Don’t think over the ball—especially about shanks or white elephants

palmer-847-gettyNewsletter #2, February 15, 2017—For all of you who are thinking about how to stop thinking over the ball, here is what you’re looking for. And Arnold Palmer did this so you know that it works.

Here goes:

Don’t think while you hit the ball.

This was the advice in this column by coach Greg Liberto. There’s some great stuff in there. Thinking ruins more golf games than poor swing plane ever will.

But it got me thinking that stopping thinking is difficult—if not impossible—unless you have something else to focus on.

That’s one reason I’m a huge believer—and practitioner—of meditation as I wrote in my last newsletter, but you don’t need to meditate to control your thoughts (although it certainly helps).

The key to stopping your thoughts is finding and maintaining a focus point for your mind.

Here’s why. If you’re like me, thoughts are like the voice in your head that’s constantly yammering at you. If I let my mind run amuck as I step into a shot, it can sound something like this:

“The last time you played this hole, you blocked it out of bounds, so aim left. No, more left than that you idiot. It would really suck to hit it OB again….”

Or this: “Swing smoothly. Keep the right heel down. God, I hope I don’t shank! Keep the heel down. I’m taking forever here. The guys on #4 are watching. Oh man, they’re in my shank zone. Crap … hit it… keep your heel down.”

Whether you create a story in your head or you try to direct your body with your mind—or both—the results are much the same: tension, worry and, invariably, poor golf shots.

The solution, of course, is don’t think! Just do it. Trust it. Let it rip.

You may have tried thinking of nothing, or ignoring them. But the thoughts keep coming.

Here’s why: You cannot think of nothing. Try it now. Will yourself to think of nothing.

During Show #37 of our Swing Thoughts podcast, which focuses on dealing with our crazy minds, I lead a guided meditation at about the 30-minute mark when Howard starts playing ethereal cosmic music. Try the mediation. It’s not weird! Honest.

You may have blissed out for a moment, but I can guarantee that you likely started to hear sounds, feel something in your body or, likely, you started to think, even if it was to think: Don’t think.

It’s the way we are wired. The conscious mind, more precisely, the ego, is always trying to protect us. It is constantly projecting into the future and ruminating about the past in a vain attempt to keep us safe.

Without a focus point, your mind fills with thoughts. And on the golf course, and in many other life situations, it’s natural that you will be thinking about the future because we’re conditioned to be concerned with results.

But you can gain control of your mind by finding a focus point that momentarily stops your thinking and keeps you in the present. And your body provides that focus point

As you prepare to hit a shot, you can put your attention on, for example, your breath, your abs, your shoulder, the feeling of your hands on the club, or someplace else—but just one thing.

By placing your attention on one point for the few seconds it takes to get into your stance and hit the ball, you can halt the flood of thoughts.

It works nicely because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. You can use that to your advantage to stop your mind from yanking you around.

If you’ve struggled with controlling your thoughts, why not experiment with this by swinging a club while maintaining your focus point, first without a ball and then with. You might be amazed to discover that your body knows what to do even though you are not telling it what to do. You may also find that your swing feels far freer.

And I suggest you give meditation a shot: It helps you develop the skill of awareness; namely, being aware of what you are paying attention to. In other words, maintaining a focus point that allows you to keep the yammering voice quiet.

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!