Self-awareness In Golf

The Journey To Becoming a Happier, More Successful Golfer

“Man, know thyself, and you are going to know the gods” – Ancient Greek Proverb

When I start work with a new student, I ask them a series of questions to try to get an understanding of what makes them perform. Good coaching is focused on the player and the individual student, instead of trying to fit them into a process for all. I like to think of my coaching more as “guided self-discovery”, where the students (through being asked quality questions) arrive at the answers themselves.  

I ask them about their habits, thoughts and what they are focusing on when they are playing well, and playing badly (this is also part of the post-round review process). What is it that they feel in different situations and what could trigger different emotions and different levels of performance on the course? With most players (because they are not used to it), this takes a bit of coaxing, but increasing their self-awareness in golf is key to accelerate and deepen a player’s ability to perform, especially under pressure.

Developing self-awareness in golf is a key part of becoming a happier and more successful golfer and in this lesson, I’d like to explain what it is, how you can practice it, and how it will ultimately benefit you.  

What is self-awareness in golf?

A dictionary definition is: conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires.

Harvard Business Journal writer, Anthony Tjan says:

“In my experience — and in the research…there is one quality that trumps all, evident in virtually every great entrepreneur, manager, and leader. That quality is self-awareness. The best thing leaders can [do] to improve their effectiveness is to become more aware of what motivates them and their decision-making.”

The stoic Greek philosophers Plato and Socrates, used the ancient Greek proverb “Know thyself”. Seneca said “You have to catch yourself doing it (the habit) before you can reform.”

Why is self-awareness in golf important?

Being self-aware is knowing yourself in depth, and getting to the bottom of what is causing certain behaviors and habits. The more you know this, the more you are able to adapt and shift yourself towards those behaviors that will lead to more happiness and success. In other words, you are able to notice, but not react upon instinct. You are more accepting of yourself and more patient. On the golf course, this means that instead of paying attention to the things that get you upset and cause a poor performance, you are able to ignore and shift your focus to where it needs to be for you to access your best skills.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. – Victor Frankl

The human brain is pre-dispositioned to want to form habits, as it requires less mental energy. But the problem with habits, is that they cause you to react without thinking. Contrarily, when you are self-aware, you have more time to choose your responses, instead of reacting uncontrollably. Some define emotional intelligence as “The power of the pause” that time between the stimulus and response. Self-awareness gives you a little more time between the stimulus and response. You can’t control thoughts, but you can control your responses to them.

What works for you?

Through the process of self-awareness, you’ll discover what it is that makes YOU perform your best and what helps YOU get the most out of your performances. We can use this to define process goals and include triggers and better responses to the variability and uncertainty on the course.

During sessions with my students, I don’t tell them what to do on the course. E.g. if when they are playing their best golf, they don’t visualize a single shot, why would I try to get them to visualize like other players do? There’s no one best way to get better access to your optimal performance state.

This is why the post-round review process is important. What may have caused you to hit certain shots well and others not so well? What were you thinking and what were your emotions before, during and after those shots and what were you thinking about in between shots? Noticing negative/destructive thoughts pattern is key for you being able to redirect them to positive.

What is your intensity level when you are playing your best? If I asked you how pumped up you are when you’re playing well, what would you say? Some players play better when they are feeling aggressive and fired up, and others do not. It’s about each player as an individual. When you tense up on the course, where on your body does this tension come from?

How to improve self-awareness in golf

Keeping a performance journal

Writing about your experiences (thoughts/feelings/emotions/results) is a good way to figure out what may be causing success and failure. Write down your goals and plans.

Post-round Review

Asking yourself critical questions about your performance is a good way to understand your mental process in different situations on the course. Are you being self-compassionate or self-critical? What might be triggering good and bad performances? Noticing these patterns is key to learning how to change it for the better.

Meditation

I meditate for at least 10 mins per day and I know first-hand how it’s reduced my stress levels and helped me stay more present daily, and during my rounds of golf. The more able you are to access the present, the better able you are to be self-aware (noticing your thoughts and feelings), but be accepting of them and choose your responses. The practice of focusing on breathing also helps regulate heart rate and lower stress levels.

Mental coaching for golf

Like any new skill, it takes practice and patience to learn. If you’d like a free 15 minute consultation to learn more about how mental coaching for golf works, please sign up for a session by clicking here.

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David MacKenzie

is a golf coach and golf publisher and lives in Washington DC. He is the founder of Golf State of Mind a teaching program designed to help golfers eliminate negative mental interference and play with confidence.

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