What you say to yourself, especially under pressure, can have a significant bearing on your performance.
Without realising it, you may have a bunch of self-imposed ceilings in place because you believe certain things about yourself or your game.
Golf is a challenging sport even without the distractions of outside interference. Sometimes that can take the form of a playing partner who has irritating habits, an overeager camera-wielding spectator, especially for those who play the game for a living, or a caddie who makes the blood boil, to mention a few.
It’s the last group of people – the annoying caddie – that I will highlight for the sake of illustration.
Have you ever played a round of golf with someone on the bag who discouraged you, criticising your every shot selection, belittling you for mistakes made, or just a plain nuisance to have around? How long would they last on the job before they got fired? I doubt it would be for long.
Similarly, aren’t you a bit like the ‘annoying caddie’? You criticise your shots, you ridicule yourself throughout the round and talk down your play instead of giving encouragement, especially when most needed in the heat of battle.
How can you behave less like the ‘annoying caddie’ and more like a tireless supporter who provides unconditional encouragement and good vibes? Or in other words, how can you change your self-talk to give yourself the best chance of performing at your best?
Self-talk is a great tool in the golfer’s kit bag. It is what you say to yourself, no holds barred. In other words, it’s your internal dialogue. It can be positive or negative, encouraging or distressing. It can be the difference between winning and losing.
Your self-talk reveals so much about you – your thoughts, beliefs, questions and ideas.
Through your self-talk, you can impose self-limiting ceilings on your performance as you start to believe the doubts running through your head. On the other hand, your self-talk can lift your game to match the expectations and convictions you carry regarding your abilities.
What can you do to build self-talk that uplifts and encourages?
It starts with becoming aware of the words you have been accustomed to using when describing your emotions. These words have become habitual. If you change the words, you can change the intensity of the emotions.
For example, instead of saying, ‘I am so worried about this,’ stop and consider the emotions the word ‘worry’ triggers. Maybe consider using the phrase ‘a little concerned’ or ‘slightly challenged’. Notice immediately how you tone down your emotions when using carefully chosen alternative words.
Next, think about three negative phrases you frequently use that intensify your negative emotions. It could be ones like ‘I am angry’, ‘I am frustrated’ or ‘I am depressed’. In turn, think about other words that will lower the intensity of these emotions.
For example, you could say ‘I am a little down’ instead of ‘I am depressed’.
This exercise requires creativity but with a bit of effort, it would be well worth your while to fill your head with more positive vibes, especially during a round of golf when things are not going your way.
Do the same in identifying three positive words. Recall the words you use that lift your spirits and use them more frequently wherever you can.
To practise this new approach, try to answer people differently when they ask you how you are doing. Instead of the stock-standard reply ‘Fine, and you?’, think outside the box and challenge yourself more.
What about a reply like ‘Grateful for so much’ or ‘Incredible’? The change in perspective, though hard at first, because of the ingrained thought patterns, will bring life to you, building a wall of positive energy around you.
It’s this positive energy that is worth its weight in gold when the pressure is on and the chips are down. You want to play with the supporter in your corner, cheering you on to greater heights and who is kind to you, unlike the ‘annoying caddie’ telling you where you went wrong or what you can do better, eroding your self-belief and self-confidence.
Popular self-development guru and best-selling author Mel Robbins summed it up best when he said: ‘One of the most important revelations you can ever have is that your life and your happiness begins and ends inside your own mind. What you say to yourself, how you treat yourself, and the thoughts that run on repeat are everything.’
I say fire ‘the annoying caddie’, he is out to do you harm. All those in favour say ‘aye’.
– Flaum is a mental-game and life coach who has worked with professional golfers on the European, South African Sunshine and Big Easy Tours, as well as with emerging amateurs. Follow him on Instagram @ignite_mental_coaching
– This article first appeared in the December 2021 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine. Subscribe here!