It is important to understand that anxiety is a natural response. In situations of perceived threat, your brain instinctively releases adrenalin – the fight or flight hormone – named as such because it poises the body to fight or flee. This of course was a very appropriate response to perceived threat in cave man days. It is not, however, an appropriate response when you are standing waiting to hit your golf shot off the first tee box.
Nevertheless, this is our body’s natural instinctive response to perceived threat. So when you experience the symptoms of anxiety they are simply your body’s natural response to a perceived threat. Thus the cause of the anxiety is YOUR PERCEPTION of threat, and the symptoms are the physiological effects of adrenalin being released in your body.
You may consciously think yourself into being anxious, so that it is a self fulfilling prophesy. More frequently however, the thought process has become habitual and automatic, so that it just happens without you having to consciously think about it. This is how your mind works – you learn how to drive and once you are competent at driving you don’t have to think about how to do it, it just happens. It is the same with walking, talking, tying your shoelaces and opening doors.
This ability of your mind to generalize patterns of behavior is fantastic most of the time – so long as the skill which has been generalized is one that you want to have. But when your mind generalizes a pattern of behavior which is counter-productive, what you have is a learned, habitual, instinctive response that you really do not want. The great news, however, is that what has been learned can be unlearned.
You may have heard the saying that it is not what happens to you in life but the way in which you respond which distinguishes champions. And no matter what situation you are in you can learn to respond to it in a different way. Your thoughts create your emotions and your actions.
Here are some tips which will help you to think in a different way when you are on the first tee box.
1. Breathe to relax – Your mind and body are intrinsically linked. Mind works on body, body works on mind. It’s impossible for your mind to be tense and your body relaxed and vice versa. By relaxing your breathing you will automatically relax your mind. Breathe through your abdomen, not your chest. Five deep breaths will do the trick.
2. Always execute your pre shot routine. The reason for having a consistent pre-shot routine is to absorb your mind in the details of the task at hand, and in so doing any other not-so-productive thoughts are displaced. If you thought it unnecessary to have a set routine, think again.
3. Be in the “now”. You might think you are, but are your thoughts really on the present moment? A Stanford University study found that the average person has 60,000 thoughts a day, 59,500 of which are the same as the day before – indicating that it’s a really tiny percentage of time that people are really “in the now”. If you’re in the now, you can’t worry about past failures, you can’t worry about future outcomes.
4. Whatever you imagine you create. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between a vividly imagined experience and a real one. Imagine a few perfect shots, build up that muscle memory and then you’re more likely to hit a good golf shot on the first tee.
5. A picture is worth a thousand words. Where there is a conflict between your will power and your imagination, your imagination wins. To demonstrate this, try as hard as you can, right now, to NOT think about the ball going into the bunker. What are you thinking about? Your mind is exquisitely talented; the golf ball will go to whatever place on the course you are picturing…So picture the place where you want the ball to end up.
6. Learn to have selective memory. Turn a blind eye, put it to the back of your mind, and sweep it under the carpet. These phrases reflect another of the exquisite mental talents we all instinctively possess. Put the duff shots firmly to the back of your mind and instead remember the last time you hit a really perfect shot off the first tee and run it over and over in your mind so that it is very clear and sharp and stands out clearly in the forefront of your mind.
7. Focus on the golf shot you are about to play without generalizing. “I ALWAYS hit it in the water” is not a good thought to choose to have. Whatever you focus on you attract into your life; whatever you imagine you create. Be aware that you have, on occasion, hit it into the water, but that THIS TIME, TODAY, you are planning to hit the golf ball down the middle of the fairway, and visualize that outcome before you swing.
8. Choose your thoughts. Believe it or not, you can do this. Everything in life starts with a thought. How you see things depends on how you choose to look at them. You can choose to look at things from a different angle.
9. Be positive and commit to the golf shot you have decided upon. Positive thinking does work. Commitment does work. Take a committed practice swing and ask yourself would that swing have produced the outcome you want to achieve? Take your golf shot when you are confident of the swing you are going to make.
10. Let go; if you arrive on the tee feeling a bit tense, pretend you are a rag doll and shake your muscles out. Remember mind works on body and body works on mind. You cannot have a relaxed body at the same time as a tense mind.
11. Take a step back. Don’t rush; think before you act. Take a moment to review the situation. Distance yourself, look at it from a different direction, and take a different perspective. Breathe deeply and take time to decide on the best golf shot in the prevailing conditions. The fact that you “always take a three wood here” isn’t a good enough reason to grab that club out of your bag.
12. Think “smooth”; imagine a golf swing with perfect tempo, perfect rhythm, and ensure your practice swing is nice and smooth with good timing.
13. Talk to yourself nicely; talk to yourself with a confident encouraging tone; tell yourself that you can do it and that you are great at this type of shot. Trust in your talent, your ability to hit the perfect shot. Repeat a calm and positive word or phrase; if that is what you are focusing on, then that is what you will do.
14. Dissociation – This is a good mental skill to learn if you suffer badly from first tee nerves. Imagine how good you could feel, just drifting out of your body, floating up in the air and distancing yourself from all those unnecessary emotions? You can learn to watch yourself taking your golf swing.
15. Count to 10; an old remedy and it does work. Counting to 10 allows you some time to re-engage your logical mind and think clearly about the task in hand. When you are anxious the logical thinking part of your mind is bypassed and the lower brain functions take over. It is therefore important to use any method which works for you to take a step back and re-engage your higher brain functions. As your higher brain functions are re-engaged you can think and focus clearly on the task in hand.
16. Get help from professionals. If you have got into the habit of feeling anxious and tense on the first tee, golf hypnosis could be the answer to your prayers. Not only is hypnosis a state of relaxation, but you have access to your subconscious thought processes so that they can be changed quickly and easily.
Roseanna Leaton, specialist in golf hypnosis cds and hypnosis mp3 downloads.