Building Confidence For Golf

7 Ways To Build Unshakable Confidence For Golf

“Confidence is the most important single factor in this game, and no matter how great your natural talent, there is only one way to obtain and sustain it: work.” ~ Jack Nicklaus

I agree with Jack 100% – that confidence is a huge factor in a player’s success, and building and sustaining it requires work. But what sort of “work”?

Research shows that up to 70% of our confidence is trainable and has nothing to do with the personality traits we were born with.

In this week’s lesson, I’d like to show you 7 ways to begin building confidence for golf and life, from the inside out.

1. Self Talk

We become the stories we tell ourselves every day. Do you think you are great? You should. Tell yourself why you think you are great and why you believe you can achieve your goals, every day. I do this as part of my daily morning routine.

Building confidence for golf requires noticing how you talk to yourself throughout your rounds and practice and the language you use. If you’re telling yourself “You suck!” or other negative self-talk, your mind and your belief system will be listening. It’s ok to feel angry or disappointed at times, but that doesn’t have to become negative self-talk. Talk to yourself as if you are your best friend or best coach – it will make a difference over time.

2. Be aware of your thinking

What state of mind are you in? Is it positive or negative? Or are you in the state of “Empty Mind” or “Mushin”?
Negative thinking erodes confidence and causes anxiety. On the other hand, positive thinking builds confidence. If you’re not aware of your thinking it can often tend towards the negative and take you to “Negative Mind”.

Neuroscientists have concluded that negative thoughts are 3 times more powerful than positive thoughts, which is why we need to be aware of our thinking by practicing mindfulness. When you notice yourself focusing on a negative outcome or negative possibility, accept it, then counter it by thinking of 3 things that are positive. These could be completely unrelated to the negative thought you had, but the 3:1 ratio will help bring you back to “Empty Mind” or “Positive Mind”. Over time, you’ll notice you have more positive thoughts which increase confidence and optimism (mental toughness).

3. Do difficult things but be prepared to fail

In order to build confidence for golf and take the path to mastery, you MUST do things that take you out of your comfort zone i.e. there is a risk of failure. What this means is that at some point, you WILL fail. Accept that now, prepare for it, and decide how you will respond.

Nobody likes the feeling of being afraid or failing, but both are required for building confidence for golf and growing. It’s ok to make mistakes and fail, it’s how we learn most effectively. This is an important message to share with junior golfers, who often play with a fear of failure. The more you can put yourself out there and feel afraid but keep going, the more confidence you’ll build. When you do one difficult thing and succeed (you’ll fail sometimes), you’ll build the confidence you need to do something even more difficult (“If I can do that, then I should be able to do this…”) and confidence will grow exponentially.

Being afraid and nervous, although a normal part of the process, can be limiting without mental game techniques. I train my students to control the mental and physiological effects of fear.

4. Know your values, set intentions and follow through on them

Who is the player or person you want to be? I’m not talking about what results you want to achieve, but the values you want to stand for. Every day we can get closer to the player/person we want to be and build confidence by upholding our values.

What values do you want to uphold? At the beginning of my mental game training program, I set the enrolled students an exercise which helps them build their “Player Pledge” – these are the values that they will uphold in practice and play, regardless of the result. Being able to stick to and make decisions based on your values is the essence of living an authentic life and being confident. Like executing your “process” on the golf course, it is completely within your control and has nothing to do with your scores. The more you are able to consciously uphold values, the more apart of you (in your subconscious) they become.

5. Delay gratification and fulfill your promises to yourself

There is no growth without resistance.

Seeking comfort and pleasure and avoiding pain is human nature, but it doesn’t help us build confidence. Building confidence for golf requires experiencing some hardship and resistance to grow stronger. Like in #3, we need to know we can do difficult things. One of those difficult things is being able to delay gratification. What makes this challenging is the fact that immediate gratification is all around us, trying to tempt us from our values and intentions. Our phones, social media, TV, junk food, alcohol, online shopping, etc. are never too far away to help us fill a void or make us feel more comfortable.

But what most of us don’t realize is that we’re becoming mentally weaker in the process. To become our best, we need to practice “being comfortable being uncomfortable”, staying in the fight and doing hard things. The momentary pleasure from reaching for your phone and flipping through your social media feeds while you’re in the middle of an important task, does not out-weigh the benefits of staying on task, which add up to confidence, focus and mental toughness.

In 1972, Walter Mischel, a Stanford professor, did an experiment on delayed gratification which became known as the “Marshmallow Test”. Wikipedia says:

In this study, a child was offered a choice between one small but immediate reward (put in front of them), or two small rewards if they waited for a period of time. During this time, the researcher left the room for about 15 minutes and then returned. The reward was either a marshmallow or pretzel stick, depending on the child’s preference. In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures.

By being able to delay gratification, you will show yourself you can withstand temptation, have the strength to say “no” and honor your promises to yourself. By doing so, you’ll strengthen focus, self-confidence, self-control and self-trust, which is a powerful combination for success!

6. Journal (Be accountable and reflect)

What were you proud of today? What went well for you? Celebrate your successes. Did you follow through on your intentions and uphold your values? What did you learn? Whether it’s playing golf or a typical day, your review should answer these simple questions.

7. Master your craft through Deliberate Practice

“The hallmark of deliberate practice is that you try to do something that you cannot do — that takes you out of your comfort zone- and that you practice over and over again, focusing on exactly how you are doing it, where you are falling short, and how you can get better.” – Anders Ericsson
Part of building confidence for golf comes from increasing competency. If you are a mastery golfer, you’ll know the work that needs to be done on your game and you’ll include plenty of deliberate practice for golf. If you can do difficult things in practice, you’ll be more confident in your abilities on the course.

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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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