How aware are you of how you talk to yourself on the golf course (and on a day to day basis) and do you know how big a difference it can make to your state of mind and performance?

Let’s start with a simple concept:

Thoughts -> Self-talk -> Emotions/Feelings

Thoughts (positive and negative) come and go. We supposedly have over 50-70,000 thoughts per day. Some of them are positive and some of them are negative. But what helps turn thoughts into emotions and feelings, is self-talk. Self-talk is your interpretation of those thoughts which makes them more real. If your self-talk is negative, and you’ve chosen to give those negative thoughts (doubt in your ability, regret etc.) more power, you’ll change those thoughts into negative emotions which can make you feel a certain way. In golf, this means more tension, a lack of focus and poor shots.

The good news is that self-talk is a choice. You can decide how you filter out the thoughts in your mind. You can create a new positive stream of energy which can drive you to higher performance and more confidence.

“Confidence is the most important single factor in this game.” – Jack Nicklaus

A big factor in maintaining and building confidence is utilizing the power of self-talk.

Using Positive Self-talk to Deal With Doubt

Perhaps the most important time to be aware of your self-talk is when you’re struggling or feeling under pressure. As I tell my students, the mental game is easy when things are going well, it’s not until you experience adversity do you find out how good your mental game really is.

For this reason, all my students “practice” positive self-talk and visualize overcoming adversity in those tough moments on the course. Expect to have doubts when you’re out of your comfort zone and practice what you can say to yourself to ignore them and restore your confidence. Notice your inner-dialogue, and if needed, rewrite the script!

Remind yourself that you are a mentally tough competitor and that you have a champion’s mindset! The more you can train yourself to re-frame and quash doubt using self-talk, the easier it will become in the future, and the less negative thinking and negative self-talk you’ll experience. You create a new habit.

Using Positive Self-talk For Motivation and Changing Your Beliefs

Your belief system (aka your subconscious mind) which controls most of your behaviours at any given time, can be shaped by self-talk. The subconscious listens to all your self-talk and accepts it to be the truth.

Many of my students follow a morning routine, which includes meditation, visualization and self-talk. I recommend that you spend a little time each morning visualizing and verbalizing all those things you would like to be and say them outloud, e.g:

“I am a PGA Tour Winner”.

“I am the Club Champion”.

“I am a mentally tough competitor”.

“I remain calm and composed under pressure”.

Repetition of these phrases and visualizing those goals vividly can change your belief system and bring them closer towards you. Notice what words have the best affect on you and add them to your motivational script for when you need it.

Using positive self-talk during your rounds (be your inner caddie)

One of the ways my students review their rounds is by how good their self-talk was. This exercise makes them more aware of how they are talking to themselves throughout a round, so they can improve it over time.

Some of the players I work with use self-talk during their pre shot routine to keep themselves committed to the shot. It’s amazing how many players I talk to who tell me how well they played when they had caddie. The reason is that they are able to verbalize the shot which increases commitment and results in better shots. The good news is that you can easily do the same thing with your self-talk! Experiment with describing the shot you want to hit (not the one you don’t) during your pre-shot routine.

During your rounds, notice the tone of your self talk and whether you are talking to yourself in the form of negatives or positives. I wouldn’t want any of my players to give themselves instructions in the form of a negative (don’t do this…). As Tony Robbins says, “Where the focus goes, the energy flows”.

Examples of this would be:

“Don’t hit it in the water” or “Don’t miss it left”. Replace with “I can hit the ball down the right side of the fairway”.

“Don’t get distracted”, replace with “Stay in the present”.

“Don’t 3 putt”, replace with “Stay in my process”.

“Don’t make double bogeys”, replace with “Stick to my smart course strategy”.

Using Positive self-talk to keep you emotionally neutral and in the present

Notice if you’re focusing on what the consequence of a shot will mean for you in the future. I often hear from players whose success rate is higher for par putts than it is for birdie putts (from the same distance). The simple explanation is the thought of what a birdie putt will mean for them in the future e.g “I’ve got this for birdie and if I make it I’ll be 2 under with 4 to play…”. They are no longer in the present and emotionally neutral (like they are for other putts), but in the future thinking about how that birdie will make them feel. This creates higher performance anxiety and less focus on the process resulting in fewer putts made. Notice if your self-talk is taking you into the future and out of the emotionally neutral state.

Using Positive Self after shots

You might be frustrated after hitting a bad shot, but do your best not to turn that into negative self-talk. I play with golfers all the time who call themselves names and tell themselves how bad they are (outloud not just in their heads!). Invariably those players don’t go on to achieve success until they are able to learn how to improve their self-talk. Choose your responses to bad shots by having some prepared script for your self-talk. Shots you don’t like or missed opportunities to score are an inevitable part of the game, so it’s important they don’t change your mood. If you wouldn’t say it to someone else, don’t say it to yourself!

If you hit a shot particularly well, remember to celebrate and anchor success. Use some positive self-talk to enhance that positive feeling and store that memory.

Every day is a new opportunity to change your belief system and how you deal with negative thoughts. Notice how you are interpreting the world around you and decide to see it a more positive way – you’ll benefit enormously from doing so in the long-run!

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Article photo courtesy of US Air Force