Is there a difference between a Swing Key and a Clear Key?
The short answer is "a lot."
Trying to explain adequately the true nature
of swing keys as they are differentiated from clear keys is not
an easy platform to explain in a couple paragraphs. That is
essentially true primarily because the whole realm of the
non-conscious seems mysterious and was not clarified for any of
us in the course of our personal and academic development and
whatever pursuits we may have chosen along the way. From our own
vantage point in playing, coaching and studies, even though we
took all the courses in college, it was not even in the content
of the best psychological and sociological studies (and still is
not) even at the university level. One has to go on a determined
pligimage toward everything available in the informational world
to get to meaningful responses to what is sought in this
discussion. That was the part we had to get from clinical
training, which was not available in academics. It simply is not
in the classical educational books. One has to spend energy and
time working with the living organism in order to see what
actually happens to people.
That's the "hard" part. What we found, after years of research and study, and it came to us "suddenly" (after all those years) that doing what we needed to do was very simple and that all of us had, in fact, been doing this very thing all our lives without realizing it.
We do it brushing our teeth, driving our cars, riding our bicycles, eating our food, putting on our clothes, and in short virtually everything we do customarily (habitually), since that is the order of choice in the natural world.
The rule is: "If you are thinking about what you are doing while you do it, you are consciously engaged." If, however, "you think about something OTHER than what you are doing while performing an activity, you are, by definition, tapped into your non-conscious resevoir where your best activity levels and habits are stored."
So getting to the non-conscious level is so easy and commonplace, that we missed it in translation as we went along. When we get in our cars, we don't think about the mechanics of driving, but we are thinking about something (and we don't have to practice driving our cars before backing out of the driveway). What makes golf different is that it carries more of a systematic nature and need than does riding a bike or driving a car. That's why we finally arrived at the clear key method. Moe Norman, who was our friend, used a "clear key" before we thought of it, even though we had written the first book before meeting him. We asked him once what he thought about while swinging, just as the question is raised in this thread. He answered me saying, "I am puuuuuuurrrrre energy," which he indicated he coupled with seeing a mental image of Niagara Falls going over the rim in slow motion. We can only think one thought at a time, so by using a neutral thought, the non-conscious reservoir of habit is free to move and express itself fully. If you are thinking about the action in progress, your system either must slow down or speed up to try to match the action with the thinking, and that is a mismatch that find trouble in progress.
Players report, as we have found, that when they tap the non-conscious by simply using a clear key, that "fellow" that comes forth with club in hand plays the game better than we do.
A caution is needed. We have worked with players who had only a few habits built and ready. Many of them could not get the ball off the ground - at first - until they built some firm habits. That is also a process, too long for this thread, but you can find it discussed elsewhere on this website.
We have found other players, who had great habits, but were not using them because they were thinking about what they were doing while doing it and that keeps the door to the non-conscious shut tightly. When those same players began using a clear key, the game came alive and their good stuff showed up.
This is far, far from the whole story, but if it gets the study and search muscles working, that is a help. It's there for anyone who wants it, and there are instructors around who know the process and teach with this resource. More about the process is available here on our webpages.
A Swing Key typically is thought to be, and used as, (by most players) a "trigger" for the swing. A swing key also serves some players for what they see as a short-term reminder of something they want to be sure to remember on each shot. It's like taking a grocery list to the store so you don't forget something for dinner. It's like a string tied around the finger. Or, for some players, it may be similar to carrying a rabbit's foot or other "charm" as a safeguard against "bad Luck." As such the swing key tends to possess a ritualistic nature. Now that's not strange when you realize that all ritual has an element of purposefulness as a human barrier against things considered to be "evil." When a swing key is only used in such ways, however, it has not been tapped for its full potential. That is only one small part of a much larger set of issues.
Using a swing key appropriately means seeing that it has a valid role in the architecture and structuring of learning as well as shot planning. Using a swing key is certainly an asset in leveraging the necessary pre-shot planning and the commands (supervision, direction) important to the execution of an upcoming shot, should we want to manage that shot and keep it free from whatever our non-discriminatory systems may bring up from within our undguided, default systems.
Both of those functions of learning and planning are manual, however, and involve only conscious thinking. It is, after all, necessary to think about a skill in order to put it into action, thouhg if we leave it at the conscious level, we can only use out skills - no habits allowed. Because of the non-discriminatory element in every person's system, however, if one chooses to use habits and play "on automatic," it is necessary to inform oneself directly, before execution (not during it) about which already formed habit(s) may be desired for the shot at hand. Bear in mind that habit execution is quite different from what is involved in executing a skill. One must be explicit in instructing one's own system before walking to the ball to make a shot, and that means knowing how that non-discriminatory human system goes about its "business."
All of that is, of course, only important if what is desired is a consistent and reliable playing framework. Swing keys can help in learning and shot-planning. Once an instruction has been given in pre-shot, however, we have to be ready to let go of the swing key and move to a Clear Key. That is, if what we want is to reach the automatic level for execution. For learning, swing keys are valuable to the necessary instruction to create a skilled learning response. Then we need to follow with Clear Keys in order to facilitate moving the skill to the habit level, when learning, or simply going directly to the habit level, when playing.