After more than 40 years studying and working in this arena, one thing is clear. There is a lot of missed, and missing, information for most folks concerning anxiety and its effects on what we do. Reasons? It sounds "bad," abnormal, unnecessary, and discussing it often causes others to become anxious (of all things)! As a group, golfers, because they are so directly affected by the solitary nature of the game itself, continue to come up with notions that fall into what Johnny Miller once called the" WOOD" method ("Works Only One Day") . So they are misled by "changing something" (almost anything - new club, new grip, new swing thought, breathing, eye movement, etc) and that alteration distracts the attention long enough to reduce the effects of anxiety momentarily. Unfortunately, that almost always leads back to "the well for more water." That will always be the case when one merely deals with the symptom rather than the cause.
As one PhD put it, Mental health professionals are not concerned with normal anxiety. Rather, they attend to fear and anxiety that has somehow gone awry; that inexplicably reaches overwhelming levels; that dramatically reduces or eliminates productivity and significantly intrudes on an individual's quality of life; and for which friends, family and even the patient can find no obvious cause. (From Jack D. Maser, Ph.D. National Institute of Mental Health).
The only "required" concern we have for golf is with normal anxiety - the kind that keeps us awake, interested, motivated and ready to go. Normal anxiety also serves as our "alarm" clock to let us know when "danger" (real or anticipated) is present.
But even normal anxiety produces symptoms that require management in golf (and other arenas, at times). Of course, the abnormal kind may be a concern, but one will have trouble appreciating that if the normal is not first understood.
Most folks don't want to know about anxiety. It is much too uncomfortable to be reminded that there are things going on in our lives over which we have no control. They are just present. We can't stop them from doing what they were put there to do, and the fact that they can scuttle our efforts when we aren't looking is just plain "unacceptable" to us. That leads to the ostrich syndrome - "If you don't notice it, maybe it will go away." Anxiety is here to stay, however, so, as "the man" says, all of us must "Get over it!" (That is, if we wish to develop things like consistency, confidence and clear focus of attention in any endeavor).
One of the issues with anxiety is that until one learns to observe it, it is not likely that its presence will be known till after the fact. Another matter is that most folks aren't prepared to recognize the effects of it first hand. It should be a clue that most golfers are willing to say that golf is 90 % mental while acting as though it is 99 % mechanical. That's a major clue right off the bat. The only way we have found for golfers to see the other side of the coin is to work with the "automatic principle" long enough and directly enough to experience the difference. Then, that will allow an opportunity for facing it without the need to feel, or be, so "rational" (or cerebral) about it.
What comes next is a partial list of everyday experiences that every golfer will likely recognize. These are no more than symptoms (evidences) that anxiety is, or was, present at the time. Some of you will even "doubt" part or all of what's on the list. We can't do much about that except encourage you to do your own research and see what you find. And by research, we don't mean checking the popular sports psychology books and magazines. It means go to the "Deep" researchers. It's OK to read the popular stuff, but get your measurement system up to date with authoritative, documented research, so you are able to evaluate the content of what you do read and hear with some degree of accuracy.
Some of the symptoms: (You can add to the list).
|Indecision or uncertainty in
Indecision or uncertainty at address.
Indecision or uncertainty in execution.
Trust breaking down.
Confidence faltering or disappearing.
Knot in the gut.
Tense body movement.
Changes in breathing.
Grip pressure concerns.
Being annoyed by outside noises and movements.
Dwelling on a bad shot for more than 30 seconds.
Complaining to other players in the group.
Needing an extra drink in the 19th hole.
Rushing to the range before playing to see if your swing survived last night's sleep.
Forgetting something you needed until after the round has begun.
The shot that goes wildly where you told it not to go. The "too quick"change of direction at the top of the swing.
The "quick" takeaway.
Excessive swing speed (more than your normal).
Slowing down the pace of the swing.
The pushed, pulled or "jerked" putt.
The expletive after a topped shot.
The whiff or near miss.
Coming "over the top."
Inability to transfer all the "good stuff" from the practice tee to the course.
Self directed anger.
"The club went off in my hands."
Leaving putts short.
Hitting putts too hard.
Gross misdirection of a putt or other shot.
Dumping the ball in a sand bunker you needed to go over from 30 yards (more or less).
Ruminating over a water hazard.
Using an "old ball" where there is a hazard.
Spending incessant hours agonizing over swing mechanics.
Thinking about "positions" while trying to make a swing.
Knowing how and not being able to do it.
Running "out of gas" before the round is complete.
Irritability with oneself for missed shots.
Lack of concentration.
Not being able to "get the club back."
There is no such thing as "controlling" anxiety. You cannot control an involuntary function. You can only manage it. You must know what initiates it or you won't know where to start. It must be understood that managing it means knowing how to avoid producing the inner signals that precipitate anxiety reactions. For golf, that does not require "all day," just a few seconds at a time.
Since all anxiety that can damage what we do is in the past and the future, it is avoided by staying in the present, where the effects are always minimal. Targets are future; swing mechanics are past. If you allow it, your mind will try to go one or both of those places, even as you stand over the ball. That is prelude to a "tilt," leaning, if not falling, if not failure to get done what was planned. Most golfers "double dip" practically all the time. They race from past to future and back again, multiple times on almost every shot. So the effects of anxiety are with anyone who doesn't know how to manage it all the time, and it is "in force" without their permission. Part of the problem is that we get away with our "misses" often enough that we think we have it all "under control." It's deceptive.
To avoid the effects of anxiety long enough to execute a golf shot requires anywhere from a minimum of 7 to a maximum of 13-14 seconds for fully effective action. It takes about 6 seconds to shift gears from the conscious activity of pre-shot to the non conscious vista of automatic action. If one takes longer than 14 seconds (with a very few exceptions), the tools of "avoidance" (for me it is a "clear key") are not strong enough to keep the non conscious mental activity quiet beyond that time frame.
The beauty is that the management tool that helps avoid the anxiety is the same as the tool needed to transform conscious mechanical activity into automatic activity. How good is that? Two raucous birds "killed" with one little old stone. When you learn to use clear keys, you have the resource in hand to stave off anxious signals and place yourself squarely into the middle of the automatic principle. So a clear key will keep you in the present, where there is no anxiety, and give you the benefit of making the best shot (that's what automatic does) of which you are capable, based on the habits you have built.
Noooo... it won't give you something magical that you have not previously built or that you do not own.
There is a lot more to it, but first hear the humor that lets you know this is not some life-threatening matter. It is simply an issue that will require you to understand the words "You have to learn to give up control in order to gain control." That is, assuming that...
If you really want to take your game to a higher level than you presently own, there is no way around dealing with the reality of anxiety and its effects. You don't have to go there, but you can, if you want to. Otherwise, you can keep on doing what you've always done and keep on getting what you always got.
As it turns out, mental activity and physical action are inextricably joined at the hip. When you mess with your swing, you also mess with your mind. And when your mind gets messy, it will infect your swing. I even hope you will work hard to prove me wrong. That way, if you work hard enough, you can't miss going to the next level.