What is mental toughness for golf?

Mental toughness is being able to access your best game whatever the situation. It’s being able handle the stress of competition and not let it take your focus away from the task at hand.

Before I give you a simple way for you to improve your mental toughness, let’s dispel a few myths about it.

Myths about mental toughness:

  • You’re born with mental toughness, it can’t be learned
  • If you’re mentally tough you act cocky and unfriendly
  • You can’t be mentally tough if you don’t feel good about your game that day

All of these are simply NOT true.

With that out the way, let’s determine how you can become mentally tougher and take your game to a higher level.

Check out this simple process:

Thinking/Self-talk/Body Language => Emotions => Muscle Response

The premise here is that what we think, say to ourselves, and our body language can trigger emotions, and our emotions can change the way we feel (our mood), our confidence and our ability to perform under pressure.

E.g. If your inner voice is telling you that you can’t do something, you will have more negative emotions (fear, doubt etc), which leads to negative physiological reactions (tension, tightness, shaking etc). And we all know what tension does to the golf swing!

The good news, is if we can control our thoughts, talk to ourselves in the right way and adopt positive body language, we can elicit positive emotions (confidence, determination, persistence etc), which will lead to positive physical reactions (fluid motion, seamless action etc).

Separating you the person from you the player

One of the first places to start in building mental toughness and unshakable confidence is being able to separate “you the player”, from “you the person”. When you see your results on the course as a reflection of you as a person, you set yourself up for a rocky ride. Instead, I’d like you to lose the ego and “act yourself” into the persona of a champion.

All great athletes do this. They are able to reach within themselves and access their “player-self” regardless of how they feel about their “real-self”. Great competitors can in some ways be thought of as great actors.

Your body language triggers an emotional response from within

Research has shown that when you’re feeling stressed and fearful, you have more of a hormone called Cortisol. When you’re feeling confident, you have less Cortisol and more testosterone.

A study was done between Harvard and Columbia Universities which had 42 subjects adopt different body postures and afterwards, their hormone levels were tested. The results showed that those with the more “high-power” postures (standing up, back straight, shoulders back), had much higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisone i.e. they felt more confident and powerful and less stressed. Conversely, those that adopted “low-power” postures (slumped posture, low shoulders, looking down etc), experienced greater stress levels.

Act your way into the right thinking

In the same way, actors use similar techniques. Research shows that movements in your facial muscles can elicit certain emotional responses, e.g. frowning can produce a feeling of displeasure, whereas smiling can make you feel happier. Try smiling right now just for the sake of it, and see if it lifts your mood, even just a little.

Next time you’re on the course, I’d like you act like a champion. Use very confident body language no matter how you’re playing, now you know what an impact that can have on your emotions. Act as if you’re a Tour Player, with a confident walk in between shots – shoulders back and eyes looking up at flag level, not slumped over looking down at the grass. Be aware of your posture and try smiling and laughing as much as you can!

I’m not saying that this is the only thing that helps build mental toughness but it’s one of them. If you’d like the full list of techniques, you can find them in the Ultimate Mental Game Training System.

Photo courtesy of Hone Morihana