What The Top Golfers Can Teach Us About Mindfulness

Rory

Rory McIlroy uses two trigger words for every shot he plays, reported the Champion Mindset after the British Open in 2014 (http://tinyurl.com/hp3993j).  The words are…..  wait for it….. “Process”, and “Spot”.

Before you think I have lost my own golfballs, let’s look at why these words represent the essence of mindfulness. 

Says Rory – “With my long shots, I just wanted to stick to my process and stick to making good decisions, making good swings,.  The process of making a good swing, if I had any sort of swing thoughts, is just keeping it so I wasn’t thinking about the end result, basically.”

Think about this for a moment.  Rory has developed a process for swinging a club.  He has practiced and practiced his swing until he can do it automatically, but also remains aware of his own process and what he needs to do, and in what order, every time he swings the club.  Whatever it is – head down, feet planted, club face open, arms back to X angle……. He follows the steps – 1,2,3, in sequence, again and again.

The key phrase in his statement above is actually “So I wasn’t thinking about the end result, basically”.

Imagine having that level of mental discipline – to be able to stay that focused in the moment that you pay no attention to what might happen after you hit the ball?  Astounding.Tiger

Jon Finn, Golf Psychology Consultant to the PGA, says the same of Tiger Woods.  He
discusses the importance of correct ‘Attribution’ for golfers when things go wrong, and describes how Tiger is always able to attribute his faults correctly – according to Finn, Tiger’s mindset is “it’s not me, it’s my swing, or other factors outside of me”.

 

Compare this to Graeme McDowell, of whom the Irish Independent said:  “With typical candour, Graeme McDowell talked of seeing danger signs in his game 12 months ago. “It was very important to arrest the slide as quickly as possible, but I’m afraid I didn’t do a very good job of it,” he admitted. And the problem remains, on the evidence of a 73 in which his body language was decidedly negative”. (Irish Independent, 1 November 2015)

If I were a betting woman, I would bet that Graeme’s biggest block during this Gmactournament was not being able to stop the thoughts of how the ‘slide’ started 12 months previously.  Instead of getting out there and just focusing on the one shot he needed to take in the moment – like Rory does – he was overthinking every shot and every putt.  And apparently everyone could see it in his ‘decidedly negative’ body language.  Indeed, looking at this photo, he is the very essence of someone who has completely gotten in their own way, in their head.

Let’s go back to Rory’s second trigger word, “SPOT”:  “The “spot” was about his putting. “I was just picking a spot on the green and trying to roll it over my spot,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about holing it. I wasn’t thinking about what it would mean or how many further clear it would get me. I just wanted to roll that ball over that spot. If that went in, then great. If it didn’t, then I’d try it the next hole.”

Again, not thinking about holing it.  Not thinking about his score or anyone else’s, just getting it over the particular spot he’d picked on the green that was somewhere along the trajectory between his ball and the hole.  And if it didn’t work out, he just left it behind him and went ahead and did it again on the next hole. Amazing.

This is what mindfulness is all about.  Being able to be fully present in the current moment.  Not thinking about the past, not thinking about the present, and most importantly, not allowing unhelpful thoughts, feelings or beliefs get in the way of what you are doing right now.

I spoke to a group in Cork yesterday on behalf of the SIMS IVF Clinic, Cork and I discussed the negative thoughts and feelings that go with infertility.  When a treatment doesn’t work out and a woman receives a negative pregnancy test, the common reaction is “I’ve failed again, I’m useless, I can’t do what I am supposed to do as a woman, I’ve let my partner down…”.  All the Attribution is towards herself.  The result?  Stress (which actively impacts fertility), anxiety and depression.  Up to 60% of women experiencing fertility issues also struggle with anxiety and/or depression as a result.

However, and I am not at all trivialising this situation, if it was Tiger Woods, what would he think to himself?

“This cycle failed, it doesn’t make me a failure. I can succeed at this”.

“There is a factor within my body (medical or biological problem) that is preventing this from happening, and that is what needs to be addressed”

Or, as Rory said about Tiger in relation to his back surgery last year:  “he has the mindset that he can overcome things, and he has overcome things before.  So I wouldn’t put it past him” (to return to golf).

There’s a nice saying that sums up mindfulness and how you apply it to yourself:  You are NOT your Thoughts.  So just because you think something, doesn’t make it true.  When the thought “I am a failure” comes into your head, you can choose to think “The cycle failed”, or “My kick/swing/throw wasn’t rehearsed enough” or “My timekeeping let me down and that is why the project was late”.  When you separate yourself from the ‘failure’ thought, you immediately give yourself something to focus on, to work on and improve, without feeling intrinsically like a failure.  You can acknowledge that you may have let yourself down, for example with your time keeping, but that is not at all the same as labelling yourself a failure.

And if you were seeing yourself differently, what else might be different?  As The Champion Mindset finished their article on Rory:

“I highlight this because non-champions (1) don’t do this, (2) try to make it more complicated than it is, (3) are not quite sure how ‘this’ works, and (4) don’t educate or inform themselves on how to develop their mental game. That’s why they aren’t the ones holding the trophies, standing on the podium, accepting the awards, winning the championships.”

How different would that internal dialogue be if you were able to re-frame the repeated negative thoughts you have about yourself?  Why not try developing YOUR mental game, the game of thinking in the moment, instead of spending most of your mental time either raking over the past, or catastrophizing about the future?

Introduction to Mindfulness, Sunday 14 February, 12-6pm, Douglas, Co Cork. 

http://www.counsellingcarecork.com/mindfulness-workshops-16/