A critical factor which determines your ability to get into your Flow state is understanding how to control your attentional focus i.e. what is the focus of your attention at any moment in time when carrying out a specific task.
So what is the best way to get into your Flow state? It depends on the physical task you are trying to carry out. There are many life skills you learn to perform in a state of physical flow naturally from riding a bicycle, driving a car or making a sandwich. You don’t have to ‘work’ at getting into the flow state. You perform these tasks FREE from conscious control of your actions, trusting your subconscious mind (sometimes where your life and those of your family are at risk!) to draw upon previously developed procedural memory.
Whilst driving the car, riding a bicycle or making a sandwich, your conscious mind can be occupied with many erroneous thoughts whilst your subconscious mind manages your physical actions. A significant psychological challenge occurs when you engage in activities which require you demonstrate the mental skill of Single Pointed Concentration i.e. target oriented sporting activities like golf, shooting and archery. Clearly you can’t focus your attention on a target whilst erroneous thoughts run through your conscious mind so it needs to be effectively controlled.
However, as soon as you involve the conscious mind in your physical movement flow is lost, which is what happens when you are learning to acquire new motor skill patterns or trying to play golf with swing thoughts. It is only when you switch your attention from internal to an external focus that you can experience the state of flow within your physical actions. So how do you experience flow in your putting stroke and golf swing whilst trying to control it? Can you TRUST your technique and play golf free of swing thoughts and conscious control of your physical actions today I wonder?
A recent theory from sports science suggests that mastery is acquired through deliberate practice and you need approx 10,000 hours of this practice to become expert at a skill. How long did it take you to learn to drive a car do you think? 40 hours? It is not the number of hours of practice which is key but what the focus of your attention is on during those hours which ultimately determines your ability to perform. The quicker you understand how to make the shift from internal to external focus, the faster you’ll acquire the motor skills required to perform.
Tim Gallwey advocates in the Inner Game of Golf the use of verbal techniques like ‘back, hit’ which help you develop your self awareness and a natural golf swing. These techniques promote an external focus and occupy your conscious mind enabling the subconscious mind to manage your physical movement. Unfortunately, your attention can not be on Target whilst you are occupying your attention with mantras but they are useful when developing a new memory for movement.
Taking this learning concept to the next level, Dr Anthony Piparo of Mind Mastery Golf has developed a comprehensive training system for golfers which not only expedites the rate at which you acquire motor skills but also trains your attentional focus appropriately whilst doing so. His work is the missing link in golf education which uniquely binds the mind to body when learning, practicing and playing golf. I recommend you take the time to communicate with him.
It is important to understand that this shift of attentional focus from internal to external happens NATURALLY in many life skills. Unfortunately, this natural shift can be and is frequently inhibited by existing coaching practices which do not take attentional focus into consideration. You may have already discovered that a life time spent focused on your technique in practice can deny you the opportunity to access the performance state consistently in competition.
Clearly, golfers do experience their flow state occasionally (it’s what keeps us going back for more) but ultimately it is with no real comprehension of why it happened or how to get back their consistently when required. “It was one of those days when I was in the Zone!” is commonly heard on the 19th hole. Does golf performance really have to be so ‘hit and miss’? What if the Zone was accessible on demand? It can be when you understand the difference between visual and attentional focus.
Unfortunately you can’t access your flow state, on demand, in competition if you don’t learn how to access your flow state in practice, on demand. You actually have to change the way you practice in order to change the way you wish to play. This involves you wanting to learn how to give up conscious control of your physical actions and fixate your attentional focus on a singular, external focus. What is the one thing which provides the solution to both challenges? The Target.
You may have been lead to believe that the Target creates anxiety and once aligned to it you should not have to pay any further attention to it. This leaves you attempting to play golf like a child plays the party game pin the tail on the donkey. However, your blindfold will not be physical but mental. Go and throw a ball at a target and see how much anxiety exists. None. It is Outcome Orientation which creates anxiety. This will be discussed in greater detail in more mental golf lessons.
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Photo by Keith Allison