|In this article Jayne Storey explains how you can achieve a ‘quiet mind’ and access ‘the zone’’ or flow-state of relaxed concentration, conducive to superior playing abilities, especially during competition.
Do you remember the last time you hit the perfect shot? Of course you do. I’m sure you know which course, hole and club you were playing at the time and have re-lived it countless times since in your imagination.
What if you could pin-point exactly the elements that came together during your pre-shot routine, set-up and throughout the shot itself to deliver such precision contact with the ball for a cracking shot that took your breath away?
And what if I told you that since you’ve already had the experience of nailing the perfect shot once or ten dozen times in your golfing life, then you have it well within your capabilities to repeat the thrill of it next time you play, indeed…the next time you set-up to the ball?
Let’s examine the experience more closely.
All the golfers I’ve questioned about their experience of hitting it pure describe similar feelings such as being relaxed, not trying too hard, not really thinking of anything in particular, increased confidence levels, having plenty of time and enjoying a sense of effortlessness.
Not a single golfer, when relaying their experience of the perfect shot, talks about swing mechanics or says they were focused on or thinking about technique – they only remember the feelings of effortlessness, confidence, and enjoying a mind free of mental interference.
Bobby Jones once said that when he played good golf he thought very little but when he played exceptional golf he didn’t think at all…and athletes from sports as varied as golf, baseball, tennis and swimming all report an inner silence just before the perfect swing, strike, serve, dive etc.
Now we’re getting into the crux of the matter…could it be that the secret to playing golf “in the zone” actually lies in the moments BEFORE you take your swing? Yes, absolutely…and here’s why.
In golf and other sports we are obsessed with action, movement, motion - the golf swing, the tennis serve…but time and time again research shows that the athlete with the quiet mind, the athlete who can hold the silence in the gap that precedes motion, is the one who’ll perform a fluid, powerful and effortless shot.
Bringing mind and body together before serving helped Venus Williams become a champion. You can use the same ‘gap’ before your swing to help produce a fluid, powerful and effortless shot.
So what needs to be paid attention to in the gap and how can you use it to produce a winning shot? Well, if we go back to what we know about how golfers feel when they hit it pure (relaxed, confident, mind free of interference) and you replicate these feelings during your pre-shot routine, set-up and swing – chances are you’ll create the right conditions for both the zone and the perfect shot to manifest.
All motion originates in the mind with your swing being a by-product of the relationship between your mind and body before you take your shot. Moreover, research shows a direct correlation between peak performance and the ability to relax.
Counter-intuitive as it may seem, the more you try to execute the perfect swing or putt, the less able your body is to produce a fluid motion. The science behind this is simple. When you over-think, the pre-frontal cortex captures and analyses the signal, interrupting the flow of time by holding up the signals to your motor-system thus making your efforts clumsy. This is why golfers who may excel on the practice range and who intellectually understand the fundamentals of good technique often fail to perform their best around the course, particularly in competition.
Mind the Gap
If we deconstruct the experience of “the zone”, we see that the state of relaxed readiness without over-trying or over-thinking, allows you to commit to the shot with confidence and the feeling of effortlessness all golfers mention when describing their experience of hitting it pure.
So, where’s the blueprint for this “in the zone” ability? Well, think of the Eastern approach, (commonly known as Zen) in which practitioners exhibit a quality of mindfulness before the sword or bow and arrow is drawn, before the punch is thrown.
Now imagine a more Zen approach to your own golf, not just as a philosophy or something you read once in a book on the mental game, but as a series of internal actions you perform before you swing to get centred, quieten your mind and relax your body – just as the karate or kung-fu expert pause to gather mind and body before action.
Being in the Moment
“One shot at a time, one hole at a time, one breath at a time” is a mantra ringing in the ears of the golfers I’ve worked with as I seek to emphasize the importance of being “in the now” - retaining the attitude of quiet concentration and a neutral emotional state.
This quality of mindfulness can and should be applied each time you prepare yourself to take a shot, as it is the relationship between your mind and body in the gap that precedes motion that determines the quality and outcome of your swing.
Psychologists have identified the “now” experience as being approximately 12 seconds long, that’s 12 seconds in which you can focus completely on the present, giving your undivided attention to the task in hand. It’s made for golfers really, isn’t it? 10 seconds to bring mind and body together at address and 2 seconds to execute the perfect swing…let’s do that together right now.
Zen Mind – Golf Mind
Focus on your breathing while walking to the first tee to keep your inner voice quiet. As you go through your pre-shot routine, focusing on your breathing will keep your emotions neutral.
At address, pause for 10 seconds and apply the following chi-power GOLF principles to your set-up (see previous article on Tai Chi and Golf Biomechanics for more details):
Exhale fully and empty your chest, which will encourage you to sink your weight into your footprints. Simultaneously, drop your awareness to your navel area (centre of gravity) to encourage a further lowering of your centre of gravity for increased balance and athleticism at address.
Notice that as you focus on your body and breathing your internal dialogue ceases and your mind becomes quiet as a result.
Now take your Zen approach into your swing with the following tip from the martial arts which helps deliver at least 20% more energy through the target. Simply inhale as you take the club away slowly…then breathe out as you hit down from the top and through the ball.
Breathing-in to the top of your backswing and breathing-out through impact and to your finish position will stop all those technical thoughts and help you pack more punch in your swing.
If you can discipline your mind and body to master the 12 second gap before each swing or putt, you’ll play a more consistent game and deliver more cracking golf shots.
For more information about courses and seminars Jayne runs, see www.chipowergolf.com.