Playing Golf In The Zone
In this article, I’d like to explore 5 ways that you can play more golf in the zone.
Whenever I ask players to describe their mental state during their best rounds, they all say very similar things, such as:
- Feeling confident
- Not having expectations or worries about score
- A sense of freedom
- Being in the present moment
- Being alert and focused, with no distractions
- Not thinking about or trying to control swing mechanics, instead having full trust in their skills
- Relaxed and calm, yet highly focused
- A sense of optimism and fulfillment
- Being emotionally balanced
The state of mind that these players are describing is synonymous with “the zone” or “flow state”, which I’m sure you’ve experienced at least once. Ironically, it happens when you least expect it to.
But what usually follows this description is the question: “How can I feel like that more often?” Most of us just accept that this optimal state of mind for golf is something that only happens at random and we can’t do much about when it shows up.
Although we can’t “try” to get into the zone, we can train ourselves on and off the course so that golf in the zone can be accessed more readily and more frequently. In this article I’ll give you 5 simple ways to do it.
1. Be Immersed in Your Process
All of my students measure the success of each shot (and their rounds) by the quality of the process, not the outcome. We determine what that individual player needs to focus on before, during and after every shot to have them feeling confident, engaged and athletic. Developing this habit in practice and play will train your conscious mind to focus on what’s going to help you most and will get you more immersed in the “activity” as opposed to the outcome or consequence of the shot. Trust in a good process will keep the conscious mind quiet over the ball and allow the swing to be more subconscious, resulting in a better execution.
2. Learn how to stay more present
One of those things that players describe when playing golf in the zone is being very “present”. This means they’re not preoccupied with what just happened or what might happen next, the mind is quiet and in THE NOW. You’re not thinking, you’re just being. Learning how to be more present or more “mindful” is a skill, that you can get better at it with practice. When you’re in between shots, simply focus on your breathing or what your senses are telling you about your environment. You can practice it off the course too with any daily activity you do, like household chores – again, no thinking, just focus on the activity itself for as long as you can. If you notice yourself getting distracted by thoughts, just bring yourself back to the activity and the sensations of it. Overtime, you’ll notice that your focus will improve and you’ll be able to go longer without thinking. I practice daily meditation which helps me with this.
3. Using Mental Rehearsal
When you’re playing golf in the zone, activity in your conscious mind (thinking brain) is reduced allowing better access to your sub or non-conscious mind. Your brain waves go from high frequency to low frequency. This is where the term “flow state” comes from – instead of having that inner critic judging everything that is happening around you, your conscious mind is quiet and there is more connection (“flow”) with your skills and natural ability. You’re not trying to make things happen or change anything, you are just being and letting things happen or “flow”.
Players in the zone describe a heightened sense of awareness and “tunnel vision” before playing shots. When the conscious mind is quiet, there’s a more direct connection between your imagination (mind’s eye) and the movement centers in your brain that send the impulses to the muscles to relax and contract during your swing. By using mental rehearsal (visualization), you can tell your subconscious exactly what it needs to do during your swing (when you’re in the zone the swing is mostly subconsciously controlled which gives it more “flow” and synchronicity). Practice visualization of your shots (and your swing) and connect with the sensations of shots before hitting them. Before your round is another great opportunity to put images of success into your subconscious (or right after a daily meditation session).
4. Activation Of Golf In The Zone
Understanding more about what it takes to get you in flow, can help you trigger the mental, physical and emotional states that increase your chances of getting there. Research by Steven Kotler of Flow Research Collective suggests that a person needs to reach a certain level of stress (or arousal) to get into Flow. Sports Psychologists call this “Activation”. It’s how activated your nervous system is – your heart rate, adrenaline, heighted senses, etc. Knowing at what level of activation you need to perform your best and what emotions you are experience in flow can help you get there more often. In what range does your heart rate need to be?
You might find that you can connect your experiences of the flow state with certain emotions. I always ask my students when they play their best golf, did you feel any particular emotion as you prepared to hit those shots? Excitement, Happiness, Intensity, Seriousness etc.? If so, find a way to trigger those emotions during your round. You can do this using verbal (trigger words) or non-verbal triggers such as body language or facial expressions. You might have seen Ariya Jutanagarn smiling during her pre shot routine on her way to winning the Women’s US Open a few weeks ago. Her coaches Pia Nillson and Lynn Marriot worked with her on finding the right emotion for her flow state, which is being “happy” and smiling before every shot helps her trigger this.
5. Lose the ego!
Self-consciousness interferes with the flow state. When players describe playing golf in the zone, there’s no worrying about how they look to other players. In flow, there is no sense of “self”. Too many golfers I speak with are overly concerned about how their golf game and their results will make them look to others.
Ego golf means you are too wrapped up with the outcome and how your play makes you look, instead of being immersed in the activity (the process). The desire to attain the joy of a good outcome and avoid a bad outcome create too much pressure on every shot – there’s too much thinking and not enough “flow”.
When I notice this in a new student, I immediately begin working with them on their awareness of this thinking and ways to steer them away from it. Process focus and measuring the success of round by this will help.
Practice these 5 steps and I’m confident you’ll experience golf in the zone more often.
Want to train yourself in the process to develop your mental skills for golf? Then download my mental game scorecard below.