Golf Psychology | Your First Controller

Golf Psychology Book Cover | Golf Tough
From Golf Tough by Dan Abrahams

You are in charge. You are the director. You get to dictate. You are in control.

When I say this I’m not talking about the golf swing. I don’t think anyone can ever have complete control of their swing. I don’t think anyone ever will. It’s too complex a motion. It is outside our human capabilities to determine an exact movement at any given time. A sound repetitive golf swing is important, but 100% consistency is a fairy-tale proposal.

I’m not talking about the ball either. The flight and positioning of that little white Titleist or Nike is subject to the subtle nuances of the course and the unsubtle hits of weather that can bombard fairway and green. A bounce here, a change of condition there – an environment that is out of your control is what confronts you on the first tee. 

The swing and the ball are out of our complete control. And yet we let these factors wind us up the most. A tight swing, and a lost ball – a poorly struck shot and a bad bounce. These are the things that get us mad on the course, yet we know, before we play any round, that we cannot guarantee perfect swings or to hit 100% of the fairways and greens in regulation.   

So, let me be clear – when I speak of control on the golf course I am talking about being in charge of something you can actually control. What precisely is that? The fact is – all you can control on the course is your performance script.

To give yourself the best chance of playing Golf Tough you have prepared thoroughly. You have taken time to think about, and come up with, the plays in your game face. You have plotted the course and you now have appropriate course strategies. You have also designed a routine that will help your brain to focus and your body to swing with certainty and confidence.

Your game face, your course strategies, and your brain’s routine, are in your golf bag and ready to go. These are the three things I want you to get right on the course. There can be no room for compromise – make every shot count. I want 89 not 90. I want 79 not 80. I want 69 not 70. This means you must tune into perfecting the plays in your game face. It requires the will to carry out your course strategies with pinpoint precision. And it entails a disciplined mind, attuned to every action, every motion and every thought that goes into your brain’s routine. No one can ever play perfect golf, but everyone can execute a perfect performance script.

Golf Tough doesn’t include an in-between. You are either in or you are out. As you will learn in this section of the book, Golf Tough can be compromised by the nature of your brain. We will work on ways to stay sensitive to your script and return to it if you get distracted. But, from the outset, strive to be stubborn with your Golf Tough approach. From the moment you step onto the practice ground or into the golf net to hit some warm up shots, your mind must be attuned to your performance script.

So now you need to know how you can take a firm hold of your performance script. Remember my message to you in the last chapter – think and do your game face as you compete. Think and do your course strategies as you compete. Think and do your brain’s routine as you compete. This is your objective on the golf course. This takes care of playing Golf Tough and ultimately slots you into a mindset and a competitive mentality that helps you shoot the very best score you possibly can. This section of the book will give you the tools to think and do! It’s been written to help you start to take control of you, irrespective of the challenge you face as your round commences.

You Controlling You

I’m not much of a gamer but I can see the attraction. Step into the world of Tiger Woods, or a U.S. Marine, or an all action hero ready to take on an alien nation invading earth, and let your imagination run wild – live a life less ordinary! Some of the mental side of golf is related to using your imagination, and I see the fun in exercising this mental muscle whilst getting lost in another world. The ability to take control of a sporting icon, a super human, or a figure from a planet far, far away can be liberating and invigorating.

And the emphasis must be on the word control. Gaming is about taking control of someone else or something else and guiding that character through the trials and challenges that are thrown at them. To reach the end unscathed or to win the trophy, your control has to be precise – a wrong direction, an unsure move, or a mistimed motion can send you back to the beginning or can hand the tournament to another victor.

Control in the world of gaming has changed over the years. For me, as a teenager, it used to be directed by a joystick. Today it’s by something called a controller. It’s no longer a clumsy ‘stick’ with an over-sized button. It’s sleek. It’s designed for speed. It’s designed for dexterity. It’s designed for hand, fingers, and brain to work in harmony for real time control.

Your golf mindset controllers are similar. They are built for speed. They can be applied in the moment. They are built for dexterity. They can be used in any golfing environment, on any course, in any country. They have followed you your whole life and you use them consciously and subconsciously every minute of every day. You carry them with you, always.

You have two controllers that you can use to execute and manage your performance script – your body language and your self-talk. These are the two directors you can use to help you play Golf Tough. You can use them to win!

And if it’s raw speed you are after – if an instant surge of adrenaline is required, or perhaps a subtle shift down towards relaxation is needed, there is an American psychology researcher who is showing the world how to use one of your controllers to optimise your performance. 

Your outcome, your score, is dictated by your ability to control yourself as you move from hole to hole.

The Story of Amy Cuddy

I’m unsure if Associate Professor Amy Cuddy enjoys a round of golf but I am sure she’d enjoy the impact her research can have on the game. She works at Harvard University and she is pioneering studies into nonverbal behaviour, hormonal change, and performance.

The premise of her work over the last few years has been simple. She has tried to bring scientific credibility to the old and worn idea that body language makes a difference to how we feel and subsequently impacts upon how we perform. Her story is inspiring and heart-warming and explains the motive behind her interest in the link between body language and performance.

Cuddy had been an intelligent and gifted student bound for a first class career in whatever profession tickled her intellectual fancy. But a terrible car crash at 19 years of age nearly put an end to her vocational ambitions. During the incident she was thrown from the car and woke up in a head injury rehabilitation ward. She was told her IQ had dropped considerably. She was withdrawn from college and informed that a university degree was unobtainable.

However, she refused to accept what others felt was fact. She decided to carry on at university and continued to work at her degree. Although it took her four years longer than her peers, her hard work (and bravery) paid off and she eventually graduated. Following her degree success she was accepted into Princeton as a postgraduate. But when she arrived at one of the world’s leading academic institutions she felt an imposter. She had to deliver talks and she had to participate in groups with exceptionally bright young people. She felt she was inferior, unable to work alongside extraordinary minds.

It was only when her mentor, Professor Susan Fiske, persuaded her to keep going that she decided to stay and stick with it. Professor Fiske suggested something simple – an elegant solution for her complex thoughts and feelings. She told Cuddy to ‘fake it’. She suggested that she should simply act with confidence at all times. She should act like she belonged at Princeton with all the other clever students. She told her to do every talk she was asked to do, but to do so in the most confident way she could. She told her to keep doing the presenting, the talks, and the group activities, no matter how terrified she was and no matter how lacking in confidence she was.

And so she did these things. And she kept doing them. Over five years she presented and presented and talked and talked. She did these activities with as much confidence as she could muster. And, over the course of the five years she spent at Princeton, she very slowly started to become exactly what she was striving to pretend to be at the beginning of her programme – a confident, self-assured student. She had become what she had faked.

Power Posing

Amy Cuddy is now an Associate Professor at Harvard University. Her life experience has led to a fascination with nonverbal behaviour, emotion, and power. Specifically, her research has targeted the effects body language has on hormonal change and subsequent performance effects. Her findings are dramatic, illuminating, and should have an impact on all our lives.

In her research Cuddy placed participants in a number of poses she labelled as ‘power poses’. To give you an idea of what they looked like, one was called ‘The Superman’ (picture Superman having just landed near a disaster situation, hands on hips, standing as tall as possible, chest pushed out – I think you get the picture!). Essentially she was asking people to fake dominance and to fake power.

Cuddy asked participants to hold these power poses for a couple of minutes and then she measured any hormonal changes that might have taken place over this short period. She discovered that by simply placing people into these powerful positions participants had an increase in testosterone levels and a decrease in the stress hormone, cortisol. Notably, the power poses also increased the participants’ appetite for taking risk. Cuddy demonstrated that our bodies can change how we think and how we feel through hormonal change. Our bodies can change our mind.

Cuddy furthered her research by showing that a change of body language and subsequent hormonal shifts can make a difference to performance. She had suspected that it was in evaluative situations where a difference would be seen most graphically. So she set about testing her theory and indeed found that those who went through a process of power poses before a job interview were more successful during the interview process than those who were asked to portray low status poses before an interview. She claimed that the difference between the two groups (low status and power pose) was that the power pose interviewees showed greater presence. They spoke passionately and confidently and they were more captivating and looked more comfortable.

What Cuddy has done through her use of scientific research is to demonstrate that using your body language can alter outcomes. She is careful to explain that whilst her project might have started out as a ‘fake it to make it’ study, results made it clear that the term ‘fake’ wasn’t accurate. Cuddy now describes the intentional use of body language as ‘be it to become it’.

In short, act powerfully, think powerfully and develop the potential to perform powerfully.

Mind follows body as much as body follows mind. To relax or to energise are states of body as much as states of mind.

The Mind Body Link

Let me be clear. I don’t think walking around like superman is going to help you reduce your handicap by five shots! It’s not going to help the scratch golfer win the US Open or British Open. Alone, it won’t promote the promising golfer to PGA Tour status.

But, taking control of how you hold yourself, how you walk and how you project yourself helps you take control of your performance script. I call this mind body link your body controller. It enables you to turn up the volume of your game face plays. It helps you emphasise certainty and focus as you walk through your brain’s routine. And it helps you commit to the course strategies you have laid out in the run up to your competition.

Your body controller emphasises an important two way process – where mind meets body and body meets mind. As much as your psychology affects the functioning of your body, so how you hold your body also affects your brain. This is something scientists call a positive feedback loop.

I want all my clients to take ownership of the loop between their mind and body. I want all my clients to use their body controller for every shot and between every shot. And this is the process I want you to utilise. I want you to use your body controller to find Golf Tough. I want you to use your body controller between putting green and first tee to inject yourself with a dash of confidence. I want you to stand tall on the first tee. I want you to walk to the ball holding yourself like Woods, like Mickelson, like Nicklaus. Never ever compromise with your body controller – have it switched on at all times.

On the golf course your body controller consists of four functions or buttons:

– How you hold yourself

– How you walk

– Your actions

– Your breathing pattern

You can choose to use these functions or press these buttons at any time, no matter the state of play, no matter the weather, no matter the course, no matter who you are playing and no matter the tournament you are competing in. If you make a bogey you can choose to hold yourself in a manner that befits confidence. If you miss a short putt you can choose to take some deep breaths. If a relaxed performance is your preferred mode of play you can choose to walk slowly between shots and holes.

If you want to swing with commitment you can choose to rip through the ball in a committed way. I want you to use these buttons on your body controller to take charge of your performance script. That is all you need to do to play Golf Tough and give yourself the very best chance to shoot a low score. And it starts with your controllers.

When, and how often, you use your body controller is determined by you. But you must take charge – you are responsible.

Controlling your Performance Script

The Plays in your Game Face

Take a little time to reflect on the plays in your game face. We’re going to use your body controller to work them. To illustrate how this is done let’s use an example. John, my client, has four plays in his game face:

– Tall and confident

– Commit at all times

– Walk slow and be patient

– Belief on the greens

If I was to accompany John onto the course I’d be asking him to use his body controller to ensure he carried out his plays. I’d ask John to stand tall and express confidence as often as possible. I’d want his body to project certainty. I’d want his body to exude confidence, even if he wasn’t feeling it. This isn’t fake. This is a decision. This is a way of being. As Amy Cuddy says, it’s not about faking it, it’s about becoming it. Using his body controller to stay ‘tall and confident’ before every shot and after every shot, before every hole and after every hole, is what I’d demand from John.

I’d like John to act with commitment as often as he felt it necessary. If he experienced a sensation akin to fear then I’d ask him to walk with commitment and hold himself with commitment. What do you think John might look like? It’s hard to articulate on paper but I’m sure you could demonstrate a committed walk or a committed posture if I asked you to. I’d also want John to swing with commitment, but we’ll cover this in a little more detail later.

John could also use his body controller to walk slow and stay patient. To walk slow he’d press his ‘walk’ button and to stay patient he could use the breathing function on his control panel. If he’s made a triple bogey down the fifth, after a solid start, taking a few deep breaths could calm his nervous system and relax his tensing body. Breathing lifts the red mist as it descends and clears the mind from the unwanted clutter and the mental baggage that comes with frustration.

Similarly, I’d like John to walk onto the greens with complete belief. To do this he might choose to incorporate being ‘tall and confident’. Or perhaps he might strive to hold himself in a relaxed manner. Maybe the sensation of belief for John is more towards a nonchalant state of mind, rather than portraying an aggressive and upbeat demeanour.

Remember, your game face is most meaningful to you, and you will have to use your body controller to evoke the personal feelings that underpin your plays. They are yours and no one else’s. 

Your Brain’s Routine

Your body controller is particularly useful in delivering impactful brain routines. You can use your body language – how you hold yourself, how you walk, your actions and your breathing pattern – to build confidence and pinpoint focus and subsequently hit consistent shots.

How you use your body controller in your routine is dependent on the steps you have put in place. You can use your body controller to:

– Take a deep breath to start your preparation routine (breathing pattern)

– Stand upright and act decisively as you go through your decision making process (how you hold yourself)

– Withdraw the club from your bag in a committed manner (your actions)

– Take free swings (your actions)

– Walk to the ball with confidence (how you walk)

– Get set up in an athletic position (how you hold yourself)

– Swing smoothly (your actions)

– Hold your finish no matter where it goes (how you hold yourself)

This is such a simple system to execute. Strive to keep fantastic body language throughout your routine no matter what. Use the different functions or buttons as you work through your routine to fuel your focus and confidence and to keep your brain happy. When you use your body controller to manage your game face, your strategies, and your brain’s routine you’ll put yourself in a mindset to swing at your best.

A Golf Tough golfer never lets himself down with his body language. He never lets the state of the course, or the quality of the opposition, determine his body movements. He owns his body controller. And when a golfer takes responsibility for his body he allows himself to take ownership of his performance script. In turn he plays Golf Tough. This state of mind and state of being gives him the best chance to shoot the score he feels he deserves.


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