10 Performance Habits To Crush It In 2021

Now that 2020 is finally behind us, I’m sure that you are spending some time reflecting, resetting, and planning so that you can improve your performance and grow throughout the upcoming year.

From the years that I’ve been coaching the mental game and researching human performance, here are my Top 10 Performance Habits that I recommend that you work on to make this a successful year on and off the course.

1. Have a daily morning routine

How you start your day has a big effect on what you achieve during it and how much you grow. Every day is precious and your morning routine can remind you of the importance of it. Most of the world’s most successful people start their day early enough to go through a daily morning ritual which sets the tone for a great day. If you think you “don’t have time” to spend 30-45 mins to practice meditation, visualization, gratitude and set goals for the day, then think again as it’s worth every minute of the time spent (and you more than get the time back with increased focus, energy and a positive attitude). Create the time by going to bed an hour earlier, so you can get up an hour earlier. Instead of reaching for your phone as soon as you wake up and exposing yourself to whatever news and communication might await, get your mind ready and prepared for making it the best day possible.

2. Define your success for the day and honor that commitment to yourself

Long-term goals are your dreams and your short-term goals are the daily and weekly attainable goals that take you closer to them. Achieving your short term daily goals gives you a hit of the feel good chemical Dopamine which increases motivation and effort. It’s important that you feel this sense of accomplishment and progress at the end of the day as it builds momentum.

Unfortunately, too many people don’t, because of the way they set their daily goals. From my experience, I think that daily input goals are better than output goals. With a huge list of tasks to do each day and success being measured by completion, it’s easy to feel like you underachieved. Instead, set goals by time spent, rather than the outcome. E.g. If you are writing a book, instead of setting the goal of “completing chapter 1” today, you set the goal of “writing 500 words”.

Try to do the same things at the same time each day e.g. My first task of the day is to check and respond to emails (and I try to limit email communication to this time). Routine makes tasks easier to do each day (as they become habits) and require less effort and energy, meaning you have more for being creative. Train your discipline each day – it will help you build self-trust, a factor of confidence.

3. Become more focused

Following on from #2, better focus should be an intention for each day. Studies prove that multi tasking only works for a very small percentage of people. To get the best out of yourself requires being able to stay focused on a task despite all the external and internal distractions that will be trying to get your attention (for most of us that comes from our phones). Make 2021 the year of self-control and spending less time being distracted. Build trust in yourself by knowing that you can resist the temptations of more pleasurable things to do during the time you’ve allocated to a task. If you don’t you’ll burn valuable time and energy by having to refocus and the quality of the output will not be as high. Being aware of what your distractions are will help you avoid them. By improving focus, you’ll notice that you can get better at staying immersed in a task (not distracted or thinking about the outcome of the task), which is synonymous with the “Flow State” and high performance. Developing this skill will help you stay calm, think clearly and focus on what you need to in the pressure moments on the golf course.

4. Train Optimism and Gratitude

“Gratitude has the power to change our perspective and shine a light on what is good in our lives. Even among challenges, if our eyes are open gifts can be found.” – Tamara Levitt

Improve your perspective each day by practicing gratitude. Gratitude has been linked to better mental and physical health and an overall sense of self-fulfillment.

Keep a gratitude journal in which you can highlight the things that you value most about each day and your life. The more you can do this, the more you’ll train yourself to be more positive and optimistic. Thinking of the positives (which is sometimes not easy to do) releases Dopamine in the brain, which after practice, has it automatically searching for them in any situation i.e. you become more optimistic. If you’re able to see the good things that are possible in a difficult situation, rather than what could go wrong, you will be mentally tough!

5. Improve the way that you talk to yourself

Research shows that the way that you talk to yourself can improve confidence, focus, motivation, effort level, mental toughness and shape who you are/become. Get into the habit of talking to yourself in the same way that your “best coach” would. Amplify your progress, be compassionate but motivating, remind yourself of how good you are and what is possible for you in the future.

Good Self talk is a trainable skill, so spend time reflecting upon how you currently use it and practice what you can say to yourself in different situations to improve your chances of success.

6. Measure yourself by your “Mental Scorecard”

How well you achieve your external goals (output, results, etc) is not completely within your control. However, your internal goals are, and if you achieve them, you maximize the possibility of achieving your external goals. Hence, each day and each round of golf should be measured by your internal goals using your “mental scorecard”. How well did you focus during each shot? How well did you manage negative thinking? How well did you manage setbacks? All my students keep a performance journal in which they enter a post round review (and their mental scorecard results), which helps them reflect on whether they gave themselves the best chance of playing well by putting in a good mental performance.

7. Get fit and strong

Exercise is the most important lifestyle intervention you can do – Conor Barnes

This one is likely to be on everyone’s new year’s resolution list but it’s very important to stay the course. At first it can be tough to muster up the motivation for something that can make you feel uncomfortable, but by making it a habit (try to do it at the same time each day) it will become easier and easier to do and the benefits are not just physical – exercise has been proven to increase focus, reduce stress, and give you a feeling of accomplishment and an improved sense of wellbeing, which will reach all areas of your life.

8. Visualize your future

Visualization is an opportunity to change the way that you see yourself. In order to create or change something we need to imagine it first. Start a daily practice of visualization to see yourself succeeding throughout the day and overcoming the challenges that might arise. My students spend time visualizing the player that they want to become and how they will get there. Visualization for golf can also be used as a powerful controller of your performance state before and during your rounds by taking yourself to places in your mind that will trigger positive emotions.

9. Change Your thinking patterns and understand your mind

Your automatic thinking patterns, feelings and behaviors come from your subconscious mind. In addition to keeping your body functioning without you having to think about it, your subconscious mind contains your library of experiences and memories which determine how you think and feel about something automatically. The primary role of it is to keep you alive, safe and away from danger (which is why “negative thoughts” are more frequent than “positive”). However, most of your automatic “negative” thinking patterns do not serve you and will hinder your learning and your progress. This year, make your mind your friend, not your enemy. Your thoughts are not who you are. If we can see the mind and a separate entity, we can observe it, without “being” it. With self-discovery you can identify what your negative thinking patterns are and what triggers them. With increased awareness, you can notice whether you are focusing on thoughts that don’t serve your goals and over time you will change the pattern and be free of them.

10. Focus on your growth, not satisfying your ego

“You have to be able to set aside people’s perceptions of you and focus on learning your craft.” – Dr. Andrew Huberman

I’ve worked with many players over the years who struggle to be their best because of their fear of what others will think of them. Instead of focusing on the possibility of a great performance, they are more inclined to think about not messing up to avoid a negative perception from their parents, friends, peers and coaches. Their confidence level is determined by how they think they are perceived by others. The first step to solving this problem is recognizing and accepting that this is a thinking pattern that doesn’t serve you. You can’t and will never be able to control what others are thinking about you. The next step is being able to detach your real-self from your player-self. You are not your scores and you don’t need compliments about your game or to feel that others respect you for it, to feel better about yourself. Tying identity to scores is a thinking pattern of someone with an “ego mindset.”

With an ego mindset, it’s impossible to get into the Flow state, you won’t learn as much and your self-esteem will always be fragile. If you notice yourself with the ego mindset – stop, reframe and refocus on the present and the process of what you are doing.

Thanks for reading. I hope that 2021 is a year of learning, progress and achievement for you!

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David MacKenzie

is a mental golf coach and lives in Washington DC. He is the founder of Golf State of Mind, a teaching program designed to help golfers condition their minds to overcome fear and play with confidence.

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