Technique: Change Your Performance Set Point

Mike was on his way to his first round ever below 80 as he came into the 18th hole. He was playing with his son in a fun weekend round, no money was on the line and he was relaxed and enjoying himself. He hit his drive in the fairway and then proceeds to pull his 5 iron shot into the bunker, hits a moderate explosion shot to within 10 feet and then 3 putts for a nice round 81.

“Foiled again”, he comments to his son with resignation as they walk off the green. “No matter what, I just never seem to break 80.”

“Ah, you were just outside your comfort zone Dad”, his son says sagely with a friendly hand on his shoulder. His Dad shook his head wryly as he nodded in assent.

The human body is always seeking to achieve balance or a state of equilibrium. This phenomenon is called homeostasis and it describes the many processes our body uses to help us survive by establishing set points. For example, this is what keeps our temperature balanced by causing shivering or sweating, sets our metabolism, and dozens of other chemical and hormonal reactions all designed to keep us on an even keel.

The body seems to like this predictability. The example we are all familiar with is how our metabolism will set itself to burn so many calories a day based on normal demands. It is amazingly accurate and resistant to change, as anyone trying to lose weight (or gain weight) has found out.

You must do something different (like reduce calories and exercise) to cause a shifting of your metabolism. The body and mind needs a clear message that you want something different from it, because in its attempt to help you survive the body will keep giving you what you have programmed it to deliver.

In his groundbreaking book, Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman, Ph.D., describes how we even have a happiness set point. He relates numerous studies that have demonstrated that even after suffering major life trauma (loss of a loved one, being paralyzed) that within 18 months most people report returning to a similar level of happiness they had experienced prior to the event.  These astonishing findings demonstrate how our mind and body are deeply programmed to maintain its homeostatic state. These are core mechanisms attached to survival, and they resist long-term change. It is not a trivial challenge to change these set points.

It is my contention that we experience the same phenomena relative to our performance in a sport. We establish a Performance Set Point that governs our results, always in support of keeping our performance within a specific range.

One of my favorite examples of this is the famous miler Dr. Roger Bannister, who broke the sub-four minute mile on May 6th, 1954. Runners had sought to break this barrier for decades, with a common belief that it was not possible. Dozens had run close, but no one was able to accomplish this milestone until Bannister broke through. Of great interest is that once he accomplished the ‘impossible’, many others began to accomplish this standard also. In fact, Bannister’s record was broken just 54 days after he set it, and now sub-four minute miles are not considered unusual.

An important question to ask is: What made this shifting of standard possible? In researching this question I ran across a telling quote from Bannister. After running a 4:03.6 in May of 1953, Bannister said. “This race made me realize that the four-minute mile was not out of reach.” Twelve months later he set the world record and continued to run sub-four minute miles for the rest of his running career.

What Bannister was speaking of in this quote was a major shift in his belief system. He now saw the sub-four minute mile as POSSIBLE, where before he hadn’t. This new belief caused him to change his training (he added intervals) and work specifically towards accomplishing this new attainable goal.

The lesson for all of us that are stuck shooting the same scores week after week is that change is POSSIBLE if we believe it is. Start with that shift in your thinking!

A Formula for breaking out of your own Performance Set Point:

  1. Adopt a new empowering belief that a change in your results is possible. Act congruently as if this is true. Your body doesn’t know you are pretending. Write this in your journal, see it in your mind, feel how good it will be.
  2. Change what you are doing. Train with knowledge and purpose. Set attainable goals, use metrics for feedback, get a coach, start videoing your swings and using the feedback to make changes.
  3. Tell everyone you are getting better. Act as if it’s true and watch your mind/body act in accordance with your desires.

The process for getting an improved swing and better game is not a secret. It is achievable. We see it every day when our students apply themselves.  Make purposeful changes in your beliefs and training program and watch the transformation happen. How surprised will you be when your handicap lowers and your game moves up a notch?

Can you handle being better?