Starting and “starting over” are very important skills for golf and life! Some people have trouble getting up in the morning and those same people probably have trouble getting going during the first 3-4 holes. Other people get somewhat board in the middle of the day or the middle holes on the course. Lastly, some people either limp into the finish line or alternatively sprint into the final 3 holes and perform their best. Knowing our patterns is the first important factor and changing them is another, if we choose to change them. We set the stage for every performance in golf and how we set the stage in the beginning is critical for creating the end result.

An effective technique to help players start fresh is to draw a line on the score card every 3 holes. This is to remind us to start again. No matter what the past has been, make a goal for the next 3 holes and start again. Ideally we would like to start again on every shot; however, when it is going well we can connect the dots (connect the momentum) and if it is not going well we want to disconnect the dots (break the momentum). The activity in the brain can easily get stuck in old patterns that may not work for us. Especially if we add negative emotion and increased adrenaline. In times of distress we are likely to resort to old patterns to save us. This is what the system knows and is comfortable with (subconscious mind). However, we will be more successful if we break the old patterns using our conscious mind fueled by emotions. Without emotions it is very hard to make a change and in fact it may even be impossible! Doing the same thing over and over is the definition of insanity. Choose sanity!

So how do we start? An important place to start is goal setting, or to simply to ask ourselves what we want. Setting goals channels our attention and motivates us to pursue our intentions. Conscious goals engage the subconscious to filter information and only let in goal-relevant information without overload. Motivation is our inherent desire to approach or avoid a situation based on reward or threat of that situation, cultivating either an “approach mindset” or an “avoid mindset”, defined by challenge or threat in the world of sport. If it is challenge we move toward the activity and if it is threat we move away from it.

An approach or avoid mindset influences the chemicals in the brain and the patterns of electrical activity (Vorhauser-Smith, 2011). It is the balance of chemicals in the brain that underlie motivation and the balance of brain activation that underlies attention and great performance in golf. An approach mindset releases dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (or chemical in the brain) that either increases or reduces the activity of neurons (nerve cells).

An “avoid” mindset releases serotonin. Serotonin is a naturally occurring chemical in the brain (a neurotransmitter) that is responsible, in part, for regulating brain functions such as mood, appetite, sleep, learning and memory. Stress causes the release of adrenaline (a hormone that is secreted by the adrenal medulla in response to stress and increases heart rate, blood pressure, blood levels of glucose and lipids) and cortisol (the stress hormone). Cortisol is a hormone released by the cortex (outer portion of the adrenal gland) when a person is under stress. Excessive stress causes the release of these chemicals in the body and we go into fight, flight, or freeze mode. Burnout results from excessive exposure to cortisol over a long period of time, defined as physical, psychological and emotional exhaustion. The treatment for burnout is time off and in golf we usually take a week off or perhaps a month off. In life we change our patterns in an attempt to reduce the stress of the outside and inside world. We take time off in any way we can: emotional breaks, thinking breaks, physical breaks, music breaks, etc.

The basal ganglia, (back lower part of the brain), stores all our experiences and allows us to run on automatic (Vorhauser-Smith, 2011). The prefrontal cortex (behind the forehead) holds information in working memory and conducts conscious processing. It allows us to deal with new complex issues. Anticipated reward engages the prefrontal cortex using dopamine and works with the limbic system. Threat shuts down the prefrontal cortex (conscious control) due to the release of stress hormones. Threat causes us to run old patterns for self-preservation. This is when our old swing patterns show up. Under stress the dominant response will be present.

Creating the day, round, shot in golf is the way to keep balance or synchrony in our system. “Create” lays the ground work for anticipated reward. We prefer to know what is coming in our day at work, or our important event, or where the ball is flying before we hit it. However, that would be predicting the future. It is that little percentage of the unknown in every shot and every day that keeps us focused and engaged in what we are doing and who we are being at every moment in time. It is very valuable!

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