Can help you Build Your Game ...If...and only if...

You understand what they will and won't do...

Have you ever used a training aid to help you with your game? If so, did it do what you were expecting it to do? Correct a problem? Permanently? Temporarily? Not at all? Did it help you develop a skill? Did it help you develop a habit that didn't desert you under pressure? You say it worked on the range, but didn't have the carry-over to the course you were looking for? Or it gave you great feedback, as in video review of your swing, but it's been hard to retain the feedback in practice and playing?

There are lots and lots of teaching aids on the list. If you look around, you'll find dozens of similar (or different) products that are aimed at almost every detail of your golf swing. The objective: to help you learn or correct a swing skill, or position your anatomy properly, or some combination thereof.

Here is our take on the matter. Training aids are useful, so long as you understand their purpose and limitations. In other words, no training aid, feedback process, or combination can do the whole job. But they can help a great deal. If you carefully select an aid to match a problem you have encountered or a skill you need to learn, you should get some help. Aids will also help with confirmation of any self - or professionally - diagnosed problem situation. In addition, if your aid selection is appropriate, you can use it to clarify proper remedies for whatever the problem happens to be. By the same token, a well chosen aid can act like a "template" to provide a model for correct motion or positioning in skill - and habit - dvelopment.

All of that, so far, is front end consideration. Aids may help to detect and highlight problems and even show what to do, but it is still miles short of finishing the task.

What's next? Unless you have a means to internalize the learning available through a training aid and to master any process or positioning that comes from it, you may still have trouble transferring all that to the golf course. That is because training aids, of themselves, are NOT interactive. They can be used interactively, if you know how, but that must not be confused with some notion that the aid will finish the job if you just use it. None of this would be a problem if we could use aids on the course during the game. But, as we all know, that's a rules' violation. You must leave any training aids in your locker when you go to play.

So in what way does that matter? That's the million dollar question, and it is definitely not one from trivial pursuit.

Now it gets a little tougher to reckon with - not because it's hard to explain, but because it requires new information. Actually, it's old information to which not many have been exposed. It is further complicated by a fairly widespread reluctance to deal with any new idea that seems to fly in the face of tradition. This one doesn't do that, but a perception is there that tends to drive us in that direction. It also carries a minor threat to current marketing trends. Typically, those don't support a willingness to change the perception, either.

Tradition has made a fetish out of ideas like "work on your muscle memory," " have more confidence," "be more consistent," "grind it out," "model yourself after a winning formula by observing winners and doing what they do." The latter is possibly the result of the most over-worked human myth ever perpetuated by thoughtful people. Of course the same folks, when pinned down, will also say that each person should do it their own individual way. So which is it - play like others, or beat your own drum? The problem here is that these are all outcome oriented approaches. They don't tell you HOW. They are, therefore, passive, rather than active and cannot accommodate interactivity as they are presented.

The bottom line really is "How do you do all those good things?" Unfortunately, the answer most often remains simplistic, "Buy a pair of Nikes and Just do it." Some day, perhaps someone will explain exactly how to go about "just doing it."

What has been missed is a full appreciation of the research on learning that simultaneously shows the innate kinship and separation between skill building and habit development. Far too many people have been left with the notion that skills and habits are either the same animal or at least behave in the same way. That is not the case. Skills and habits, while coming from the same roots, are from different levels in human learning and they are accomplished in almost opposite fashion.

Lack of recognizing that has created a perception, along with an unverified insistence, that habits will be formed automatically if you just hit enough balls. Hence, the creation of impressive, but uncertified statements. "If you do that for 21 days, it will become a habit," or "it takes 60 days to build a habit," or "it takes 'X' number of repetitions to produce a habit." The myths won't let go.

Have a glance at the research. If you do something once, you lose 50% of it immediately and 25% more within 48 hours. Do the same thing twice and it's the same percentages. Three times, no different, but if you repeat something 4 times in succession, you get 90% retention. One set of 4 will not build a habit, but it goes in the right direction. It turns out that there is no rule for how long it takes for a habit to mature. But there is an observable caveat. That is, that building a habit takes as long as it takes. It is a highly individual proposition, depending on both the person and on which habit one is building. Some habits take longer than others. Each person has a highly individual time frame for their own habit development. One person may build habit "A" in a day. The second person may take a month. Habit "B" may come hard for the first person and the second can do it in two days. The rule is... "There is no rule." It takes as long as it takes.

It would be nice if that were the whole story, but it isn't. There is the matter of dealing with the reality that habits and skills do not fall under the same set of rules. Skills are managed and executed consciously in the human system. That is, you think about a skill while you perform it. Habits are managed consciously, but executed unconsciously. The management for using habits occurs before the action, followed by a mind clearing activity, and then to the execution of the shot, while continuing the mind-clearing activity. That means we have to dip further into unfamiliar territory. Everybody has some acquaintance with the words conscious and unconscious, but how many really understand what the difference signifies and what that difference produces? The overwhelming indication is "Not many." But the difference is critical, IF you want to get to the highest level of competence available for your golf game. No one is required to go there. Most have not, but it is a legitimate option for anyone who wants it. And it is a "must" for reaching the highest level of game development.

There are rules, though, but most players haven't been exposed to the information. Skills are energized by "commands" from the conscious mind, running concurrently with the action of the skill. Habits are skills that have been elevated to the unconscious level - memorized, mastered and fixed in the person's inner "storage system." Habits only work when a person is thinking about something other than the action being performed. Most people seem to think that habits work when they are not thinking at all, which is a condition that is impossible. There is no such thing as a time when we are not thinking. It's just that when we don't "hear" anything in our minds, we assume that means they are "empty." Actually, they have only switched to unconscious. By definition, "unconscious" means that we don't see it or hear it. But it is there, nevertheless. Golfers will know the relevance of that from shots that brought the exclamation "Where the H... did THAT come from?!?!"

The difference between what makes a skill function and what causes a habit to go to work needs additional explanation. Skills need direct commands. Those are conscious and accompany the action, during the same time frame. Habits need prior commands. They must have a quiet, not empty, mind to allow them to work as pre-determined. The command is given ahead of the action. Then the mind is put on "quiet," with a Clear Key (or something that replicates that). Sadly, that has been confused with the idea that habits need silence. That is not the case. What a habit requires is, first a command, then, an open pathway for release, via the essence of a Clear Key. The crucial issue is in the definition of "open pathway." A problem arises where there is total conscious silence. In the presence of conscious silence, the unconscious mind is free to roam any place it takes a notion, which is part of the non-discriminatory nature of innate human experience. That roaming may be completely incompatible with what the person is trying to do. So it is vital to understand how an automatic path is created and managed for habits to be activated.

Habits must have a path for release. Using skills is relatively easy. Skills, however, are a lot more susceptible to mistakes than habits. Habits simply can't work until the skills have been transformed to a level of mastery. First things first. For using a skill we must think about what we are doing while we do it. So if you want to drive a nail with a hammer, using your skill, you have to consciously think about aiming the hammer and hitting the nail. If you have developed your carpentry skills to the habit level, however, you will find that you can hammer away while thinking about anything but the hammer and the nail. You WILL BE THINKING about something - a conversation, a song, a fantasy, a pleasantry, the color of the sky, a favorite food, anything that has no bearing on what you are doing. It just won't be about the hammer or nail, or any other kind of action. As a matter of fact, thinking about where to strike the nail may result in a mashed thumb.

There is another step that we cannot omit, if we are to reach understanding. How does one reach the habit level with a hammer? The most usual path is by hammering until one can do that without thinking directly about the action and gradually begin to think about other things while doing it. That's the way most of our daily, seemingly small, habits have been formed. It's actually a systematic process, but we just don't notice what is orderly about it.

Apply that to golf. Usually what we do is think about our grip, alignment, start of the backswing in a proper path, not taking the club back too far, getting the club back to the ball and hitting it squarely, or some combination of those elements. Or we think about the target - where we want the ball to go, or taking it back low and slow. Clearly, those approaches work, much of the time, at least enough to make us think we're taking a proper route. The initial problem however, is that the body and the mind do not work at the same speed. The mind moves much faster than the body. So when we consciously think about what we are doing the mind gets ahead of the body. In an effort to accommodate that, the body will try to speed up to match the mind's activity - play catchup. Or it will slow down trying to avoid a mistake. Both of those paths generate anxiety - again indiscriminantly. Either way, we are set up for what subsequently may be referred to as "the yips." Doesn't happen every time, but often enough to cost a stroke or two. What makes golf appear distinctive from most other activities is the detail we put into the motions and positions. That attention to detail has a way of keeping us thinking consciously all the time and therefore in the skill mode. Consequently, there is little or no way to move toward habit development. No need to tell us that if we don't have the habits, we can't use them.

To get to our habits in golf, assuming we have them, we can construct the necessary pathway easily using the process that Mother Nature gave us in the first place and which we use without realizing it with most simple things we do on a daily basis. There are so many of those daily habits that a list is impractical. Brush your teeth, put on your shoes and socks, eat your food, open and close doors, drive your car. You can finish the list. We do all those things without so much as a conscious thought. What we may not notice is that we are always thinking about something else when we do them and we arrived at each one gradually, not suddenly. Once there, those habits never leave. You could not ride your bicycle for ten years and still go out and make it work. Maybe there would be a little "rust" at first, but you'd still have the fundamentals.

Golfers seem to need half a season to get their games back after a layoff. Most days it can take several holes to get going if the layoff was only overnight. There are two possible reasons. One: You may not have developed sufficient habits yet. Two: You have some habits, but you are thinking about what you are doing while you do it which forces you to stay at the skill level. Habits won't work there.

With all that in mind, using a training aid effectively must be done in conjunction with the way learning takes place. If you are working on a skill, use a device to help you describe a motion or position, working in sets of four. (Four swings thinking about the skill you are working on). Then take the aid away and work toward the habit, again in a set of four. (Four swings duplicating what you did with the aid, but thinking about something other than that action DURING actual execution. You think about the action itself only in pre-shot as you rehearse what you plan to do).

That way, you serve your best interests by having the help to learn the skill, and then moving on to the habit without the aid. That, in turn, is transferable to your game on the course. Using the aid all the time renders your learning DEPENDENT on the aid. That creates vulnerability to effects from shock when that device is not present and the pressure is on. REMEMBER: the human system is non-discriminatory. It responds or reacts to the moment. If it is well trained, through habit development, and is presented with a proper path, it will do what you have asked of it in pre-shot. If you try to "ask it" and "do it" at the same time, you will be forced to default to the manual track, which is skill only. No habits allowed. But if you ask it ahead of time, put a neutral thought - via a Clear Key - to work, you will then get what you ask for, assuming that you used your time wisely in practice to build your habits from your skills in the manner that follows the principles we are referencing here.

So what to do? Take the following steps in order. Pick yourself a Clear Key. That's a simple repeatable thought pattern that has no action in it and can form a backdrop of conscious thinking that will allow your habits to go to work. It is the orderly application of a normally simple process which, for golf, requires a bit more of a system since golf is a systematic game. Examples of Clear Keys: "Mary had a little lamb; I wish I had one too." "A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and a mouse or two." "I wonder whatever happened to Absorbine Senior?" Such sayings, and a ton more you can think of, give no commands, are long enough to cover a swing from start to finish, carry a little humor, and can be repeated on any and every shot, chip or putt. We won't try to rewrite our book here, but you can have all the details, reasons, applications and combinations from the pages of The Double Connexion. Also, you may click here to review the full process for using Clear Keys to build skills and habits, in that order.

Finally, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If you want your game at its highest level, here is the way. Once tried, you'll never go back. We'll help you, too, if you wish. It is not a complicated process, once you understand it. Complex, it may be, but we have reduced it to it's least complicated form to provide the maximum benefit with minimum expense of time and energy. You may yet find this will help you discover what is meant by the phrase "Just Do It.," as well as just how that is actually implemented.


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Update 07-15-05

2002 CareyMumford