Oftentimes we attribute poor performance to negative thinking. In Jason Siff’s book “Thoughts are not the Enemy”, he describes a meditation practice that welcomes thought and allows for our minds to wander instead of trying to control or change what we think. It’s a drastic shift from the more traditional mindfulness practices that instruct us to simply be aware of thought and the wandering mind in a non-judgmental way, and when it does wander, for us to guide our attention back to our breath, a mantra, or some other type of anchor. In essence, to stop our thinking before it overtakes us.
The practice Siff introduces invites all thought, and the only instruction provided is for us to observe where our minds go, without owning the thoughts. Simply to be an observer. In my opinion, this style better replicates what is needed when we compete, and the more awareness we develop, and the more we are able to tolerate natural occurring thought, without any attempt to change or negate, the better chance we have at being free from the clutches of our thinking.
At this point you may be wondering how this applies to your golf game, so I’ll explain. Some traditional performance psychology texts and teachings have focused on the idea of controlling thought. “Block out negative thoughts”, “don’t think about the water on the right of the green”, and “think about only where you want the ball to go”, are some of the more popular messages used to get us to think “well”.
But let me ask you a question. How successful have you been at actually controlling the thoughts that you have? Try this simple exercise: Don’t think about a turtle. What happened? My guess is not only did you think of the turtle, but you struggled more trying to block it out, and may have gone as far as to become angry with yourself for not being able to do it. Trying to “not” think about certain thoughts on the golf course almost always fails. The thought itself is not what causes the stress and tension. Instead, we create tension when we try to stop or control the negative thinking.
Siff suggests, and I completely agree, that thoughts are not the enemy of our ability to perform at a high level. Performance problems stem not from the negative thoughts but from the effort we make to eliminate them. Our ability to develop tolerance and awareness of our thinking, not ownership, will provide the clarity and focus we need to unlock our physical potential, and no longer will what we think matter.
It may be very different from what you have been taught, but the idea that we can compete at a high level regardless of the thoughts in our head might provide some relief to those out there who have implemented thought-controlling techniques without a lot of success.
**Dr. Greg Cartin is a Sport and Golf Psychology Consultant based in Boston, where he started GC3 Performance Consulting. Visit his website at http://mindfulmindset.com.