I often get asked if there are any exercises that can be practiced away from the course that can improve your mental game of golf.
Fact is, the mental game of golf could essentially be called “the mental game of life”. How you are off the course (mentally), is reflected on it. i.e. how well you can focus, deal with stress and challenges, use techniques to be confident, etc. is the same whether you are playing golf or not. This is why you can work on these skills as you go about your daily life and at the same time, improve your mental game of golf.
I’m always trying to find ways to improve my overall well being and productivity and here are 7 of them I’ve found to be very effective during my days.
Habit 1: Make Your Bed
How you’ll improve your mental game of golf: self-discipline, keeping a sense of order
What you do as soon as you wake up can affect the success of the entire day.
When the pandemic started in March 2020 and most people had to start working remotely, many were enjoying the prospect of being able to work in their pajamas and not have to do all the things that we normally do to start our days, like making our beds. Hopefully for them that got old quickly.
It may seem trivial but doing small things like making your bed, getting dressed and brushing your teeth as soon as you wake up gives you a sense of order, accomplishment, discipline and self-mastery. It sets a positive tone for the day.
Naval Admiral William McRaven, the commander of U.S. Special Operations said in a 2014 commencement speech at the University of Texas at Austin: “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another,” he said. “By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.”
Habit 2: Start your day with gratitude
How you’ll improve your mental game of golf: overall sense of wellbeing, positivity and optimism
Instead of reaching for your phone and skimming through your messages and social media pages and setting the tone for another day full of distractions, spend time being grateful. Think of 3 things that you are grateful for in your life.
I sometimes do a 20 min gratitude walk first thing in the morning, and “meditate” on all the things I’m grateful for.
Research suggests that being more grateful leads to better physical and mental health and lower anxiety and stress. There’s a greater sense of satisfaction and well-being in a more grateful person. Furthermore, gratitude is like a muscle and if practiced regularly, it gets stronger and stronger. Do it first thing and at the end of the day.
Habit 3: Meditate
How you’ll improve your mental game of golf: Focus, being present, reducing stress
Meditation is a practice that dates back thousands of years and has recently become a popular stress management technique. This one is well worth the 10-20 mins spent.
In today’s world of constant distractions (the average person checks their mobile device over 50 times a day) our powers of concentration are diminishing and our minds are always busy and sometimes anxious. By meditating for 10 minutes per day, you’ll reduce stress, improve your focus and your ability to deal with pressure. I personally use the Calm App, but Headspace and Sam Harris are good options.
Habit 4: Have an intention for the day
Mental skills you’ll work on: changing behaviors, thought patterns
How are you going to show up today? Change starts with creating intention and having awareness. What are the values that are most important to you that you would like to uphold? Decide on the characteristics of the person/player you want to be today and write them down. Thinking of it another way: “What can I do today to make myself feel proud at the end of the day?”
Visualization can be a powerful way to create change. Visualize yourself being the person you want to be.
Habit 5: Do something difficult
Mental skills you’ll work on: mental toughness and building confidence for golf
“Every day do something that makes you uncomfortable.” ~ David Goggins
Becoming your best and growing everyday is going to require being out of your comfort zone regularly and doing difficult things. Fortunately, “being more comfortable being uncomfortable” is something that can be practiced daily. Former Navy Seal and Ultra Marathon runner David Goggins calls it “callusing your mind”. I.e. Every time you do something that makes you feel uncomfortable and you find a way to push through it, you toughen your mind. The voices of doubt will be ever-present when you are on the path to your best, so you will need to practice overcoming them. A lot of people do this by working out in more challenging ways, but it could be anything that makes you feel uncomfortable like waking up earlier, speaking up in a group situation or leaving your phone at home.
Confidence is knowing that you can do difficult things. By doing something difficult everyday you’ll build confidence, mental toughness and take small steps to overcoming your fears every day.
Habit 6: Reflect and prepare
Mental skills you’ll work on: positive reinforcement, learning from experiences, being prepared
Reflect on the day, ideally by writing in a journal. Were you the person you wanted to be? Look back at your intentions you wrote down at the beginning of the day and honestly reflect on whether you were the person you set out to be.
Like in the post round review which I have my students fill out, as yourself: What were my successes, what am I grateful for and what did I learn? What will I do better tomorrow?
Make the next day more productive by taking some of the decision making out of the morning. Decide on what you are going to wear, determine your schedule and what you will get done. Schedule your day in blocks and plan to do nothing else but the scheduled task in those blocks, to improve your efficiency and powers of focus.
Habit 7: Early to bed and early to rise
How you’ll improve your mental game of golf: recovery, focus, mood, overall health
The importance of getting 7-8 hours of sleep cannot be underestimated. Get into the habit of putting your phone away at least an hour before bed. I leave my phone downstairs and I have an old fashioned alarm clock to wake me up. This means I have no temptation to look at my phone before going to sleep and it’s not the first thing I do in the morning (which many people do). Whenever you are on your phone, you leave yourself exposed to any number of external interferences that can disturb your emotions. You don’t know what will be in your social media and news feeds or messages and how it will make you feel. Use the time before bed to calm your mind. All of the most successful people rise early and make time for a daily morning routine that includes many of the habits above.