As the golf clock ticks we all get trapped in repeating habits, and a golfer’s “comfort zone” is most often below where he or she is capable of playing.
What people may not know about these repeating habits is that they often don’t recognize them, and acknowledging them is key because they shape what they can and can’t do. People become comfortable with these behaviors, and they end up running the show.
Most people are familiar with the idea of comfort zone: the space where your activities and behaviors fit a routine and pattern that minimizes stress and risk. It’s a comfortable place where people aren’t threatened and everything always stays the same, and that offers mental security.
The Comfort Zone Explained
There’s a lot of science that highlights why it’s so challenging to break out of your comfort zone, and why it’s good for you when you do it. With a little understanding and a few adjustments, you can break away from your comfort zone on the course…and this will lead to rewarding improvement in your game.
In 1908, psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson showed that a state of comfort created a steady level of performance. They also highlighted that if you want to increase your performance, a state of relative anxiety is needed – a place where stress levels are slightly higher than normal. This is called Optimal Anxiety and it’s beyond your comfort zone. Further, they also showed that too much anxiety can produce too much stress, leading to performance drop-offs. So finding the right balance for you in your game is key.
You are not alone in the quest to expand your comfort zone. The leading professional golfers and other athletes I work with daily are constantly working to shift their comfort zone and find the place leading to higher performance. If you want to become a better player and see improvement, finding your own approach to shift your comfort zone is an important exercise for you too.
The Golf Treadmill
Let me give you an example of my first introduction to the comfort zone.
When I was growing up at the golf club, I did the scoring each year at the club championship. I stood at the scoreboard and marked scores of the membership. Players were categorized in four divisions (A, B, C and D) based on handicap index. I saw the same faces each year, and year after year the same players turned in basically the same scores.
I always wondered how it was possible that a golfer could play (and practice) the game for 10, 20 or 30 years and stay in the same division every year without any real shift in improvement. I saw little shift between divisions from year-to-year.
The answer is these players, over time, became comfortable with where they were and never addressed how they might shift their comfort zone and move to another level of play.
The longer you stay in the same comfort zone, the more it shrinks and the harder it is to expand it. And the more you continue to do the same things, make the same mistakes and engrain the same habits, the more your comfort zone shrinks – and you become THAT player – your identity.
What Causes You to Be in the Comfort Zone?
You’ve seen it many times. You or your playing partners start playing great or “out of your mind” and then whammo – a string of poor play occurs. This often happens when a player has some good play early and then subconsciously slips back to “where he or she should be.”
In your golf game, your comfort zone is determined by the range of scores you typically shoot – let’s say between 85 and 90. Whenever you play, you’d like to shoot a lower score, but you are expecting a result in your “usual” range. Inevitably, you’ll have rounds where you flirt with scores outside your zone; maybe you reach the turn at 3-over par, recognizing that a similar back nine will give you a score well under your normal zone.
Then what happens?
You start thinking about what could be. You start playing defensively, trying to “protect” your great round. Next thing you know, you’ve adjusted everything back to your comfort zone and the career round fades away.
I’m sure you’ve also seen the reverse happen. You are playing terrible and then a sudden surge of good play at the end of the round mysteriously puts you back in your comfort zone.
What are Your Roadblocks to Growth as a Player?
We all have roadblocks to growth. In spite of your efforts to grow and get better, certain walls can interfere with your progress. Here are a few that may be familiar to you:
Fear of growth (not feeling safe to grow): A major barrier is what is called the “I’m stuck” syndrome. “I’ve always played that way, so how could I possibly change?” You feel stuck at times, and when you do, you don’t feel great about yourself… or your game.
A negative view of yourself as a golfer: You see and know yourself as a “D” player or someone who struggles to shoot good scores, so that’s where you stay as a golfer.
Skepticism: You believe any steps you take to improve won’t work or will be a waste of time. “I tried that and it didn’t work.”
Uncertainty regarding how to begin or what direction to take: You don’t know how to get better, how to evaluate your game or what steps to take to do it.
Challenging yourself emotionally: Force yourself to work on your weaknesses. It’s not an easy thing to do, and not as fun as the feeling of working on your strengths and seeing a good result.
It’s too late for me to change, I’m too old or I don’t have enough time: You use excuses that it’s not the right time to improve your game. This is a state of procrastination.
The most important factor for you to break out of your comfort zone is asking yourself why you are doing it. It can’t be for contrived or superficial reasons. You must be genuinely interested in improvement, and know what benefits you want to get out of it.
Expanding the perimeter of your comfort zone by slowly and intelligently pushing your barriers will build confidence. The process should be methodical and progressive. Don’t run out and try to change your entire game overnight. Evaluate what needs to be done – physically, mentally and emotionally to move up a level – and create the steps to get there. It will be a gradual process and almost guaranteed won’t be a straight line.
Some Ideas to Start Expanding Your Comfort Zone
Face Your Fears: Stepping out of your comfort zone will probably cause some fear, and the dreaded “what ifs” are the downfall of many players.
- What if I fail?
- What if I really can’t do this?
- What if I’m not good enough?
Stay in the moment and do things slowly and purposefully. A committed plan with reasonable milestones will give you the confidence to get to a new place.
Change Your Routine: You can begin growing your comfort zone through small changes in your approach to the game, adding 45 minutes each week in short game practice, taking one lesson per week working on building limitations, or getting to the course 30 minutes early to warm up. Break out of your normal routine to help break through mental barriers. Create a goal to perform a new swing movement, task, or practice regime each week.
Get Out of Your Own Way: See yourself in a new light, because you probably put self-induced limits on yourself. The truth is that sometimes you’ve just got to get out of your own way. If you begin seeing yourself as a better player, chances are you will be. Raise your opinion of your game and yourself and you will set the table for better performance.
Time to Change: Comfort feels all cozy and warm when you’re in it, but it’s also a double-edged sword. Stay comfortable for too long and you begin to get bored, lazy and too satisfied. If you want to improve, avoid being a walking golf zombie: just another “D” player that does what he/she has always done. Challenge your status quo, push your limits and you’ll see the game in a new light.
It won’t be easy, but I think you’ll like the results.
What should your hips do in the golf swing?
If you want to become more consistent, a better ball striker and hit longer golf shots then this is the video for you. This video will show you exactly what your hips pelvis should be doing during your backswing, downswing and through impact. Having great control of your pelvis and it’s movement will help you have greater control over your golf swing.
Playing in your mind vs. playing out of your mind
Comparing the recreational beginner to the elite player
As a player, I know there are rounds of golf where I feel like I worked extremely hard to achieve the results and there are also rounds that are effortless and just plain easy. Why do we go through these peaks and valleys in golf?
As an instructor and player, I want to explore a deeper understanding of what it means to be playing out of your mind vs. playing in your mind.
I want to address both beginners and elite players on their quest for better play. All beginners and elite players must understand that, as players, we are all experiencing ups and downs. The bottom line is that some handle them better than others.
Why is this a feeling golfers have: “playing out of your mind”?
Well, it is pure relaxation. It is fluid, seamless, continuous motion. No hang-ups. No hiccups.
The next big question, how do we achieve this regularly?
We get to this without forcing it, by believing in our makeup. It is locked in our subconscious. It is a controllable, uncontrollable. Subconsciously, your nervous system is in the green light. You are just doing. This is peak performance. This is the zone. This is playing autonomously, out of your mind.
I believe that over time, a golfer’s game is compiled in his/her built-up expectations of the player they truly believe they are. Expecting to make a putt vs. just so happening to make it feeds two different minds. When you place an expectation on an action tension is created. Tension creeps into our nervous system and our brains either respond or they don’t. This is called pressure. This is what I call playing in your mind. You are in your head, your thoughts are far too many and there is just a whole lot floating around up there.
The more players play/practice, the more they will expect out of themselves, and in result, create that pressure. (ie. Why progress is difficult to achieve the closer you get to shooting par or better). The best players are better at responding to that pressure. Their systems are auto-immune to pressure. (ie. Think of practice like medicine and think of a pre-shot routine like the Advil to help calm the spiking nerves.)
- Playing in your mind = high tension golf… you might need an Advil.
- Playing out of your mind = low tension golf… you are in a good headspace and are doing all the right things before your round even started.
The key to understanding here is that we can play in both minds and achieve success in either situation. It is all about managing yourself and your re-act game.
Subconscious playing is beyond enjoyable. It is more recreational in style. I believe beginners are playing more subconsciously, more recreationally. I believe elite players can learn from the beginner because they are achieving superior moments and sensations more subconsciously, more often. All players at all levels have off days. It is important to remember we all have this in common.
The goal is always to play your best. When I play my best, there are no preconceived thoughts of action. It’s simply action. Playing out of your mind is an unwritten script, unrehearsed, and unrepeatable on a day to day basis, you’re living it.
Say you have that one round, that out of your mind, crazy good day. The next few days, what do you do? Do you try to mimic everything you did to achieve that low number? As good players, we take these great days and try to piece it together into a script of playing. We know we can get it down to almost damn near perfect. The more a player rehearses the better they get. Edits are made…knowing that things are always shifting. Visualization is key.
No doubt, it’s a huge cycle. Players are in a continuous race to achieve results in numbers. Players looking to reach great success should generate a journal/log and compile a record and playback method and revisit it repeatedly.
There is no secret or magic…it takes mastering the minds to achieve the best results more often. Most important, as players, we must recognize that during our amazing rounds…
- We are relaxed
- We are having fun
- We are just doing
In this game, the deeper we go, the more we propose to be there. It will always bring us back to the basics. One complete full circle, back to the beginner in all of us. So, the next time an experienced player sees a beginner on the first tee…take a moment and appreciate that player!
Remember to enjoy the walk and believe that hard work always works!
Please reach out to me at email@example.com to learn more about the zone and how to become accustomed to playing autonomously.
Equipment improvements are even better for women! Now they are getting over 300 yards!
We had a sweet driver shaft fitting at Club Champion in January. We picked up the shaft in their store in Phoenix and that afternoon, and Savannah hit two benchmark drives at 305 and another at 317 yards! Kinda makes you a bit of a believer, huh!? We are looking forward to seeing the numbers on our GC Quad back home this week to check out the difference. Stay tuned for next week!
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