January 9, 2016

An Easy Mental Imagery Technique


Mental imagery is a vital component for mastery of any sport. Sports psychiatrists have stressed the importance of visualization in your pre-shot routine and execution of your golf shot. The mind leads all actions in our lives. Having a clear and uncluttered focus helps us to concentrate and center on the chosen path to accomplish a desired task. Without a plan or a vision, we would be wandering around aimlessly. On the golf course, do you have a plan? Do you visualize your golf shot before you hit? Do you have a pre-shot routine?

Jack Nicklaus stated that, "I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head". The best players in golf over the past 100 years have all had one quality in common that has been praised by their competitors and pundits. That quality has been their mental toughness to stay focused; to concentrate; and to "see their golf shot" before they hit. Henry Vardon, Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods, and Jordan Spieth all have that special ability.

Visualizing an outcome is not new. Throughout history there are accounts of leaders, generals, kings, explorers, and inventors about how they dreamed or envisioned an idea and how they formulated these plans, attacks, strategies in their minds before setting them in motion. Norman Vincent Peale preached on the power of positive thinking. One of his quotes is, "change your thoughts and you change your world". Golf sports psychologists have emphasized the need to calm the mind and picture the shot to be played. One of the important tools for great golf is establishing a "pre-shot" routine and to continuing that mental state through executing the golf shot.

The best players have extreme confidence to "see" their golf shots and then unconditionally commit to their vision. We have all experience that special feeling where you just know that you are going to hit a great shot and then you do! This is called being "in the zone". How do you recreate that special feeling of being "in the zone"? Sports psychologists have different theories on how to get to that magical place, but all incorporate quieting of the mind and the use of visualization. Olympic athletes, golfers, baseball players, soccer players, tennis players and other serious athletes will train sometimes eight to ten hours a day at their discipline, but many of these athletes spend as much as half of that time dedicated to mental training. Various eye exercises and hand-eye drills are used to enhance their skills. Sitting and closing their eyes, while quieting the mind and visualizing their actions is an important part of their mental training. Scientists have stated that the body does not know the difference between imagined actions and an actual physical action. By rehearsing perfect swings and results in your mind, the mind gets used to seeing excellent shots and good results. This mental state carries over to when you physically train or need to perform in actual competition.

Getting better at golf or any sport requires practice and time. How many of us will want to put aside an hour or more a day on mental training? The probable answer is not many. However, when is the time that you do want to close your eyes and quiet the mind? That time is right before you fall asleep. I suggest you use that time to do some mental training for your golf game. You can choose any number of visualizations, but my favorite is playing ideal golf on your favorite golf course. Before you drift off to sleep, close your eyes and imagine yourself on the first tee, feel your body energized and excited about play this course. Sense the feeling of putting on your glove and making a practice swing. The more real you can make your experience the better. Feel the sun, the grass under your feet, the gentle breeze, etc. Now visualize the shot that you want to hit off the tee. Sense your body making the swing and seeing the ball beautifully fly on the exact line that you envisioned. Now do the same for the second shot and ultimately making a putt for a birdie. Do the second hole the same way. If you have a negative thought, you need to start the shot routine again. Remember you are training your mind to be positive and eliminate the negative. You control your mind, so train it for success and happiness.

I wrote a similar article in a newsletter to my members of Lakewood Country Club over twenty years ago. Many tried the technique and found it to be easy, fun, and that it did have a helpful effect on their golf game. Many had trouble with negative thoughts interfering with their visualization. If negativity shows up in a mental rehearsal, they surely will occur on the golf course. Be patient and imagine the positive and slowly the negative thoughts will recede. The longest any of my members were able to go was four holes before falling asleep. Most didn't make it to the second hole, but that is good, because they fell asleep with a positive imagery and feeling. Many said their dreams tended to be more optimistic when they fell asleep visualizing positive golfing experiences. I would be interested in your experience with this technique. Good luck.


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