Neurolinguistic programming, or NLP, is an approach to personal development which can help create a feeling of confidence, relaxation and focus on demand. NLP techniques were made popular by Tony Robbins, who had amazing results helping people from all different backgrounds change the way they think and create more successful lives, in a surprisingly short amount of time. But recently, NLP is being used by an increasing number golfers (of all levels) and it’s proving to be a very powerful mental game of golf technique.

The basic premise of NLP is that your past experiences, which are stored in your subconscious mind, control a lot of your behavior. For example, think of a time on the golf course when you’ve been faced with a shot over water or a green-side bunker. I’m sure one of the emotions you feel is fear. But why? It’s probably because your past experience of that particular shot was one that ended up in the water or bunker. So now, that memory is stored in your subconscious so you automatically recall that same feeling of fear when faced with a similar shot.

So if the sight of the water produces a negative feeling (fear), what if we could introduce something that we have a positive association with to trigger a feeling of confidence and relaxation instead? This is what NLP is all about. It’s about associating a past experience of confidence with certain stimuli called “anchors” or “triggers”, so that feeling can be recreated on-demand.

A well-known example of this is the experiments done by Pavlov on dogs. In these experiments, a bell, which was an auditory “anchor”, was sounded every time the dogs were fed. This was repeated many times over and eventually, the sound of the bell caused the dogs to salivate, without the presence of any food. In other words, the sound of the bell became a positive association for the dogs (eating) which triggered a behavior (salivation).

So how do we anchor those times when we’ve felt confident and successful and use them to trigger that same feeling?

The Global NLP Institute defines anchoring as:

“Anchoring is a process where a specific stimulus (cue, trigger) is connected to a memory recall, state or state change, or another response. Anchoring occurs naturally all the time. You likely have several powerful anchors in place; a certain smell may remind you of a specific person (perfume, etc). Each time you see something, it can bring you back to the state or a past memory (a photograph, a living room etc.). The same occurs when you hear a certain sound or piece of music.”

What I’m about to show you is how to “anchor” great shots you’ve hit, and use it to trigger confidence on the golf course.

There is no one anchor that works for everyone. E.g. some people can recall an experience better with smell (e.g. perfume), some with sound (e.g. music) and some with a verbal “key word”. The trick is find what works for you.

Here’s how an example of how to use anchors and improve your mental game:

1. Find a quiet place where you can be alone for 15-20 minutes. After a recent round, pick out those shots that you were particularly proud of. They could be great drives, wedges you hit close, or clutch putts you holed.

2. Close your eyes and really get a vivid picture of those experiences. I want you to see the colors, feel the weather and the wind, hear the birds – really try to recreate the experience as if it is happening now.

3. Replay the shot in your head and see everything about it. Remember the feeling of the ball being struck purely and how it looked in the air.

4. Remember exactly how you felt after you hit that shot.

5. As you feel that positive emotion, we want you to “fire” the anchor.” This means that you say your keyword, do your waggle, look at your red dot (as used by Louis Oosthuizen), snap the velcro on your glove or press your thumb and forefinger together. As the experience begins to fade, release the anchor.

Try reinforcing this several times and introduce that trigger into your pre-shot routine on the golf course.

Here’s another example of it in practice:

When you’re practicing your putting, “anchor” the feeling of the ball going in with a single word. Words that I like (but pick whatever you want) are “beautiful” or “gorgeous”. Reinforce it by doing it several times, each time the ball goes in.

Then, during your pre-putt routine on the course, right before you take the putter back, say that word in your head and it should evoke that same feeling of confidence.

Another time, you could experiment with sound and see if that works better. E.g. try holding onto the sound the ball makes when it goes in the hole, and recreate that in your pre-putt routine. For a touch anchor, you could try tugging your shirt like Freddie Couples, clicking your fingers twice, or touching the knuckle on your left hand.

Give these a try and find the type of anchor that works for you. I’m confident you’ll find this will equip you with a confidence booster and relaxation technique, especially in pressure situations.