Playing with Thoughts

February 24, 2016 Jon Roy

“What is going on in my mind?” 

A guest post by GPC coach CARTER BENNETT – (Part 1 of 3)

It has been estimated that throughout a single round of golf the mind will have around 12 000 different thoughts. A five hour round is made up of about 18 000 seconds. So that is about two thoughts for every three seconds.  It makes you wonder how being “focused on your task” is even possible – with so many potential thoughts that might pull your attention from the present task. Distractions abound in the sport of golf, and often it is the ones in our own head that disturb our performance even more than the ones that happen outside of us.

Tim Gallwey is an early contributor to the field of sport psychology, and was one of the first people to explore how the mind works when we are trying to learn, perform, and master a sport. His book from the 1970’s entitled “The Inner Game of Tennis” is a recognized classic in sports literature that now transcends all of sport. In it, he expresses his now famous equation for performance which suggests that the key to optimizing Performance is the reduction of Interference.

Performance = Potential – Interference

And so if we can find the sources of interference than we can work his equation to our favor, and uncover our real Potential.

In search of what might be causing “interference”, Gallwey begins by borrowing from accepted scientific research which separates the mind into 2 hemispheres which he then labels as “Self-1” and “Self-2”.

Self-1 is our conscious, critical, and thinking part of our mind.  By drawing on past experiences and attempting to foresee the future, the thinking self is what we use to create the realities we experience. Self-1 creates chatter and dialogue that you experience within yourself, not necessarily negative, but unfortunately all too typically in the form of fears, doubts, and judgments.  And although Self-1 is crucial so that we can see and assess any given situation, it can also be very detrimental to peak performance.

As an example: You’re standing on the tee and your analytical mind tells you that there is in fact trouble down the right side right. This is important and will help you to make good decisions.   But if the mind begins recalling a previous drive that you lost way to the right then this might lead you in the direction of anxiety – and therefore interference. In fact, fearing that “the past will become your future” is the classic self-1 experience that interferes with performance. But regardless of what is interfering, the goal is to reduce the interference through training, coaching, and playing.

Self-2, on the other hand, is our subconscious and creative mind. Some describe this as the “doing” self as it is characterized by mindful attention to a specific task without out really realizing that you’re doing it– like those times when you’ve lost yourself in a task, be it washing dishes or playing the back nine at your favorite course.  Self-2 experiences describe a state where you are:

  • Present,
  • Non-judgmental
  • Detached from the conscious thoughts in our head.

And the self-2 experience is on where you are able to stay on task despite the distractions and anxieties stemming from our own minds.

This self-2 experience is a state highly sought after in the world of athletics, and in the research surrounding sport, because in this performance state lies the answers to nearly every performer’s “best ever”. When performers describe their best days they almost always describe it the same –

  • “Time moved slow”
  • “Wasn’t really thinking about anything”
  • “Just felt like I was in good rhythm”
  • “Saw my targets really well”

Most of us, whether golfing or living day to day, often have difficulty in experiencing Self-2 or being aware of it if it happens. This is because Self-1 so consumes the attention of the mind and it is likely to dominate if we don’t practice against this.  Our daily tasks at home and at work are usually heavily slanted toward self-1.   For most of us, we are constantly drawn away from the “present” and asked to either worry about the past or to anticipate the future.

Moving away from theory and to make our point relevant to you; Gallwey’s conclusion is that when you are performing at your best you are almost always in self-2 mode – You are likely reacting to the target, free of controlling thoughts, focused on your task, and free-wheeling. Ultimately, you have the greatest chance to perform to your potential if you aim to be in self-2 mode more often.  And it’s difficult to find any sport psychologist, or athlete or coach for that matter, who disagrees with Gallwey’s claim.

So for those of us who want to get better at golf, all that is left is to get better at being more self-2 when you perform.

But how do we do this?

Well, the short answer is through the Practice of being more mindful and aware. But check-out our next post for a more complete answer to this fascinating question of whether we can optimize performance by establishing a pre-shot routine that uses self-1 to assess the situation and then switches to self-2 in order to complete the task…

Part 2 will be published next week…



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