Using Certainty To Increase Success
Let’s take the example of public speaking, which a lot of people seem to fear – and how a process can help create certainty and lower stress.
Fear exists because there is uncertainty about the outcome. The brain starts playing a movie in your mind about the worst outcome i.e. what you would look like if you forget or stumble over your words, or appear really nervous. That image will immediately trigger the stress (fight or flight) response.
If you were to walk into the room without any preparation, you would probably act like a deer caught in the headlights, as you have no plan. However, if you really know your stuff by spending time preparing adequately, rehearsing (the content, your body language, facial expressions, etc.), and you have a plan for any “uncertainties”, then you will feel a lot more comfortable and increase your chances of doing well.
Focusing on a process is focusing on certainty
A process is a plan. It’s knowing what you need to do to give yourself the best chance of success and having a plan for the unforeseen events that can come up. It’s about being proactive, not reactive. Executing your performance process is a measure of how well you controlled all the things that you could control. That is a far more effective goal to strive for than a good score. Trying to shoot a good score will have your mind struggle with the uncertainty of whether it will happen (especially when setbacks happen) and its response will be to make you feel stressed to try to get you out of it. On the contrary, there’s nothing uncertain about whether you can achieve your “process goals”.
Process goals are focal cues
Process goals are focal cues during each round, which bring your attention back to what’s most important for a good performance. In addition, these small goals (if you achieve them) will soon become habits and behaviors. Confidence comes not only from being prepared, but keeping promises to yourself. If you are able to stick to your plan, you will increase trust in yourself (self confidence). I recommend to my students that they measure the success of their rounds by “the process” and not the result, using my mental game scorecard. In other words, did they do all they could to influence the outcome?
Building a performance process
So where do we start in putting together your performance process, which you will attempt to execute (and be accountable for) during each round? From my experience of coaching players on the mental game for over 10 years, although there are fundamentals, each player will have a variation on the steps of their performance process. Building a performance process is what I help my students with during one on one remote coaching sessions and my digital coaching program.
First, let’s look at the phases of golf. In each of the phases, we have to set a clear intention for what the process is, what uncertainties can arise, and how to deal with them.
What are the steps that you will take before your round no matter what? Examples of this are: your course strategy, particular music you listen to, mental imagery, your nutrition plan, finding a good rhythm for your swing, noticing balance, grip pressure, rehearsing your pre shot routine and playing some of the shots you will be faced with on the course.
Pre shot Routine
What do you do in your pre shot routine? Examples of pre shot process goals are: confident posture, clear target, visualization, commitment and tempo.
Focus during the shot
Do you have a place for your focus during the shot? Examples of this are the tempo of the swing, staying in balance, a single dimple on the ball, etc.
Post shot routine
How do you respond to any outcome? Do you have a cue to finish the shot, accept it and move on? What is the difference between how you respond to a desirable outcome and an undesirable outcome?
In between shots
What are your options for in between shots to keep you in the present and having a positive perspective? Examples here are: deep breathing, paying attention to your surroundings, how the ground feels beneath your feet, being grateful, etc.
Reflection after a round
Do you follow a process for your post round review? All my students do and share it with me, along with their practice plan for the following week. Without reflection, it’s hard to know what about your process is working, and what you will need to refine and set as goals for your practice for the following week.
Your practice should follow a process (practice plan) depending on what you are working on. Every practice session should have a clear purpose to improve your weaknesses and a measure of success regardless of the outcome.
Preparing For Uncertainties
“It doesn’t matter what is happening. What matters is how we respond. How we respond is what determines our happiness and peace of mind.”
One of the reasons why golf has such appeal is because it’s unpredictable. If you were guaranteed to shoot the same score every time you went out (even a good one), it would quickly get boring. It’s the struggle that makes the success feel so good. There are many possible outcomes that can happen in a round (all of which are out of our control), but if we have a planned response, we can manage it better. I call this “managing the unpredictables”.
One of the exercises I do with my students is to have them list all the uncertain outcomes (or “unpredictables”) in a round of golf, and we find a response for each of them. The goal is not to put negative images of bad outcomes into their heads, but to accept that there will always be events which happen (even at the highest level of the game), which are out of our control – but with a plan, we can respond instead of react. Examples of these are:
- A 3 putt
- A double bogey on the first hole
- The weather turning bad
- Slow playing partners
- Having my C game
- Feeling really nervous
Finding solutions to these uncertainties/unpredictables will not only give you the tools to deal with them, but it’s going to make you feel like you can handle any situation. Your performance process will be there at all times to guide you through any round and maximize your chances of success.
If you’d like help finding out what needs to go into your performance process for all the phases of golf, please check out the Golf State of Mind Training Program. You can then track it with my Mental Game Scorecard.