Reaching the Fourth Dimension in Golf

From: "Golf, The Game for Life" by Carey G. Mumford, KeyGolf and ProForm Associates

You are in good company if it has escaped your attention that there are four dimensions, or four levels of development in the game of golf. Most golfers only get as far as the third dimension. Since most folks haven't been pointed in this direction, we won't wonder if the idea needs more explanation.

Here's how to recognize the level at which you play the game. Your game is at the third level if, when playing, you do not separate completely between thinking about the swing you will make and actually making it. For instance, if you make a practice swing just before stepping to the ball, or if you have to check on your target after you address the ball, or if you are thinking directly about your take away, rhythm or swing plane while in the act, you are playing the game at the third level.

Your game has made the fourth level if you always complete your pre-shot plan before you walk to the ball, never have to look again, and can recite a poem or sing a song while you swing. In other words, if you can make your swing while having non-golf, non-action thoughts that have no mechanics in them, you have reached the fourth dimension. Precisely speaking, the fourth dimension is for well developed habits and needs no more thought at the moment of activity than riding a bicycle. The fourth dimension also enjoys the long life that goes with bicycling. Once you learn the basics, you don't have to continue to learn those, you only need to maintain conditioning and refine or occasionally polish technique. Keep in mind, though, that when you ride a bike, you are thinking. The thinking we do while riding, however, rarely concerns the mechanics of it. The same scenario goes with golf.

Most golfers have not reached that level, though. Observe and you will notice that almost all of them seem to be giving immediate thought to what they are doing while they are doing it. And that falls within the definition of manual function, not automatic. All of our human manual functions are performed in the third dimension. The fourth dimension is reserved for automatic activity. There is a lot of automatic in life, but we seldom pay attention to it.

It would be nice if it were as simple as those two paragraphs make it sound. But those ideas will need expansion. According to Dr. Erik Erikson, Mother Nature's original plan called for the third level of human development to be the one during which we learned all our basic skills. The fourth level was intended as the one in which we turned those skills into habits. To develop skills, we have to think about what we are doing while we do it. For habits to work, we must not think about what we are doing while we do it. The difference is huge.

Notice here that the plot begins to thicken. It would be convenient if all our thinking were conscious, but it's not. Most of it is actually unconscious, especially the part that goes with our actions. While it is not an exact science, psychological theory generally concludes that at any given moment our conscious thinking is no more than about 3% of what's going on. That leaves 97% for the unconscious, which we don't see, except occasionally after the fact. The problem in golf is to keep both conscious and unconscious thinking quiet long enough to make a shot, so our automatic resources (whatever habits are present) can assist us.

The process is a great deal more complex than the common advice that says "just don't think."That only aims at the 3% of conscious thought. It is impossible "not to think." Try "not to think" and you wind up thinking about that. The unconscious is always working. Even if your conscious thinking seems empty, the unconscious is still working. A further complication comes from the fact that the mind and body do not work at the same speed. The mind is much faster than the body. So if you are consciously thinking about what you are doing while you try to do it, the body will either race to catch up with the mind or it will balk. That "race" can cause stumbling, tripping or falling over one's own actions. The balking is sometimes called "yips." The natural organization of the unconscious mind is predetermined. It works by default, like the operating system of a computer. It will respond positively to the commands given it so long as the "programs" called for are " installed," as in habits. If no fully functioning programs have been added, responses will be limited to whatever was already there. In that case, we will have to play with our existing skills and forego advantages from any habits we may have built.

There is a higher level with less limits, however, where all our habits are present and available. The bold and the brave may want to go there, once they understand how that trip is made. Of course, no one can exclusively argue against only playing at the skill level. That's what most have done forever, anyway. Make no mistake, though. If we decide to venture into the fourth dimension, and learn to play only by habit, some will scold us for going where others usually do not go. Others will even insist that "you can't go there," that "it won't work."

A very wise man once told this writer "Don't ever tell human beings they can't do something, unless you want to discourage their desire to reach their goals."

There's more. We store the habits we build in the unconscious area of the mind. When we practice, we are installing programs. The catch is to insure "good" programs that match the best skills we are able to learn. If our installed programs are helter-skelter, as in "beating balls," our results will likely follow that route. In that case, unconscious thought can even disturb the skills we use. Meanwhile, if the programs are not there, we are left to rely only on conscious thought. You know you are in that position if you feel you must go to the practice tee before every round and find yourself thinking, "I've got to find out if my swing in still OK from yesterday."

Even if we have good programs (habits) installed, conscious thinking can interrupt their use. Cooperation between conscious and unconscious resources is a necessity, and that means knowing how to get that result. We cannot function at the third and fourth levels at the same moment. The action of skills at the third level is more deliberate and detailed. The activity of habits at the fourth level tends to be free flowing and uninhibited. If we don't know how the mind-body connection works, we may consciously try to access too many programs (habits) at once. Just like our computer, we can get a "lock," or even a "crash." We won't ordinarily "shut down," but we may default to what our bodies have learned to do on their own. If the body has learned well, has good habits, and ability, the defaults may be enough. If not, our games can be seriously hindered. That's where most of our "crazy" shots come from.

Mother Nature's dedicated human way includes the body making every possible attempt to do what the mind suggests. But her plan calls for us to get to the habit level early in life to provide a solid foundation for the best of future actions. The conscious mind, then, becomes the manager for putting habits to work rather than the supervisor of each individual act. The unconscious is like a savings account that holds all of our resources safely. When we want to use them, we consciously call for them (as in pre-shot). In that way we use our conscious minds to manage what is predetermined and prevent disturbances from any rambling or default in our unconscious thinking. When we can organize our tasks in that way, we are in position to save an abundance of time for planning, imagination and vision for the future. That way, we are not absorbed by the step-by-step busy work that often comes our way, as in "grinding" out a round of golf. Mother Nature's intention seems to have been that we should have time "to smell the roses," enjoy what we do. We might even save enough energy to write music, poetry and great literature, without interrupting our daily routines, since those would be handled by habit. If not that, we would surely have more time and energy to apply to the best we can put into our games.

Are you ready for the Fourth Dimension?

How far can you go with your golf game? As far as you wish? As far as your talent will allow?

As far as you can learn? As far as others will let you? Or all of the above?

Does it depend on how lucky you are? How good your teacher is? What kind of clubs and balls you use? How strong you are? The encouragement you get? Or all of the above?

What do you have to do to get there?

Truth be known, if you are under the age of 15, you've got the best help available. If you are over 15, some additional vision may be required. So listen up.

Not much attention has been given to the natural forces that work for us when we're young. How did you learn to ride a bike? Tie your shoes? Button your blouse? Brush your teeth? Write your name? Can't remember? Probably not, because it all happened on Mother Nature's time and with her full support. You didn't have to know.

The natural system that governs human growth and development moves more slowly than the technological discoveries of the age in which we live. Makes no difference whether you are talking space shots, computers, golf, medicine or government. That's not necessarily bad. It's just a volatile reality that we need to know about. Human beings can imagine and dream about things that are well beyond the actual ability to do them.

Buck Rogers, Jules Verne, Superman and Star Wars all illustrate that human capacity. Golf has it too, with a lot more high tech intellectuals these days than blue collar sportsmen. Take a look at the current tours. All the swings look alike. But look back at the Seniors. They are almost all different. It's mass production vs. individual interpretation. As strange as it seems, the current trend looks like a throwback to the third level of learning. They seem to rely on the manufacture of a common set of skills. The way the Seniors did it went to the fourth level. They allowed their individual habits to take over. So why the current appearance of retreat? Most likely because understanding the four levels was left out of the big picture, instructors were fewer, and there were less swing theories. Even so, they are all surely wishing to get to the Fourth Level.

That should cause us to consider bringing our golf understanding and learning parallel with this "high tech" age. Golf, as every human activity, involves four levels in learning if it is to be done as naturally as riding a bike and other things like that. Most active players don't know it, and most seniors lucked into it. It's time to bring it home to roost in plain view.

Mother Nature has a lot more to "say" about it than we might have guessed. It is her "system" in the first place. She gave us the "blueprint." It shows that until we get into our teens, we get all the benefits, whether we want them or not. After that, we best know how she was going about it in the first place if we want to continue to learn and develop. In other words, we must learn to read the blueprint and how to cooperate with it.

For this article, we only need to know that there is plenty of research to support that statement. Our purpose here is to help us duplicate the early years so we can continue to grow later, with the same excellence Mother Nature provided from the beginning.

We need to know how to repeat, as nearly as possible, the ways Mother Nature got us through our first dozen or so years. Those years provide the model. We had to go from knowing nothing and not being able to do anything to being able to ride a bike, write, and walk, to name a few, "automatically." We need the same with our golf, but the fact is that very, very few players have gone all the way to the "automatic" stage. Playing on "automatic" is the substance of the Fourth Dimension in your game. It may get talked about, but it rarely gets done.

To become the most completely informed and competent golfer that you can become, you will need much more than this article, which can only point you in a new direction. It is "new," not because it's never been there, but because most are not accustomed to notice it on purpose.

We will not try here to interpret or explain the details. We will only point to a means to arrive at the Fourth Dimension and maintain "residence" there. But we hasten to point out that your task will not be finished until you have also mastered the details. Why? Because, until we do that we will only be thinking "about a new way." Until that becomes part of the way we think, it will affect our development and results very little.

Here's the skinny:

First. There are four levels of learning decreed by Mother nature. Level one is "unconscious incompetence." Level two is "conscious incompetence." Level three is "conscious competence," or the skill level. Level four is "subconscious competence," or the habit level, reserved for mastery. Those four levels were prominent in our early years. In order, the ages for them were year one; years two and three; years four, five and six; and years seven through twelve/thirteen. Those four stages form a prototype for the rest of life. To keep building, we use the same program format over and over, with a potential bonus. If the program is mastered, the "over and over" part matures as we go, bringing increasing resourcefulness and its rewards of consistency and confidence.

Second: We must have skills before we can develop habits. Building skills requires consciously working on tasks that make up the golf swing and its supports, such as grip, posture, and alignment. Bear in mind, however, that if you have not reached your 14th or 15th birthday, Mother nature is giving you a lot more help than any teacher or outside person can give. Provision is already built in to allow you to turn your skills into habits. What is needed during that time is sound coaching. Instruction should be limited. The object should not be to create one more golfing robot, but to support the natural abilities and style characteristics of the individual. With some minor exceptions, it will be found that what comes naturally is not only serviceable, but will move to the habit level quite effectively through our 13th or 14th year, as long as we, or someone else, don't keep changing what we are learning. If we keep changing, our systems cannot finish the habit building. If we monkey around with the system, we are apt to get an unreliable and unfinished result. The best route is to let our habit development run its course and then make any necessary adjustments. Build first; adjust later. Did you ever wonder why so many players, as they get toward their 20's and later, complain aloud that they can't putt as well as they did "when they were kids?"

Third: Changing skills into habits requires repetition of action, again Mother Nature's way. But plain "repetition" is not sufficient. Her way has been found through research as follows: if we do something once, we lose 50% of that immediately and 25% more within 48 hours; twice gets the same percentage, as does three times; but if we do something four times in succession, we get 90% retention. It gets no better with more repetitions, so learning needs to embrace sets of "fours." Four is the minimum number for getting maximum results. Another principle of learning is that it takes place best "with one thing at a time, in short doses, with brief rest periods in between." The "fours" support that principle, as well. Of course, a single "four" is not enough, as we will show.

Fourth: Building habits after the age of 14 needs the following. We must think about what we are doing to build a skill. Next we must have a means to get that skill to the habit, or automatic level. To do that requires repeating an action while alternately thinking about the skill and then performing that same skill while thinking about something that has nothing to do with the action. That is done by "fours." Four swings, thinking about the action followed by four swings using a "Clear Key."

"Clear Key" is the name given to any systematic thought process that prevents thinking about the mechanics of an action while that action is taking place. That prevention works because we can only think one thought at a time, and if the thought is something like "Mary had a little lamb, I wish I had one too," or "I love the snow at Aspen in winter," it is impossible to think about the swing itself. At that moment, we will be following Mother Nature's formula for an automatic path and the development of habits.

To move a skill to habit effectively, then, one uses the "fours." Hit four shots thinking about the skill (the way we've always done it). Then the next four swings are made while repeating a "Clear Key," (of one's own choosing). After that, alternate the "fours" until 32 swings have been made. That's (4+4)x 4 = 32, which fills all the requirements - in fours, one thing at a time, short doses, with little rest periods in between. That creates a "systematic" approach as close as possible to what was there for us very naturally in our earliest years. During those years, we did not need a "system." It was "factory installed." Without second guessing Mother Nature's reasons, the "guarantee" runs out after the first dozen or so years and it is left for us to "pick up the options."

We can keep on soaking in the knowledge, but creating habits from skills is not so easy. Learning how to learn may be our toughest task. But that is the surest way to make it to the fourth dimension.

That may seem enough, but it is far from all that matters. Reaching the peak in your game, or anything else in life, also needs the wisdom that goes with knowing as much as possible about our behavior styles. Again, we can't fill in all the details here, but we can do two things. One is identify the basic styles. The other is show the difference between "style" and its more commonly recognized "cousin" - "personality."

You'll need more than this brief encounter with styles, but here's the outline.

The four basic human behavior styles are named "Driver," "Persuader," "Craftsman," and "Analyzer." Lanny Wadkins and Kim Saiki are Drivers. So are Olin Browne and Fulton Allem. John Daly and Meg Mallon are Persuaders. So are Chi Chi Rodrigez and Lee Trevino. Ben Crenshaw and Nancy Lopez are in the Craftsman group. So are Al Geiberger and Lee Janzen. Analyzers include Bernhard Langer and Vicki Goetze. Also, you'll find Justin Leonard and Bruce Crampton.

Everyone has a style and golfers are no exception. The trick is to have a reliable and true picture of what that style is, with as little guessing as possible. Knowing the difference between style and personality is important as well. This one gets literally tons of misunderstanding. Style comes with our other birth gifts. Personality is learned, or acquired. Style is already there. We form our personality as we go. We can change our personality, but it is dangerous to try to change style. We must learn to play golf in keeping with our style. Personality has nothing to do with golf, except perhaps how we relate to the galleries, the caddies, other players and the world in general. Personality is our mask. Style is the real deal. When you know your style, you have a foundation for building your game and playing it "inside yourself" that cannot be matched any other way. One of the most damaging myths in golf is the one that promotes the notion that we should "learn to play like so and so." We may learn from others, but it is impossible for any one player to play consistently or successfully like another, no matter what we've heard to the contrary. Golf annals are full of illustrations of those who have tried that and suffered from it. We must learn to play like ourselves. Style awareness helps in that cause.

And now you have the ingredients for taking your game to the Fourth Level - the Fourth Dimension - the Fourth Estate. The rest is up to you. You can quit here and find it all amusing, or you can take it seriously and let it help you become a Champion.