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1 Potestraat
Herent, Vlaanderen, 3020
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Larissa Ernst, English and Afrikaans speaking clinical psychologist and psychotherapist in Leuven, Belgium.

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GOLF: THE EDGE OF A WINNING MIND-SET

Larissa Ernst

Could it be that playing exceptional golf is only a thing of the mind?

Well, maybe not only a mind-thing but what can be labelled a winning mind-set could really make the difference between good golfing and breathtakingly brilliant play! This is how it works:

It is common knowledge that dedication and a considerable amount of practice are essential prerequisites when it comes to superior golfing.  There is a real technical side to the things that make for a good round of golf – the grip, the stance, the swing-through, you name it.

Given a reasonable level of health and fitness, logically speaking a high level of dedication and sufficient training and practice should ensure superior levels of play. That could very well have been the case had the human being been the type of animal that functioned logically and systematically. But, alas, this is not the case! Us humans are endowed with a cognitive ability as well as an emotional side that keeps on interfering with our efforts to function as rational intelligent and effective beings! And in the battle between intellect and emotion our attempts at superior performance often takes a crash dive!

Do some of these self-statements in any way sound familiar: “This is an easy shot – I should just concentrate and not botch it!” or “Wow, it’s going well today…. I should just keep this up!” or “I botched the last one, I’d better get back in shape!” or “Today is just not my day – I may as well go home!” or “I should just concentrate and think positively!” or “I can’t miss this one!” or “How on earth could I have done that?” or “What’s the matter with me, I just can’t get anything right today?” or “My previous shot was a beaut! I should just repeat it!” And there are also more “advanced” self-talk: “What’s happened is past – I should just take it one shot at a time!” or “I should not worry about the outcome of this shot – justplay it!” There are many more examples similar to these.

It is just part of any game – including golf - to attempt to “psyche” oneself up. That’s how we try and push and motivate ourselves to improve our levels of performance. Unfortunately that’s also how we often entrap ourselves and often we find that the harder we try to play better the less we succeed, to the point of actually getting depressed and feeling really desperate. Just what is this so-called “entrapment”?

If we look at the examples of self-talk given above one theme easily stands out: In order to mobilise ourselves to greater heights we often, almost forcefully, attempt to “prescribe” to ourselves: “I should this, I should that or I should not,” etc. What are the consequences of this?

Consider the following simple experiment: Please put the article you are reading right now down, close your eyes and for just about two minutes DO NOT THINK OF THE ARTICLE AT ALL! Now, please go ahead and try it!

What was your experience? Chances are that thoughts about the article kept hovering at the back of your mind, that thinking about the article in one way or another kept intruding every now and then, if not persistently, or that you really just could not steer your mind away from it at all! This is what is called a “paradoxical” effect: The harder you try to keep thoughts about the article out of your mind, the more you were thinking about it! Sounds familiar? The harder we try to play better, the worse we often play! And that becomes the entrapment!

Paradoxically it thus would seem that, in order to really perform almost perfectly, we need to have an attitude of absolute abandonment and not caring in the least what the outcome of our efforts will be! How on earth can that be possible: Being highly motivated to achieve and yet not worry about our performance at all?

One possible way out of this very typical entrapment could be to modify the nature of one’s “self-talk”. Instead of so heavily emphasising what should or should not be, one can attempt to replace the talk with a “kinder” variation: “Ok, I’ll try and give this one the best I can,” or “Perhaps I can do this one, let’s see,” or “Maybe I’ll surprize myself!” And on a more advanced level: “Let’s see if I can become the ball,” or “Let’s see if I can switch over to ‘automatic’.”

Acquiring a winning mind-set does not come overnight and necessitates a dedicated effort.  Often a clinical or sports psychologist can assist in the process of turning a good performance into superior play through the acquiring of a winning mind-set.