The purpose for working on your mind game is to optimize your mental, emotional and physical states while engaging in the game of golf. This series on the Mental Game is focused on providing you techniques to accomplish this objective.

Technique: Managing Your Internal Dialogue

Bill was a shot ahead in his club championship on the final day. On the first tee he pulls his drive deep left into the woods and he immediately begins to berate himself with a series of invectives that culminates in slamming his driver back into his bag. He walks down the fairway shaking his head and mumbling to himself. “You dummy… you idiot, what a dumb way to start.” The day goes downhill from there as the mistakes begin to accumulate.  Remember that day?  Perhaps you’ve started a round this way yourself?

I have an important question concerning the above scenario. How does your brain and body know you are just kidding and don’t really mean it?  The answer is, it doesn’t. Whoops.  Do you really want to send a message to yourself that you are a dummy? Do you actually believe this message? I think not. When analyzed, this is just your way of demonstrating your disappointment in yourself and your performance in that moment.

Let’s examine this phenomenon for a minute. What we know is that your body is always arranging itself to support the state you are in, whether you are aware and conscious of that state or not.

For evidence I would ask you to try the following. Stand up and demonstrate being mildly depressed. Having done this demonstration dozens of times I know what you will do. You will drop your shoulders, look down and to your right, change your breathing to your abdomen area and let your entire body go into a slouch. The reason, you KNOW what a state of depression looks like and can represent that state in your body. It is your body’s way of doing what you are asking.

Now, try the same exercise, only this time, demonstrate being very exuberant. You will pull back your shoulders, look up and begin to breathe briskly from your upper chest and most likely begin to smile slightly. Again, your body is arranging itself to support the state you are instructing it to adopt. With this arrangement, comes an entire supporting internal set of chemicals, both good and bad.

Here is a statement that most people find profound once they understand the implication for self-management. For every thought you have there is an associated physiology. For every physiology you have, there is an associated thought.

That’s right. Your body is always listening to your dialogue and seeking to put itself into a supportive state, even if that state is not resourceful.  Remember my example of how Bill’s performance went downhill as he told himself he was a dummy and an idiot?  He was literally undermining himself by insuring his mind and body and emotions were in a non-resourceful state. He wasn’t giving himself a chance

Managing Your Internal Dialogue

Unless you are electrically or chemically altered you have a constant stream of dialogue running through your mind. Your internal dialogue is that omnipresent voice that is constantly pumping out advice, warnings, adulation, or admonitions. Often times your dialogue is plainly non-sense.  What I want you to understand is that your body and emotions are paying attention.

Therefore, it makes sense to be aware of what instructions you are issuing and practice positive dialogue and techniques when seeking to become skilled at any sport (or anything else in your life). This approach holds true whether you are practicing on the range or playing a round.

There are two approaches to managing your internal dialogue that I’ve found work well.

  1. Block the dialogue for a brief period. With training and practice you can learn to shut your internal dialogue down briefly (10 seconds is really good). If you are plagued by too many thoughts during your swing, try these techniques.
    1. Try humming during your shot. You can’t hum and think at the same time.
    2. Focus on your breath by being aware of the air coming in and out.
  2. Become aware of when your dialogue turns negative and learn how to re-program your thoughts into a positive direction.
    1. Develop a series of ‘go to’ positive statements for specific conditions you will experience in playing golf.  You hit a bad shot and your thinking is to “store this as feedback for getting better” or “how lucky I am to be out here playing golf” or “what an interesting game”.
    2. When you become aware of negative thoughts, give yourself 20 seconds to let go of the negative emotion. Go ahead and have the negative emotion and then let it go.
    3. Establish what we call the 10-YARD RULE. This means you never allow yourself to ruminate on a bad shot more than 10 yards from where you hit it. Rumor has it that this is one of Tiger’s secrets.

Practice these management techniques prior to getting on the course or range and you will shorten the time between having a negative dialogue and eliminating it. Remember, your objective is to optimize your performance, so keep your resourcefulness at peak states and give yourself a chance.