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Winning the Mind Game
Dr Karl Morris

Rather than busy your mind with so-called ‘positive thoughts’ about what you hope to do (in the future), a ‘quiet’, neutral mindset based on the‘here’ and ‘now’ is proven to be the most effective way of allowing peak performance to flow

Other features by Dr Karl Morris

Adam Scott: Did he blow The Open or not?
Winning the Mind Game
Big tournaments, and the ‘mind traps’ we fall into
The Power of Perspective
Major Minds - Focus and Concentration techniques
A Lesson in Learning - Methods of Learning
Feeling the Heat - Choking and how to beat it
Comfort Trap - What's holding you back
Memories - and how they affect your golf
Is 'perfection' ruining your game?
Is someone else playing your golf ball?

In recent years I have found it interesting to observe a discernible movement towards ‘positive thinking’ as being the be-all and end-all solution to the multifaceted challenge of becoming a better golfer. Sure, for some it works fine, and yet as we work our way through this article I think you might be surprised to find an alternative way of thinking that could make a significant difference to your game.

How do you approach the game? What is central to your beliefs about how the game should be played? What drives your behaviour?

‘Come on, be positive. You can make it happen with the power of the mind’.

Does that sort of coaching sound familiar? ‘Just believe in yourself and it will happen’.

The problem with ‘positive thinking’ is it is just that: more and more thinking. You get to
the point where your mind is incredibly busy with all of these positive thoughts.
‘It’s all about BELIEF’.

Have you tried that approach? I think one of the most destructive elements of the ‘self help’ movement is the implied suggestion that things are ‘all in the mind’. You just need to get into the right frame of mind and will things to happen. In other words, if you are tuned into the right channel, then you can literally make things happen with the ‘strength’ of your mind.

Well, it’s a good story, it sells lots of books, seminars and business courses but, unfortunately, for most people it has little or no real impact.

Generally, all you get as a result of this type of encouragement is a short span of what I call ‘false confidence’ whereby you hype yourself up with all the positivity you can muster. Unfortunately, when the results from the outside (i.e. real) world do not match up to this oh-so-positive vision you are left searching for answers. Where do you go from there?

For most people, the only option then is a terrible downward spiral of negativity. Or, to put it another way, they get negative about trying to be positive!

The problem with ‘positive thinking’ is it is just that: more and more thinking. You get to the point where your mind is incredibly busy with all of these positive thoughts. And yet, here’s the thing: think about the last time you played your very best golf...was it down to more or less thinking? Interesting, isn’t it.

Over and over again, when I have quizzed some of the world’s finest golfers about their very best performances, the distinct pattern that emerges is one of a quiet or calm mind, as opposed to a mind drowning in thinking.

This was brought home to me again recently after speaking to Michael Hoey, a client of mine and the winner of the Dunhill Links Championship. Under extreme pressure from Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen (both major champions – and Mind Factor clients!), Michael played a terrific last round at St Andrews and he described afterwards the sensation of a ‘still mind’, which he believes allows him to get the best out of himself in just such a circumstance.


The other problem with positive thinking is that it often takes you into the future – which is the very place even the most basic of psychology courses would tell us not to be. For example, if you stand on the 1st tee and tell yourself the ball is going down the middle of the fairway, or try to convince yourself over and over again that ‘this is going to be your day’, your mind is fixed on the future.

So you could argue that positive thinking is really nothing other than a projection of what we anticipate (hope) the future to be. And if the future doesn’t turn out as we have imagined, then what? Well, usually on a destructive path of negative thinking, which in many cases will involve making the other cardinal sin: going into the PAST.

‘I’ve just missed all of these six footers, so there is no way that I can hole ANYTHING!’

As we jump from one time zone to another, from future to past, the mind just gets busier and actually robs us of the very time frame we need, which is the PRESENT MOMENT.

Do not underestimate the skill levels required to be in the present moment. For me, the key to being in the moment and being present to your experience will never be found by pumping yourself up with false positivity. The solution, I am certain, is to embrace the concept of neutral thinking.

The art and science of neutral thinking has at its roots in something so profoundly important. Neutral thinking deals with the TRUTH and it deals with the HERE and NOW. It isn’t a projection of what should be happening or what could be happening. Neutral thinking has the effect of quietening the mind and allowing the wisdom of the body to take over.

The big problem with ‘positive thinking’, as applied to golf, can be examined on a single six foot putt!

Picture the scene as you are standing over a six footer:

• You tell yourself you are DEFINITELY going to hole it!
• You are certain that it will go in!
• Your stroke is great
• You pick the right line
• Send the ball on its way…
• Now, does the ball DEFINITELY go in?

Oh, big problem! It doesn’t definitely go in. So, what has all of the positive thinking been? A lie! And how does the mind feel when it is being lied to?

So, with all that positivity, where do you stand now?

Probably on the edge of a downward spiral of negativity.

Which, again, if we look at the same six foot putt.

• You have missed everything all day.
• Your stroke feels terrible.
• You are not even sure of the line.
• You send the ball on its way….
• Now, does the ball definitely MISS?

Of course not, so by the same measure all of the negative thinking is ALSO a lie!

Can you see the insanity of it all?

Some people they spend their entire golfing life oscillating from one position to the other with the mind busy trying to fight off the negativity with a bunch of positives. Unfortunately, it just DOESN’T work.

How do you get good at neutral thinking?

Well, first of all you need to get good at recognising when you are out of neutral and the triggers which cause you to push the destructive buttons. Many of the players that I have worked with over the years have recognized this destructive cycle yet we ALL need to work hard to get ourselves out of old and ingrained poor thinking habits. So much of our thinking and behaviour is unconscious and habitual; we just do not know we are doing certain things.

If you video people making a speech or presentation in public, they are often horrified to hear words like ‘you know’ or ‘okay’ or ‘ahem’ repeated over and over again. They are stunned because the behaviour is out of normal awareness. Yet, when we do have evidence such as a video, then we can take steps to rectify the situation.

Begin to recognise when you are out of neutral by noticing how busy your mind is making both PREDICTIONS and FORECASTS. One of the most damaging mental errors is that of future forecasting and, as you will come to understand, the society which we live in, is CONSTANTLY programming us to become forecasters.

• Will the housing market go up or down?
• What is the weather going to be like during the summer?
• Who will win the premiership or the cup?
• Is the economy going to go back into recession?

Just begin to think how many people earn their living by getting us to go into the future and forecast what we think is going to happen. It’s rife in sport. If you look at any big sporting occasion that is broadcast on TV, you can bet your life half of the programme before the event actually starts is an exercise in prediction.

I call this the FORECAST CLUB!

Are you a member of the Forecast Club?

You can only be a member of the Forecast Club if you spend most of your time predicting what you think the future is going to be like.

Now, like any club, you have to weigh up the pro’s and con’s of being a member of this club.

Consider if you were a member of a golf club that changed its rules and brought in a motion which only allowed you to play on a Wednesday and a Friday morning with all other times restricted. You work for a living and suddenly you don’t get to play golf anymore! If you had any sense, you would resign with immediate effect and go and join a club that was better suited to your needs.

I would suspect in a lot of businesses you would actually need to be a fully paid up member of the Forecast Club. It is imperative in certain areas of your life that you have the ability to look somewhat into the future and begin to make an educated prediction of the way certain parts of your business will need to be run.

Yet, for your golf, the Forecast Club is absolutely crippling. In the sense that when you begin to predict what is going to happen today or tomorrow on the course, you are likely to create a very agitated frame of mind. You will NOT be in NEUTRAL.

Even if your prediction is on the positive side, you can still be setting yourself up for a less than fulfilling experience. For example, if I say I think I can shoot 4 under par, scoring a 68 and then, after 9 holes, I am 6 under par or six under my handicap, how much will my prediction or forecast come back to haunt me as my brain seeks to fulfil its prophecy?

If there is one massively apparent ingredient regarding golf I have come to understand, it is this:

• That we really have NO idea what is actually going to happen out on the golf course.
• What happened yesterday will have little or no bearing on what happens today. Good or bad!
• The only thing we really know is WE DON’T KNOW.

As obvious and as elementary as this may sound, how much freedom would we feel if we could just LET GO of the forecasting and each day re-affirm we just don’t know!

The problem with the Forecast Club is the mind is constantly placed into a state of anxiety as we cling to our hope or desperation regarding our predictions.

How much time have you spent in the Forecast Club?

Are you ready to resign from the Forecast Club or do you think that your membership is giving you good value for money?

Now, if we resign from one club, we need to look at joining another to fulfill our needs.

I am going to suggest you consider membership to a very exclusive and highly desirable club.

It is a club with very few members, primarily because few people even know of its existence!

The club is known simply as the ‘LET’S SEE WHAT HAPPENS’ Club.

It is very different from the Forecast Club in the sense it is based in the here and now as opposed to some virtual reality. ‘Let’s see what happens’ operates on the principle of NO PREDICTIONS as applied to your golf.

Be very careful with membership of this club because some people will not like the fact you have joined. In particular, the media would find the news you had joined this club absolutely infuriating because the Let’s See What Happens Club would make it really difficult for them to come up with a story based on NO PREDICTIONS.

To join this club involves certain basic rules:

• You accept the outcome of ANY day on the golf course has not be pre-determined or decided.
• You accept what happened yesterday has no bearing on today GOOD or BAD
• You accept the PAST does not have to influence the FUTURE
• You put together a plan for what YOU are going to do today.

How would your golfing life be different if you firmly committed your allegiance to this club?

My experience with golfers is that when they embrace the concept of NEUTRAL THINKING then they begin to PLAY golf with a much quieter mind and they begin to experience golf that is more consiste

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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