The starter calls your name and it is time to tee it up. This is show time. It is about performance, not learning. We have already mentioned learning on the range and during practice. Of course we will learn while we are performing, but the brain operates differently for performance compared to learning. Research has used brain and heart pattern recordings to focus on three separate areas: motor learning, motor control and motor development. These patterns show what happens when we learn motion, how we perform motion under a variety of conditions once the skill is learned, and how learning and performance change over time from young children to elderly adults.

The preparation for performance begins much earlier than show time. To have an awareness of the preparation is key to setting ourselves up for success and happiness. The parking lot is a good place to start imagining the game you will play today in golf. Take time to consciously breathe deeply and see/feel exactly the success you are imaging for yourself in this game or on this day.

We get what we anticipate, what we think we deserve in golf. How can that happen? The answer lies in how the brain organizes information and how it retrieves that information, so called memories. Golf has motor memories of a precise firing of thousands of neurons in finely tuned bursts and waves of energy moving through us faster than neurons can fire. It’s a “chain” of behavior of muscles moving, body turning, and expressions of pleasure when the club head connects with the ball exactly as we intended and the ball goes precisely where we intended and anticipated. The feelings in our mind/body during all this are not observable like behavior is, but nevertheless our emotions are shaping everything from the beginning of the ideal intended swing to its end when we watch and respond to where the ball lands.

Just like information about the price of something in the market is determined by the barcode, the proper brain and muscle code for the ideal version of any golf swing one can make is encoded by, not a series of lines and spaces, but a unique vibration elicited by many molecules of emotion.

A massive amount of behavioral science shows that what makes a behavior strong and readily repeatable is not reward but the anticipation of reward. This is not surprising when you realize that brain mapping of molecules of emotion reveals them to be ubiquitously intertwined and interconnected  even with the parts of the brain that are supposed to be “purely logical”. You can’t have a thought that is purely logical, e.g. adding a list of numbers in your head, without first entering that wet “logic board” in your brain via emotionally coded information. 

Our brains secrete endorphins the feel good molecules which are the brain’s own morphine whether it is getting rewarded for a behavior or thinks it is about to be rewarded! When you anticipate success however you define it, you are setting your neurochemistry up to anticipate pleasure and reward. It is very difficult for people to learn under the threat of punishment. Learning—and the retrieval of that learning during a performance—is most effective if it is motivated by the anticipation of endorphin-flowing, great behavior (Pert, 2013).

We have a choice of being guided by anticipated reward or fear-anticipation of punishment. The first attitude can be called “challenge”, an attitude that says it may be tough going here but “I CAN DO THIS”. The second attitude is one that can be called threat, where your mind is chattering “What can go wrong?”

Anticipated reward versus anticipated punishment translates into challenge versus threat which translates into success versus failure in golf. The system moves toward anticipated reward. When fear sets in we move into loss aversion and resort to our old patterns that are stored in our subconscious mind. Fear is an ancient pattern that promoted survival and hence survived in our brains from reptiles —that ancient brain component remains in the back of our own head, the hindbrain whose powerful motivational patterns seldom reach consciousness! The subconscious mind is the one that is designed to keep us safe and protect us. It can sabotage us so we revert to old known patterns that have their source in fear, usually from a long forgotten event in our lives that had a powerful conditioning effect.

By contrast, the motivation of reward coming, the anticipation of pleasure, is very new in evolution and even more powerful. It involves an appreciation of the future and the ability to plan. It comes from the part of our brain which is so new that even chimpanzees don’t have it: that great big prefrontal cortex behind our brow. It is the source of love, the antidote to fear. The human brain evolved to repress fear and make long-term sacrifices for a pleasurable future. People can make conscious choices guided by the anticipation of deferred pleasure. People can plan for the future and program their brains to expect success rather than cower in the fear of what can go wrong. Our big prefrontal and frontal cortices allow us to choose and plan. Plan and choose. This is another way to say we can train ourselves to anticipate success. The rest of our brain and spinal cord are designed to somewhat automatically give us what we expect so the task in golf and life is to train ourselves to anticipate success.

Golfers and non-golfers who have been brought up on fear have the ability to switch to anticipated reward.  Experience with tour players has shown that anticipated fear wears out after a while. Like an addiction, the fear has to increase to have the same effect and eventually it doesn’t work at all. However, there is no limit to anticipated reward.  Players brought up on anticipated fear that switched to anticipated reward were not able to go back to fear and perform well. In other words, now they only play well with anticipated reward and fear no longer works.

Think positive! Accentuate the positive! Eliminate the negative! Positive thinking and optimism have been shown to be defining traits of tournament golfers. Success can be defined by the performer – we are not all going to be playing the US Open. Some golfers feel more successful if they swing the club the way they choose (feel good, process) and other golfers define success by score (numbers, outcome).The feelings of love of what we are doing and joy in the game are the source of success. Bliss is hard-wired in the brain with feel good endorphins mediating learning and pleasure more and more as we climb the evolutionary ladder.

Although we must be aware that the outside world defines success in golf by the numbers and does not care how we get them, the scientific truth is good scores come from anticipating success. We are highly rewarded for the numbers we produce.

Clearly in golf we can ask for both good numbers and pleasure and then we are more likely to get both. It is our intention that brings to consciousness what we really want out of golf. The prefrontal cortex is involved in setting our intention.

So our intention, focus of attention and emotions are now in the motor cortex, just behind it, and this area of the brain allows us to make our moves. Now we translated our intention into energy and into motion. Anticipate success for the sheer joy of it! The love of the game and its challenge instantly transports us into a successful state of mind.

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