Create your pictures, sounds, feels in life. The body has an amazing ability to create new cells, new pathways and new connections even into old age. Awareness is the property of the whole organism: the mind, the body and emotions. Great performance (including the “ZONE”) in golf is defined as a state of heightened sensory awareness. This includes every sensory system we have: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory, gustatory, and most importantly our 6th sense: intuition.

Awareness and our sensory systems are used to form images. The ability to image is one of the most powerful techniques in golf and life. Imagery is creating or recreating an experience in your mind. Imagining what we would like to have happen can incorporate all of our senses, and the more senses we use the better we can program ourselves to perform. If we can imagine the performance, whether it’s a special project, a speaking engagement or a blind date, we can create it. If we can’t imagine it, it will be difficult to experience or perform. A suggestion would be to pick another shot or travel a different way. There are so many roads that lead to the same destination: just look at any map or GPS for variances on the fastest route, the number of highways or scenic routes. If our system can’t see, hear or feel the path, it will have a very hard time programming it.

On good days the images easily appear from our mind/body. These are the days when everything is flowing in our life. On challenging days the images may be blurred or non-existent. On those days we can draw and create the image consciously (intention).

When the line for the putt doesn’t appear, draw or paint it using your mind. Get the blueprint out! The brain will now have a template to start with and it is very good at adjusting, from a subconscious level, to get the ball in the hole. What is important is to include the intention of getting the ball in the hole. Programming and sensing the endpoint of the project or hole will help create the blueprint. One collegiate player claimed that she would plan a right to left break into the cup and when she looked up her ball rolled left to right, right into the cup! 

The plan or image created is critical for creating the motion. However, the subconscious mind has say in the matter since it is swinging the club. The subconscious mind has access to far more information, emotion and feel than the conscious mind. So if the subconscious senses the ball will fly or roll better from the other side of the cup or stick than our original plan, it will create the modified plan as long as the goal includes the cup or flagstick in the shot. The subconscious is amazing!

A golf study testing imagery with 10 US Open female golfers showed the same patterns of activity in the brain when golfers imaged the 20 putts compared to actually putting the same 20 putts. The only difference was the intensity of the activity which was higher when actually putting. So imagery is creating active brain patterns for performance. As soon we walk on the green or tee, the emotions and mind/body are programming the motion.

Brain patterns of 12 US open players while putting (top left) and imaging (bottom right) the same 12ft putts into the hole. The pattern is the same but the intensity is higher for actual putting compared to imaging.

Researchers have attempted to explain the mechanisms by which imagery works. Perhaps the most well accepted theory comes from Jeannerod (1995). As the brain creates the image of the experience, there is “leakage” that travels to the muscles and prepares them for the performance. Imagery can be internal (seeing from the inside out) or external (like watching it on TV). When the images are more internal, vivid or controlled in real time using all our senses with positive emotion, we perform better. This is similar to turning on our favorite music and having a hard time sitting still.

Music is magic! It influences thoughts, feelings, emotions, motion, and every cell in our mind/body. Almost every golfer will tell the story of having a song stuck in their head for 18 holes and playing GREAT golf. Music is therapy for the golf course and life!

Imaging a negative outcome is detrimental to performance but neutral and positive images are equal in their effect on performance (Taylor & Shaw, 2002). So we don’t have to always see the ball go in the hole first, but we don’t want to see it missing. Imaging nervousness and negative thoughts followed by a positive outcome can improve performance (DeLaPena & Murray, 2007). Being honest with yourself may be more important than being positive as long as we follow it with a positive outcome thought/feel. We occasionally hit undesirable golf shots and when we admit that to ourselves, in a socially acceptable way (i.e. not yelling and throwing clubs) that “the shot was awful”, at least the conscious and subconscious are on the same page and we can move forward. If the conscious is saying “oh it’s ok, there are 15 holes left” and the subconscious is saying “that was the worst shot you hit in the past 3 months” the conscious and subconscious are having a disagreement. Once we get them both on the same page “not our best shot” we can move forward! The system always wants us to simply make a plan. The next statement to our undesirable shot is “so what are you going to do about it?” Now our system can operate with a plan!

What is most important is the last focus of attention (consciousness) right before the motion begins (i.e., putt, pitch, full swing). This is what is being programmed directly to the muscles. This we can regulate! The system self-regulates according to the image! If the last focus is the lake on the right or the out of bounds on the left, that is most likely where our ball is going. Or, if the conscious is focused on the lake on the right, our subconscious may come in with its great ability “to protect and save us” and duck hook the ball into the out of bounds on the left. Getting these two minds (conscious and subconscious) on the same page is worth winning in golf and life.

There are many potential uses of imagery in golf and life. Vision boards are made for this very reason. Having a picture of our future intentions in life will create the pathways to get there. This occurs with the ball in golf. A clear image (see, feel, sense) of the ball flying to the target programs the motion to create the outcome. Best performers use metaphors as well to create images that elicit best performance and happiness. If we can make it “be something” to us then we can do something with it. Instead of dragging that undesirable shot around with us for the rest of the 18 holes, perhaps we could park it in the trees and go on with our round. The mind/body will understand this action and let go of the event.

Another option is to incorporate the image of the swing that will be used to send the ball to the target. Imaging recovery from poor shots can facilitate resilience on the golf course. It is not necessary to image the missed shot, only the recovery. Imagery is used to enhance psychological skills such as focus, confidence, and emotional self-regulation. We also use imagery to help us recover from injury. It allows us to (a) stay in the game when we can’t physically practice, and (b) heal ourselves. If we can heal our self in life, we can certainly heal ourselves on the golf course.

Lastly, a very important use of imagery is the image of our self. Once this image is defined we can choose images we would like to work towards and practice being that person in our mind. Kids are GREAT at this! They can imagine being Phil Mickelson and winning the British Open on the 18th hole with no problem. I have had golfers who swing great when they imagine being any player but themselves. One senior tour player had the “yips” (uncontrollable jerking or spasm) while starting his full swing. He froze at the beginning of the swing and may have taken 4-8s to start the swing, even in practice. However, as soon as he imagined using Annika Sorenstam’s swing (that he loved), he hit the ball fine with no hesitation.

In life we use the term “fake it until you make it” which implies the same concept. From where I am today I may not see/feel myself winning a tournament or getting a promotion but I don’t have to say when or how it will happen. If I can start assuming it will happen when it is my time and act as if I have achieved it, it is more likely to come by the Law of Attraction. This works by wiring the correct paths in the brain to achieve what we desire.

Every shot in golf is created no matter how much we have practiced. We have one chance to hit the ball to the target under these conditions and the way we feel today, and we will never have the same opportunity again. Live this moment! Instead of thinking repeat (same old swing) and execute (cutting off the head), it would be advantageous to engage the right hemisphere in the process and create a great shot, round, or day! “Create” engages the right (creative) hemisphere and balances out the brain since we are usually left (logical) hemisphere-dominant as adults. It is the synchrony or coherence between the two hemispheres (mind/brain) that allows us to be synchronous in our swing (subconscious/body) and perform our best.

When golfers finish school and start playing mini tours they often put all their eggs (balls) in one basket (golf) and often perform worse. Some may have a good start due to the reduced stress of school and golf, but it often catches up with them. Without balance of other activities in life, it is challenging to perform well day after day. Adding balance (hobbies, sports, classes, relationships, etc.) solves the problem of players “becoming” their game because life should come before golf no matter how dedicated we are to the game.

In life we perform best and exude happiness when we are in balance. The older we get the more important balance is in our life. As we age the strategies we use to achieve success are likely to change, but we can still accomplish what we choose if we are open to doing it differently. The successful brain and heart patterns of older golfers actually reverse from their younger days. The mind/body figures it out!

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