Golf is such a great sport for anyone who wants to challenge themselves in an enjoyable manor, but sometimes we can become our own worst enemy when we are trying to improve our game. We often can be easily frustrated when we don’t live up to the expectations of the skill level at which we feel we should play. I’ve seen grown men and women act like spoiled children, almost crying with frustration on the golf course when their game isn’t going as they planned.
Yes, having a competitive mindset is healthy and a necessary part of growth. When a mindset is so fragile and juvenile that golfers easily allow themselves to become frustrated, however, they put themselves into a self-destructive state of mind that affects their body. They overflow their systems with a stress hormone called cortisol, which causes their body to go into “fight-or-flight” mode. It’s a great state to be in if you need to fight for your life or sprint away from a hungry tiger. The downfall is that cortisol overwhelms your body’s vital organs that are necessary for immediate survival, and at the same time, it shuts off your body’s other organs that are necessary for surviving your round of golf. The fight-or-flight state of mind will also put a damper on your ability to make rational decisions, which can be difficult enough for some of us on the golf course already.
Here’s the thing; golf is challenging… period. If you didn’t find it challenging, you probably wouldn’t enjoy playing golf so much. It’s kind of a catch 22; the very reason we enjoy golf so much is the challenge, though we become self-destructive if we find it too challenging or if things don’t go according to plan during our round.
We all have basic expectations of who we think we are and what we are expecting from ourselves before we start our round. If you’re a scratch golfer, you will expect that you will play your round somewhere close to par. Whatever level your play, you expect to play at a skill level that’s familiar to you. The moment you begin to play much better than what you feel is your current skill set, you will be in uncharted territory. You may get kind of excited and anxious, causing you to begin to overanalyze the situation. That may cause you to fumble.
The same goes if you are playing poorly and much worse than you are familiar with. You are again put outside of your comfort zone and will need to adjust your way of thinking to cope with it.
On top of carrying the burden of our own expectations around with us, most people also carry the burden of being over-concerned with what other people might think of them on the course. They want to look good, and this causes them to get trapped in a mindset that is only focused on results instead of improvement. So instead of daring to challenge themselves at the risk of looking bad if they don’t play well, they’d rather stay in their comfort zone and play it safe so that at the end of the day they will still feel comfortable with who they are. This makes it much more likely that golfers will focus on not screwing up instead of trying to get better.
Unlocking your true potential is a mindset, and it starts with you accepting what has happened and not worrying about what “might” happen (and most likely won’t happen if you’d just stop worrying about it). This mindset is all about losing your sense of self image. That person you think you are is preventing you from reaching your potential. If you want to play your best, quite simply, you have to lose that image of who you feel you are when you play golf. You can’t let the past or future own you, because it will prevent you from pushing your envelope of performance. Lose those expectations of what you think your current skill set is and play in the now, one shot at a time.
Many top athletes and musicians describe this state of mind as being in what is called the “zone” or the “pocket” of performance. You might have experienced this state of mind before, on or off the golf course. Being in the “zone” is a moment or moments in time when you aren’t concerned with anything except the task at hand. Your focus is so deep that you are unaware of any distractions, noise, or concerns of looking bad in front of others.
Being in the zone is for many a feeling of losing their sense of time and their sense of self, which makes perfect sense. Time is controlled by the part of our brain called the pre-frontal cortex, which is also the part of the brain that is self-critical and creates doubt in our ability.
Developing a mindset that allows you to tap into the zone so you can unlock your true potential happens when you get out of your own way. Stop being concerned with the results of here and now and start focusing on the process of improvement. Nobody gets there overnight, so get invested in the long haul so that when you are on the golf course you don’t trap yourself in a mindset that is full of expectations and frustration. You will play your best golf when you lose your sense of self and are engaged in the enjoyment of the challenge of each shot.
Developing this mindset is a skill that can be developed just like any other skill set on the golf course, and for most of us, it’s probably the most important part of our game that we need to work on. Your potential is out there, and only you have the ability to reach it. But you can only achieve it by having self-belief in your abilities and the drive to get up every time you get knocked down. The process to achieving your potential will come with the mindset and the drive of accepting what has happened so that you can keep moving forward.