Mental Imagery In Golf

How To Use Mental Imagery in Golf to Improve Performance

If you’re going to become your best this season, putting in the “Inner Work” will be just as important as putting in the physical work.

Among the tools we have for mental training, one of the best is visualization or “mental imagery in golf” which can be used in a number of ways. Studies show that imagery is helpful for improving the following:

  • Mastery of Self e.g., being a strong competitor, more confident, in control and mentally tough
  • Motivation e.g., seeing yourself winning a championship
  • Cognitive skills e.g., planning your strategy and routines
  • Mastery of Technical Skills e.g., imagining something you want to change such as keeping your head still while putting or improving your swing
  • Improving Arousal Control e.g., being more calm over a putt to win

In this week’s lesson, I’m going to show you how you can use mental imagery as a daily practice, to help you:

  1. Be Great This Year (Motivational)
  2. Overcome Fear (Desensitization)

Using Mental Imagery in Golf to Be Great This Year

The mind is like a heat seeking missile in the sense that, if you give it a target to aim at, it will find ways to move you towards it. In other words, if you have big, compelling goals, and you remind yourself of them regularly, you’ll increase focus, effort and motivation to take you closer to them each day. We get more of what we allow our minds to focus on!

Decide on Your Goals

The process starts with a blank sheet of paper. Write down what would be exciting for you to achieve this year. I mean really exciting.

What will an extraordinary year look like? What accomplishments would create a really compelling future for you to work towards each day?

A round under par? A low handicap? A better ranking? A place on a team? Winning a championship?

Think about the specific events that would represent you becoming the best version of yourself. What tournaments will you be able to play? Who will you play with? What scores will you be posting?

What’s the meaning of it all?

Next, I’d like you to ask yourself the very important question of “why do I want this”? Goals are best if they are intrinsic, not extrinsic. I.e. they are more about your own passion for mastering your craft, rather than to satisfy a desire to impress others or to please your ego. Remember that these goals represent the player that you will have become with all the countless hours of work and sacrifice, so it has to be worth it to you. The trophies are representative of the success, but they aren’t the real success. That’s the player that you will have become.

Go To The Movies

Next, we’re going to use what you’ve written down to create a mental move in which you have the starring role, achieving great success. This will be your movie script which you can use daily (try both early morning and before you go to sleep) to trigger emotion and motivate you to say “Yes! I want that for myself and I’m going to make the sacrifices to get it!”

The reason this exercise is called mental imagery in golf and not “visualization”, is that it involves using all of the 5 senses, not just vision.

How to Use Mental Imagery in Golf

  1. Imagine yourself in situations which show how good you have become
  2. See yourself achieving your goals and imagine how you will think, speak and act. Bring all the senses (colors, actions, emotions, smells, sounds, etc.) into the experiences as much as possible.
  3. Imagine the end result and the high positive emotion that you will experience as you achieve it

Mental Imagery in Golf to Overcome Fear

Being able to imagine situations that cause you fear and then subsequently overcoming it is an excellent training tool. We’re going to reduce your fears using a technique called “Desentization”, which is backed up by science and a commonly used Psychotherapy technique. Here are the steps…

What do you fear in golf? Write it down

On a blank sheet of paper, write out what you fear in golf. Is it having a chance to reach your goals and blowing it? Is it choking at an important time? Is it chunking or thinning chip shots? Is it the first tee with people watching? Is it underperforming in a tournament that could mean a lot for your future? Is it how you will look to others if you play badly?

We all experience fear, but our success comes down to whether we allow it to affect how we think and what we do.

List each of your fears and rank them from 1-10. Start with the highest ranked one.

Imagine that situation that you fear vividly. Fear changes our physiology – we feel butterflies, an increased heart rate and more tense. Bring this fear to you, so you begin to experience those symptoms.

See yourself succeed in the presence of your fear

Now we’re going to imagine how you want that situation to go, not how you don’t want it to go. We are going to rehearse how your brain and body will respond in the future to having that fear present.

How do you want to think in that situation? How do you want to look (body language and facial expressions)? What will your mind be focused on? How will you feel in your body and how will you execute the shot? How will you feel as you confidently hit the shot or make the putt even though you feel fear? Practice using your breathing to calm down to feel more relaxed in the presence of fear.

By repeating this process frequently, you’ll realize that you have all the tools you need to deal with fear and that situation will become less of a trigger.

Now develop a plan!

Now that you’ve figured out your dreams, you need your plan to take you there. Your plan is what you will focus on during your days and during your rounds. All my students create a weekly plan, which contains the tasks and activities they will complete to take them closer to their vision and you should do the same.

Exercises such as using mental imagery in golf will now become part of your plan.

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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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