The Power of Focus

Focus on where you want to go, not on what you fear’ – Tony Robbins

If you have ever watched the professionals being interviewed following a round on television, you will notice a very common theme. At some point the interviewer will question and focus on something that didn’t quite go to plan during the round. The response from the player nine times out of ten is to acknowledge what happened, not berate themselves for it and quite swiftly move on to a positive aspect that happened during the round. They do not allow themselves to harbour on the negative focal point directed by the interviewer. If they did this repetitively throughout the course of a season it would begin to alter their perception of themselves as a golfer, lower their confidence levels and impact their self-belief, not to mention changing the positive neuro-circuitry in their brains.

Have you ever noticed the praise you give yourself after a round of golf or remember listing all of the good shots you hit, not once reminiscing on the bad ones? If you said yes, fantastic! If no, which alas, tends to be the larger majority of golfers, then there is work to be done!

Where is our focus?

Many amateur golfers will frequently focus immediately on the poor shots and what went wrong during the round, all with vivid imagery, a good helping of negative emotion and a dose of negative self-talk. Sometimes this may be played over repeatedly in their mind during the car journey home or to friends in the clubhouse. The more we ingrain these negative thoughts and emotions in our mind and body the more hardwired the negative programme becomes. The greater the limiting beliefs we place upon ourselves, the greater the negative perception about ourselves as golfers increases.

Often things begin to spiral in the wrong direction if we are not consciously aware of where we are placing our focus. The beauty is that where there is conscious awareness, there is choice, where there is choice, there is an opportunity for change.

Imagine a large, dark warehouse, the lights are switched off and all you have is a flash torch to help you see where things are. For a split second, somebody switches the light on and you notice that in this warehouse are shelves filled with all the most fantastic things you could imagine or have ever wanted. The light then goes off and you go back to seeing only what your flash torch allows you to. It does not mean those other things are not there it simply means you are not focused on them. This is exactly the same as our focus both on and off the golf course. It’s similar to a common scenario in everyday life where, if you think back to a time when you were buying a car, you decide on one that you like and you then subsequently seem to spot that same model everywhere you go! They were there all along it’s just that you weren’t focused on them!

How focus affects our golf

We tend to get what we focus on whether that is wanted or unwanted. Sometimes we are not aware of how much attention (and more importantly, emotion) we put into the things we don’t want, particularly on the golf course!  That’s where our conscious awareness creates an opportunity to step in and selectively choose to redirect us back in the right direction. The only reason this becomes harder in the practical sense is because we have become so used to programming ourselves to look for, or focus on, the negative, that it has become habitual. The mind and body have become conditioned to respond this way. Research suggests that 70% of our unconscious programmes or learned behaviour is negative and self-sabotaging.

If you place your primary focus on the shots you feel were poor during the round and berate yourself for these, over a period of time, this will have a hugely detrimental impact on confidence levels. Yes, there may be elements that with some adjustments can be improved upon, but these are to be acknowledged with a positive, solution-orientated approach. The elements of your game that went well must be your first primary focus, rather than playing back in your minds the disaster movies of all that went wrong.

 A change in focus

Here is a great exercise to channel your focus: After every round of golf, whether it’s a friendly 9 holes or a tournament round, write down at least three or four things that went well during that round. It could have been a good course management decision, a well struck 5 iron, anything you felt went well. Keep a little note book in the early stages to help ensure this process remains a repetitive exercise. Once you begin to focus on one positive aspect it is pleasantly surprising how momentum builds and you become much more aware of many other positive points, all of which you were unable to see due to the habitual negative focus.  Eventually, your brain will create new neural pathways and its default will be oriented towards a much more positive focal point. This in turn will improve confidence levels and help to change any negative perceptions you may have of yourself as a golfer. How you perceive yourself as a golfer plays a pivotal role in your performance and levels of success. It becomes a much tougher task to outperform how you perceive yourself as a player if this is in a negative light.

Changing your focus may initially be a little battle as the old negative thought patterns will try to take over. However, remember that’s just the old programmed habit. I was working with one particular student, who was extremely conscientious with regards to wanting to improve her swing and her game. She was, however, by her own admission a perfectionist and very hard on herself. Shots would never quite be good enough, something could always be better and this was generally where she tended to place her focus. Having worked on her swing studiously over the previous 18 months prior to our meeting, she often found herself in a vicious loop, a feeling of a slight improvement but then taking two frustrating steps backwards, unfortunately getting more and more frustrated with her game and losing the enjoyment. Following a few sessions together, we went out for 9 holes and I made a mental note of all the positive shots, decisions and outcomes that she made. At the end of the round I asked her to name at least three things she felt went well.

We sat and waited in silence for a while, and then a little while longer, she was stumped and couldn’t think of anything as she had been a little used to focusing on the negative, it had become the default. I had several things lined up in my mind as there were many positive aspects to choose from. I started to mention a couple and in that instant it triggered her memory, her focus had shifted and she was able to finish the list off for me.  From that moment on a notebook was kept and she wrote her positive list down after every round. Eventually her programmed habit became a more positive one and one which was more instinctively focussed towards acknowledging the positive elements within her game, so much so that she no longer required the notebook. I saw her a few weeks later, looking like a new woman! With a big smile on her face she explained that she was now enjoying her golf, her handicap had dropped by 5 shots in 2 months and in her own words, ‘I am no longer looking for the perfect shot, and I love it!!’

In the wise words of Esther Hicks – The most valuable skill or talent you could ever develop is that of directing your thoughts toward what you want.’