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Get your right brain in the game

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You’re sitting at home watching TV, you hear a buzzing noise and see something whiz past your face. You look around to survey the room, then watch a fly land on the wall — what do you do? Chances are, you find the nearest magazine, newspaper (do they still make those?) or TV guide (…kidding), roll it up, creep up on the pesky insect, reach back and take a mighty swing. SPLAT!

What just happened? You swung an object in the direction of a moving object by channeling your RIGHT side brain. You didn’t think about straightening your arm, unwinding your hips before your shoulders or shifting your weight — that would be left-brain thinking, which we use way too often in golf.

The greatest athletes in all sports naturally use the right side of their brain and turn off the left side during their performance. That’s because they are reacting to a object in motion rather than something stationary, like a golf ball. Let’s think of golf like we’re swatting a fly instead of working out a calculus problem as we dive deeper into this line of thinking.

LeftBrainRightBrainGolf

Your brain has two sides — left and right.

The left side controls important types of thinking such as language, logic, critical thinking and reasoning. The right side is much better at creative and expressive tasks, such as reactive movements and motor skills.

In golf, being reactive is not as natural as it is in other sports. That’s because the ball sits still and waits for the player to engage in action. This allows the left brain too much time for analysis. In sports like baseball or hockey, the left side of the brain is active, but not fully engaged. It is the right side that calls the muscles to fire and create the motion we need to contact the ball or puck. Our left side engages with the target and the right responds with the motion to send the ball to that destination. When the left side of the brain tries to cause this motion, it is not doing the job it’s built to do. That is the right side of the brain’s job, and we must become more reactive to play our best possible golf. The trouble here is that we have too much self-chatter due to the time we have to accomplish the task of hitting a golf ball.

How many times do you get over a shot and talk to your inner demons?

  • Don’t hit it in the woods
  • Stay out of the bunker
  • What would happen to my score if I hit it out of bounds?

Or have more mechanical conversations with yourself?

  • Keep your head down
  • Start back inside
  • Stop short of parallel

Many of us do this and the results are rarely favorable. We need to quiet the mind and let the subconscious do its job. That is the right side of the brain. We need to learn how to turn on the right side and turn off the left before we sole the club behind the ball, and the best way to train this is through mental exercises. We can do these exercises right at home and take them to the range once we’re ready. Before long, the exercises will become second-nature, and you’ll be channeling your right brain naturally throughout a round of golf.

So let’s look at the first step toward turning on the right side of our brain and letting go of our conscious thoughts during our swing.

This exercise is much like meditation and needs to be done in a spot where you can get comfortable. Choose your favorite easy chair and settle in. Once you feel cozy, pick a point to focus on — maybe on the wall or floor. I like to place a ball mark on the floor and just focus all my attention on the mark. Inhale deep through your nose and blow the air out through your mouth. Focus on the sound of your breath and allow your eyes to only see the mark. Quiet your mind and if a thought passes through just let it. Don’t dwell on the thought, but concentrate on the mark. Be aware of any outside sounds that may be going on around you. That might be a car going by outside or one of your kids watching television in the next room. Try to focus only on the sound of your breath and let the other outside noise fall into the background This will take practice and this exercise should take about 5 minutes total.

Do this each day for 5 minutes and soon any outside distractions will disappear during the exercise. Five minutes will seem like a very long time at first, but with practice you will get use to it. Once you get good at it, take this same exercise to the range.

Once on the range, the exercise will only be for about 5 to 10 seconds. Do your pre-shot routine as normal — this engages the left side of the brain. Then focus on a point in front of the ball to engage the right side of your brain. If you want to place that same ball mark you used in your exercise at home, go right ahead. Focus on the mark and let your mind go to the place it was when all you heard was the sound of your own breathing. Once you get to this point, let the club swing and hold your finish until the ball lands. Once the ball lands, feel how relaxed your body and mind is. If the result is poor, there’s no need to worry. Let it go and move on to the next shot. This will help keep the mind quiet once it is time to hit the ball again.

In no time, you’ll be treating golf balls like flies, and you might just have a little fun while you’re at it.

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Bernard Sheridan is the owner and founder of Par Breakers Golf Academy and Indoor driving range located in Golf USA Limerick, Pennsylvania. Bernard is a certified in the following golf instruction methods: Golf Channel Swing Fix Instructor and Impact Zone , Putting Zone, Body Balance Fitness, U.S. Kids Golf, Eye Line Golf 4 Elements putting and certified Mizuno Club fitter. Bernard is now in process of acquiring his biomechanics golf certification. Bernard is also the founder of Par Breakers Junior Golf Camps and that was voted Best Golf Camp in the Philadelphia area by Main Line Life magazine in 2008 along with Best Golf teachers Honorable mention by U.S. Kids Golf 2009-10. Find out more at http://www.parbreakers.com

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Pingback: Leaving The Left Side Out - The Golf Shop Online Blog

  2. Adam Kingsbury

    Nov 2, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    While I appreciate both the sentiment, and the effort that anyone puts forth taking the time to write an article such as this, I feel that it is necessary to advocate from an actual scientific perspective. Overall, this article is a gross simplification of complex neuroanatomical/psychological processes, with either no evidence, or pseudo-evidence suggesting that what is being said is actually true.

    The problem with folk-psychology tidbits such as this is that there are tons of misconceptions about how the brain actually works. While one could argue that you don’t need to have an accurate understanding of the inner workings to take benefit from it, I find that it is far more effective to assume that most people are smarter than we give them credit for.

    Statements such as the following are perfect examples of misleading statements, that don’t really even contribute to the overall message of the article (which for the record, I think is good).

    … it is the right side that calls the muscles to fire and create the motion we need to contact the ball or puck …
    … the right side is much better at creative and expressive tasks, such as reactive movements and motor skills …

    Motor control is completely controlled by both of sides of the brain (your left motor cortex controls the right side of your body and vice versa).

    When a person has any swing-related thought during the actual swinging of the golf club, their performance will likely suffer. Thoughts that are ‘analytical’, or ‘creative’ are still just thoughts. Period. No one side of the brain controls cognition.

    The activity described in the final section is called a ‘mindfulness’ exercise, which is really just a catchy way of describing the process of having your attention deliberately focused on the present moment . Distractions don’t necessarily disappear when a person is being mindful. In fact, learning how to pay attention to the present moment theoretically increases the number of distractions that you become aware of.

    Mindfulness is an incredibly useful skill for all of us to cultivate in our daily lives. It is a great tool that helps us become more aware of the things we say to ourselves, how we accurately feel, and what is actually happening around us in our environment. There are great resources all over the internet about practicing mindfulness (I encourage you to look it up if you haven’t been exposed to the ideas themselves).

    When playing golf, having a better understanding of the automatic thoughts we have, how our bodies feels (e.g., how clammy our hands are, how quick our heart is beating, etc.), and what emotions we are experiencing can eventually help a person discover why they are reacting that way. This is a much bigger question that is always unique to the individual. While they are fun to read and think about, “canned” psychological interventions such as this unfortunately most often don’t offer the answer.

    This is not to say that idea expression in this domain isn’t important. I just believe that we need to hold ourselves to higher standards when discussing ideas that outside of our comfort zone.

  3. RumtumTim

    Oct 31, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    I like the concept.

    I’ve found that the best way for me to engage my creative/athletic subconscious is to keep my feet moving. A la Trevino, Snedeker, and K. Bradley. Keep moving and pull the trigger a little before I get set.

  4. Jeremy

    Oct 31, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    The left/right brain part might be a bit extraneous here, but I get the point. And I’ve often found that sometimes I hit my best shots – especially with the driver – when I just step up and swing, rather than hovering over the ball, making sure every little muscle is ready to fire, putting a dozen swing thoughts in my head, etc. Just step up and let natural athleticism take over. And I also feel less stress if the shot doesn’t go exactly where I wanted it to. I’m more relaxed and less concerned with perfection from start to finish.

  5. ca1879

    Oct 31, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    Really, enough with the left brain – right brain myth:

    http://psychology.about.com/od/cognitivepsychology/a/left-brain-right-brain.htm

    That’s right up there with the “10% of our brain” nonsense as an indicator of someone that couldn’t tell psychology from proctology.

    • Josh

      Oct 31, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      Just like people always talking about “muscle memory” which has already been proved a myth on multiple accounts.

      • Dave S

        Oct 31, 2014 at 2:35 pm

        We’ll, the idea that muscles themselves have a memory of movements is false, but I think most people refer to the term “Muscle Memory” in regards to the idea that if you repeat the same motion over and over again, you’ll be able to more accurately re-perform it in the future (because the brain – which causes all the muscles to move – can remember the sequence of neurons, etc. to fire that create the particular movement).

    • Scooter McGavin

      Oct 31, 2014 at 12:56 pm

      Agreed. Can we just stop this nonsense? Why can’t we just have an article about the value of meditation, focus, etc. without the inaccurate junk?

    • Knobbywood

      Nov 1, 2014 at 8:00 am

      Wow really mr Internet professor? The SINGLE source for your article is almost 20 years old… Also did you even read the article you posted? Doesn’t disprove what bernhard is saying AT ALL… Anyways thanks for trying to show everyone how smart you are compared to us jamokes huh?

      • Adam Kingsbury

        Nov 2, 2014 at 9:50 pm

        Sorry Knobbywood, but the article from About.com posted by ca1879 wasn’t 20 years old at all… It actually really nicely summarizes why an article such as the one written here is inaccurate:

        So Why Do People Still Talk About Right-Brain, Left-Brain Theory?

        Researchers have demonstrated that right-brain/left-brain theory is a myth, yet its popularity persists. Why? Unfortunately many people are likely unaware that the theory is outdated. Today, students might continue to learn about the theory as a point of historical interest – to understand how our ideas about how the brain works have evolved and changed over time as researchers have learned more about how the brain operates.

        I don’t think anyone was trying to make themselves look smarter than the rest – just perhaps have more accurate information, that’s all.

        • Knobbywood

          Nov 3, 2014 at 6:05 am

          Oh you mean THAT article… The one written by ca1879 the highly qualified “psychology expert” hahaha ok now your much more credible

          • Adam Kingsbury

            Nov 3, 2014 at 8:29 am

            I’m not following…

          • Jeremy

            Nov 3, 2014 at 3:10 pm

            Dude, what?? ca1879 didn’t write the article, someone named Kendra Cherry did. She cites her sources, which lend it more credibility than the somewhat vague title of “psychology expert,” and go into tedious details of the research behind the conclusion.

            But don’t let a bunch of scientific publications stop you from blindly believing what a golfer has blogged on the subject of neuroscience…

          • Dave S

            Nov 3, 2014 at 5:16 pm

            dis dood be dum ^^^

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