By Deborah Rozman, Ph.D., Special to PGA.com
with Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson.
'The success of your golf game might not be in the piles of balls you can hit, but rather how well you can learn to manage and direct your emotions. Emotion -- feel -- is an important component of human functioning, and emotions affect all aspects of life, including sports and particularly golf. In fact, emotional beliefs drive the mental game.
Thoughts are structures that contain emotion, which affect where thinking or visualizing can take you. You can learn to guide your own emotions on the course -- and in life.
Coaching your emotional state is the key to consistent success on and off the course -- it's what separates the best players from the rest. Here's an example: Annika Sorenstam, then a rookie without any wins, had a one-stroke lead on the 71st hole of the '95 U.S. Open when she mis-hit a shot to an impossible position. Her reaction? She laughed, regrouped and went on to secure her first major. We tell our golf students they have two productive choices when it comes to reacting to a golf shot: They can either be happy or neutral. Nothing else. Sorenstam could have reacted with anger, but it probably would have cost her the tournament.
As in life, emotions in golf have a tendency to snowball. They can spiral in a positive or negative direction. It's up to you.
The Upward Spiral:
Good golfers, especially at the tournament level, have all been fortunate enough to feel the upward spiral. It's the ideal emotional state to be in on a golf course, whether you're competing or playing for fun. It works best by being emotionally neutral on the first tee. After a couple of shots, you become more interested in what you're doing -- you're there, in the present, and can't wait to hit the next shot. This makes you play even better. Now you're starting to get engaged. You don't just make clear decisions; you have the courage to go through with them. After a few holes like this, you start feeling confident and saying good things to yourself such as, "I know I can do this," and "I trust myself with this shot." Once this level has been reached, and you maintain a positive emotional balance (but appreciating your game), you're likely to slip into the elusive Zone that golfers all try so hard to find. This is where everything just flows; your mind and body work effortlessly together, and everything clicks with remarkable ease. The final upward spiral stage is pure euphoria. You feel total happiness and well-being, and your internal "pharmacy" is flooding your system with vitality hormones and refurbishing your immune system.
The Downward Spiral:
Unfortunately, many golfers end up on the opposite, downward spiral instead. After hitting a shot that isn't 100-percent right, you might feel a slight hesitation when standing over the ball. This likely makes you hit another mediocre shot. Your mind starts spinning with questions: "Is my ball position correct?" "What was it that I heard on Academy Live?" Now you're confused. On the next few shots you try a slew of different swing thoughts but nothing works, making you frustrated -- "I knew this was going to happen!" You quickly turn from frustration to anger and even start cursing or calling yourself names. After anger always comes let down and depression, and by then you might as well add 10 shots to your score. To have a chance of getting yourself started on an up ward spiral quickly, you must abort the downward spiral before you reach frustration. How?
What initially drew us to HeartMath was the idea of the heart as a source of power for emotional management and intuitive intelligence that we can bring to our golf games and to those we coach. HeartMath has been conducting research on emotions and the heart since 1990 and the scientific support for the effectiveness of HeartMath tools and technology for managing emotions and gaining that intuitive feel you need to perform better is abundant.
Practice with the HeartMath tools and you will shift out of the downward spiral into an upward spiral fast. You will also learn how to get in the Zone and anchor yourself there more consistently by using the power of your intuitive heart intelligence. Here's how.
Anchoring your Good Shots
We often describe and prescribe a strategy for how golfers can learn to "anchor" their good shots and not anchor their bad shots. Pia has reduced this to a slang form of Swedish we call "ASSA" and "DISSA." The player learns to ASSA when they hit a shot they like ... to "Associate" it ... which means to take it into their heart and imprint the feel of the good results and experience. You can do this by practicing the Quick Coherence technique found in HeartMath's book Managing Emotions: Golf's Next Frontier. You learn to sincerely feel appreciation for your good shots and sustain that feeling with the power of the heart. This will allow you to maintain a positive and uplifting emotional balance as you play. Then learn to DISSA if you hit a shot with an undesirable result. DISSociate by using the Quick Coherence technique to rebalance and go back to neutral. In neutral, you become an objective observer. You stop any energy drain and keep any negative emotion from being stored in your emotional memory bank. What is most prevalent in the golf culture is to see golfers at all levels emotionalize and store the bad shots but dissociate the good ones. This can be attributed to a belief that it's best to be humble or stoic about great performance. In fact, until recent years it was not common to see golfers being emotionally happy when they hit good shots.
HeartMath gives you the tools to slow down your emotional responses so the old stored patterns and reflexes stop controlling you. It provides proven tools on how to start being your own best "emotion coach."
* Immediate -- in one hour, or in one day, with a little practice.
* Measurable -- you can watch your heart rhythms change in real time.
* Sustained -- you continue to improve your ability to get in the "Zone" and advance in the "Zone" after three months, six months, 12 months, etc.
Practice visualizing and feeling your good shots while you use Quick Coherence with the Freeze-Framer bio-feedback software. See which feelings get you into the highest coherence and help you stay in the Zone. You will build a new internal reference state of emotional balance and intuitive feel that you can reconnect to while you're on the golf course. The ability to associate and dissociate emotions on the course will fill your emotional memory bank with positive, uplifting feelings and keep the negative, destructive ones at bay.
Remember: This doesn't just apply to the golf course -- it's an important way of enhancing everyday life as well.'