One of the greatest pieces of advice I ever heard a caddy impart to a player was just before dusk at Westchester Country Club the night before the first round of the then Buick Classic. The caddy was a journeyman who everyone knew only as ‘Harry C’. The player was a young man who was strapped with the tag of “great potential,” but had yet to see it pay off. The advice, only nine words, was priceless – “turn off the brain and turn on the game!” This so simply describes the process of tapping one’s Adaptive Unconscious.
Our Adaptive Unconscious is all the ways our brain understands the world that the mind and body must negotiate… many times as one. In a lingual context, the Adaptive Unconscious is what can make us understand the correct meaning of statements like “local high school dropouts cut in half” or “kids make nutritious snacks.” In a physical context, the Adaptive Unconscious makes it possible for us to turn the corner in our car without having to go through elaborate calculations to determine the precise angle of the turn, the velocity of the car and the vehicles steering radius. Consuming Thoughts, on the other hand, are our conscious efforts to override Adaptive Unconscious processes. Consuming Thoughts in many cases are used to train or develop our Adaptive Unconscious. As a child we are instructed to look both ways before crossing a street or to zip up our coats before going out in the cold. These instructions are intended to become Consuming Thoughts when the applicable situation presents itself and eventually become part of our Adaptive Unconscious. In learning golf, Consuming Thoughts are used to help us increase our potential, for example learning proper mechanics. Instructors talk about swing path, face angles, weight shift, wrist cock, shoulder turn, etc. In my experience, many golfers try to retain an over abundance of information imparted in the form of Consuming Thoughts. The resulting “paralysis by analysis” becomes inevitable. It is no wonder with the plethora of technological advances in golf equipment and course maintenance that the average handicap of golfers has remained nearly static.
A great many golfers would benefit much more by allowing themselves to tap their Adaptive Unconscious thus minimizing the interference brought on by Consuming Thoughts. As the great Jackie Burke puts it, “sometimes you need to try easier.” Most people spend hour upon hour and dollar after dollar trying to increase their potential when more sustainable results can be attained by eliminating self induced interference. They think that if they can just learn the “proper mechanics” and go through their mechanical checklist during each swing they will be able to lower their scores. This may work on the occasional shot but rarely will sustainable improvement be realized.
On the golf course Consuming Thoughts, more often than not, become conscious efforts to override processes that are better left to and must be trusted to the Adaptive Unconscious. Unless properly structured, Consuming Thoughts will undermine and interfere with the Adaptive Unconscious’ potential to keep us “out of our own way.” When an athlete is in the ‘zone,’ their Adaptive Unconscious is completely in control and all Consuming Thoughts are silenced. This brings me to a question I am often asked, “How can I get myself into ‘the zone’?” The simple answer is… you can’t. Athletes cannot force themselves into “the zone,” they can only surrender themselves into a state of minimal interference.
To minimize interference replace your mechanical Consuming Thoughts with a single feel oriented Consuming Thought. This is an excellent first step in moving toward a ‘zone’ like state. In my research, I have found the most productive consuming thoughts are feel oriented. Mechanical thoughts are left brain oriented, analytical in nature. They tend to require a series of stop – check – recalculate – restart sequences. To do all this in the time it takes to complete a golf swing is impossible. Feel oriented thoughts, whether tactile or kinesthetic, are right brain oriented and quickly transform from Consuming Thought to experiential reality in our Adaptive Unconscious.
One example of a tactile thought is to establish a grip pressure benchmark and then throughout the swing be aware of maintaining that pressure or identify at what point it changes. As you can see this is indeed an exercise in Consuming Thought but does not interfere with the flow of the swing. In other words, it keeps your left brain occupied an out of the way. A kinesthetic thought that has paid great dividends for many of my players is what we call “Feel the Finish.” By this I mean be aware of what a complete finish feels like. Go beyond focusing on the impact of the ball and feel your body get to a complete and balanced finish. This promotes accelerating the club through the ball rather than at the ball. Feel oriented Consuming Thoughts bypass the analysis/paralysis that the left brain is so eager to promote and feeds our Adaptive Unconscious. On the golf course eliminate negative or counterproductive Consuming Thoughts by replacing them with a positive, feel oriented Consuming Thought. Before you know it your Adaptive Unconscious will be taking you to another level.
Remember, Performance = potential minus interference. Allow your Adaptive Unconscious to “Feelize” your potential, or as Harry C. so eloquently put it, “turn off the brain and turn on the game” Well said Harry!
Mr. Molden is a nationally recognized Performance Consultant / Sports Behaviorist and pioneer in the science and application of Psycho-ergonomics in both sport and business. He’s worked with, coached and interviewed hundreds of elite athletes, PGA Tour stars, top collegiate golfers, entertainers, high-profile business people and entrepreneurs. He invites your comments and questions. Please send them to Rich@Wired4Winning.com