can completely relax, without distraction. Lie or sit in a very comfortable position. Find a relaxation technique that enables you to release all tension and clear your mind.
Once relaxed, take yourself mentally to your all-time best tournament, or round, and replay all your very best shots. Try to experience this in as much detail as possible, remembering exact playing conditions, special circumstances, and especially your feelings and thoughts while walking the fairways and standing over each shot. While still relaxed choose a word or words that you can associate with the round and the mental attitude you had while playing it. Examples: focused, confident, care-free, exact, mellow, zoned. On and off the course, frequently try to recall these feelings by mentally reciting your words and imaging a few of the chosen shots.
Develop your own list of self-talk key words to help you recall the attitude and feelings you experienced while playing “your best round.” Using the word or words you chose to associate with your “best round”, as well as the eight defined champion traits, develop a list of self-talk phrases that you want to feel when you play competitive golf. Be certain to include the traits you want to strengthen.
As you read through your list, take a few seconds to imagine and experience your association with each word or self-talk phrase. Frequently repeat these words, which represent your desired attitude, before and during and after your round. If necessary, write them on a slip of paper to carry in your pocket or bag for frequent review.
An important concept for developing a competitive attitude is deciding that you can choose whether “circumstances” determine your attitude or, “you” determine your attitude. Normal behavior is to let circumstances determine how you feel and think-but champions are not normal.
When it comes to self talk, champions decide what they will feel or think during competition.
It is far easier to let poor greens, tight fairways, long rough, bad bounces, inclement weather, other competitors, errant shots, missed putts, crowd noise, shoulder pain, and even bad dreams have a negative effect on your competitive attitude. The fact remains that while you may not be able to influence these circumstances, you still have a choice as to how you will let them influence you and your mental approach to competitive play.
Some circumstances are more difficult to overcome than others, and some days you will be more successful at overcoming circumstances than others. Remember, with practice, you will be able to influence all circumstances to some degree. Never begin a day of competition without trying. Imagery Recall should be practiced to the point that you can pull back the feelings you had during that “best” round within seconds, even with your eyes open. This allows you to make full use of it on the course. It is especially useful during slow play when your thoughts might otherwise be on the frustration of the delay.
Your mental keys should be a written list of words or phrases, to which you can refer, that fully describe your attitude when you play your best. Use these two powerful skills to help influence your attitude, and persist in the self-determination of your attitude.
Techniques for attitude change used successfully by TOUR players:
Monitor your self talk. Make an agreement with yourself that you will conduct periodic “thought checks” throughout your day, both on and off the course. This is simply making a conscious effort to evaluate your thoughts to determine whether they are positive or negative, constructive or destructive. If they are negative and destructive, replace them immediately with thoughts conducive to a winning attitude-both on and off the course. The most difficult task here is becoming aware of your negative and destructive thoughts. Every player who has used this technique has been surprised by the frequency of their need to replace thoughts.
Just before you fall asleep the night before competition, take a few minutes to use imagery recall. Experience in detail some of your very best play. Avoid imaging mechanics of your play, rather image the feel of your play. Imagine yourself on the first tee in tomorrow’s round with the same feelings. Mentally review your Mental Keys. Relax further and drift into sleep if possible.
Request a wake-up call a few minutes earlier than needed. Once awake, stay in bed relaxed with your eyes closed. Check your attitude. Often emotions experienced during dreams in REM sleep, whether you remember the dreams or not, will determine the mood in which you wake i.e. anxious, guilty, angry, sad, frustrated. It is not uncommon for a player to unknowingly carry this mood to the first tee, and likely through the entire round. The bad mood begets a bad round. Once you are fully aware of how you do feel, take several minutes to image how you want to feel. Use your Imagery Recall and Mental Keys. Mentally review, and imagine playing, with the eight Champion traits.
Choose a favorite number. This number is to represent your best competitive attitude. During your non-competitive days, take quiet time to relax and imagine using a T.V. remote control “clicker”. Click your favorite number to initiate your best competitive attitude-positive, constructive, and supportive of the eight champion traits. Practice “changing channels” by: imaging, in detail, your last bad attitude on the course; clicking your favorite number; and immediately changing to your best attitude.
Repeat this process until it becomes easy. If you are using effective imagery to experience the two states, you will probably notice some physiological changes when you “switch channels”, such as going from a tense to more relaxed state, or feeling your pulse and/or breathing quicken and slow. Some players find it easier to “flip a switch” or “push a button” to turn on their best competitive attitude. Now decide on the best time for you to “click” on your competitive attitude…leaving your room; entering the club house; putting on your shoes; hitting your first practice shot; upon introduction on the first tee. Remember it should include feelings of being somewhat detached, focused, emotionally stable, slightly dominant, confident, decisive, positive, tough-minded, patient, and eager but relaxed. Monitor your attitude during your round. If it strays or “short circuits”, click it back before circumstances or negative thoughts have time to influence your mood.