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  • Writer's pictureBen Carnes

Controlling that little voice in the back of your mind on the golf course.

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

A quick search on Google for "how many thoughts does the average human have during the day?" will return quite a range of answers. Researches range from 30,000-70,000 per day, which comes out somewhere in the range of 20-48 thoughts per minute. Any way you look at it, that is many thoughts. It is not a question of if that little voice in the back of your mind will be whispering small and subtle thoughts; instead, what is it going to say? Walking up to a putt thinking to yourself, "there is no way I am going to make this" or even "I'm not sure I can make this" isn't going to help your confidence or improve your chances of making the putt. So what do we do about it? Here are some ways to take back control of your mind on the golf course when that little voice of doubt starts whispering to you.

Control Your Mind Golfing
Self-talk on the golf course

Just Don't Think About It - Let's start with what not to do. Telling someone not to think about it doesn't work. This phenomenon is called the ironic process theory and was first studied by Daniel Wegner in the late 1980s. Wegner found that when we "try not to think of something, one part of our mind does avoid the forbidden thought, but another part 'checks in' every so often to make sure the thought is not coming up—therefore, ironically, bringing it to mind." So if you have ever tried to quit thinking about something on the golf course, maybe a past mistake or what the last bogey might do to your final score, don't feel bad if you weren't able to put it out of your mind by just not thinking about it. We need to instead focus on something else.

Rephrase The Situations - If there is a specific part of your game that causes the little voice in the back of your mind to start rattling off reasons you are not going to be successful, you can rephrase the situation. For example, if hitting into a sand trap causes you to say things

like, "well, I'm going to bogey this hole," come up with a plan ahead of time to rephrase the situation. Having something ready like, "get ready to be amazed" can remind you of all the extra work you have put into your sand game and focus on the reasons you have to be confident rather than doubt yourself. Not only will this help minimize the damage of a bad shot, but it will help you stay positive on the course rather than starting down a path of negativity that can often turn one bad shot into three or four.

Replace The Thought - Sometimes, you can't prepare for every situation or have a prepared plan to rephrase something crazy that happens. This is where having something you can always "go-to" can be helpful. We call this having a go-to statement that will help you talk positively to yourself rather than listening to that voice in the back of your mind. The first part is something that you know is an excellent source of confidence in your game. Something like how hard you work, your grit, the time you put in, your commitment to learn and grow no matter the outcome, etc. The second is something you are working towards but have not achieved yet, maybe "I am the best golfer in the state." If you were to say that last part to yourself, often the part of our brain that wants to fix things would throw it out and say, "no, you're not." But, when you pair that up with the first part and say, "I put in the time, I put in the work, I'm the best golfer in the state," all of a sudden, your brain can't throw out the entire thing. At least not if you have put in a lot of time and work into your game.

Practice It - I was at a state championship tournament with a team I had been working with and overheard a conversation between the head coach and a young golfer that paints a perfect picture of why you have to practice these tools. The young man had just bumped up to the varsity squad after some bad choices that seniors had made off the course and was anxious and quite nervous on the first tee. His coach asked him, "what was your statement that you came up with when we had Coach Carnes come in?" To which he stammered, "Ummm, oh yeah, that statement thing. I don't remember, really." We did this activity in a sports psychology class I took while getting my master's, and the professor recommended we repeat our statement 50 times per day. While that seemed like an absurd number to me, committing something like this to your mind takes time. It isn't something you can pull out of a hat one day on the course, and "poof" things are magically better. So if you are going to put these tools to work on the golf course, I would encourage you to write it down, get it in front of you, and say it to yourself multiple times per day.

Quick Review

  • Thoughts will swirl around in your mind on the golf course

  • You can't "not think about them"

  • You can rephrase the situation

  • You can replace those thoughts with a go-to statement

  • You need to practice your self talk while off the course

Action Plan

  1. What situations get your self-talk off track? How are you going to rephrase those situations?

  2. Do you have a go-to statement? After you create it be sure to post it where you can see it.

  3. Find some time before your next round to visualize walking up to a ball after a bad shot and practice using your positive self-talk.

Our next article will take a look at the physical effects of pressure that you feel on the golf course and how you can take back control of your body.

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