Golf Mental Game Myths / Flow Golf Podcast TV Episode #23

Here we are again for another episode of the Flow Golf podcast. Super excited to be back again. And in today’s episode, Rick, I really want to talk about some of the golf mental game myths we hear in the mental game of golf. I think the mental game of golf is still being defined by a lot of people. 

Some golfers, some coaches are still a little bit confused about what it actually means to them and what it means to their golf game.

So you hear so many different things out there, so many different myths, and I’d love to discuss some of those today. Are there any that kind of jump out at you that you’ve been hearing frequently recently, all throughout your 28 years of coaching that you’d love to discuss and maybe demystify whilst you’re on the podcast?

And the mental game has evolved. So I don’t want to say that what we talk about today is the only way to define the mental game or what it isn’t. When I was playing competitive golf back in the day and I went to see a sports psychologist back then there was a certain framework for what the mental game was or was not.

And I think as I became a swing coach and then I went back now into the mental game, I already had my misconceptions. And one that popped up a lot was when I asked people, Hey, what’s the mental game? They said, Well, it’s about not thinking. You’re not supposed to think. And I go, What do you mean? They go, Well, you’re not supposed to think.

You’re supposed to just be blank. You’re supposed to be, you know, I go, Whoa, okay. Now I, I got the concept because when you think about if you define something and have clarity behind it, of course it’s easier to take action. But I felt it was a disservice to tell people to not think on the golf course, because I believe the mental game is a lot about thinking.

It’s about a lot of processes to give information, it’s a lot about analyzing the environment. It’s about making decisions. It’s about creating a strategy. That’s all thinking, okay, now you and I both know through flow code there’s times where we’re thinking a lot and then it starts to shift. The thinking might be into thinking, into visualization, which now we see the target in such a crystal clear way that the picture or the symbol now becomes our attention.

That’s where our attention goes. I still have to pay attention to something, right? You and I talk a lot about focus where your focus goes, your energy goes. So thinking to me is a cognitive process that does need to be trained. Yet it’s a disservice for people to say, Hey, go on the golf course and don’t think, Holy smokes, there’s this.

And that’s what excites me. There’s tons of things to think about. And you and I, as coaches, help people go through those processes to say, Hey, this is how you would look at this lie. This is how you would look at this strategy here. This is how you, based on your skills, are going to make decisions. To me, that’s a mental process.

So it is about thinking at certain times and to be able to shift your awareness in different ways to finally when you’re going to perform the shot, to have your attention on a target. That is what it’s about.

Absolutely love that is relevant in that moment. And just to add to that, and you hear this so many times and the listeners would have as well, but if I tell you to not think about a pink elephant right now, what’s the first thing in your mind? So if we tried to not think, guess what we’re going to do, we’re probably going to get racing.

Thoughts, I think are so important to reiterate, but it really is just you being able to hold your thoughts, your attention, where you want them in that moment. That’s relevant. So if we think about meditation, we have tons of meditations inside the flow per golf kind of platform. And a lot of people, again, they have this same misconception.

You can say the same as they do with the mental game of golf, as they do with meditation. A lot of people think meditation is about not thinking, not true. It’s just about observing your thoughts, it’s becoming aware of your thoughts and then bringing your attention back to the thing that you intended to have your focus on. 

So that’s really, really important to understand and something to reiterate when anyone’s going through all meditations on our platform or any meditations in any other platform or any other resource is to understand that actually it’s about becoming aware of your thoughts and in bringing yourself back to where you want it, bring your attention back to where you want it to be.

And actually, each time you get distracted and bring it back, that’s you training that muscle. That’s you doing that bicep equivalent. So really important that to be the observer not to be ignored I guess it is.

Exactly so we observe the thought and if it is not relevant for the present moment we were able to shift it. Now some people, the first skill of awareness they don’t have. So we can’t even get to step two. 

And if they are aware that oh my attention or my thoughts are going to something irrelevant, that this discipline to bring it back on task, which is you then need to be clear on what you want your attention to be on, which I think is going to transition a little bit into one of our other misconceptions we talk about a lot, which is, you know, it’s only about the process, it’s not about the outcome, it’s only about the process, it’s not about the outcome. 

And again, on paper, that sounds fantastic, right? Yet, you know, I don’t know your thoughts because I want to hear your thoughts on this before I go on a riff and a ramp rampage here. What is your idea when somebody says, hey, how am I heard? It’s not about the outcome at all.

It’s only about the process.

Look, I completely get where people are coming from and I think it actually has good intentions behind it. But I think the important thing to understand is we can’t approach this. We can’t determine a process unless we’ve already got clarity on what the result is, the intended result is. 

So if I think about it I jump in a car and I’m ready to drive and I’m thinking about my process of putting my foot on the accelerator and doing the clutch and thinking about what direction am I going to turn left?

Am I going to turn right? I have no idea on how fast I want to drive. I’ve no idea whether to turn left, whether it’s right, if I don’t know where I’m heading. So I think that’s super important and super powerful ways to know and have clarity, complete clarity on the result. That’s where the value of the result is.

What is your result? Because that will then determine what the process looks like. So I get what people are saying. We then want to ensure that yes, we don’t get too lost in the result and we’re not always thinking into the future because the present moment is so important. It’s super powerful. So that’s where I think people get confused.

But again, I’d love to fly that back to you and hear your thoughts.

Yeah. And we’re really thinking about it as I was speaking to some very, very good swing coaches and they were embracing this idea. It’s only about the process, it’s not about the outcome. And I said, okay. And they said something to the effect of, Yeah, go play your next round of golf without any outcome thinking.

And I go, Good luck. I said, So your pre shot routine, which is a process, tell me where you’re going to aim. And they go, Well, what do you mean? Well, you have this pre shot routine and you’re going to I’m assuming you’re going to aim at something. Well, of course I go. What is the aim? It’s a target.

It’s an outcome. You had to process that. You had to engage with it. Well, Rick, that’s not an outcome. I go. Yes, it is. It is an outcome. So they were so lost in that I believe the myth is that it’s only about the process. They forgot that there’s a huge fundamental thing here is that you always are having a target, which is an outcome everybody.

And my thing is that the process leads to the outcome. But there’s another key, key element here where I think it is getting in the way and interfering. If we tell people it’s not about outcome, not about outcome, guess what outcome is going to pop in their head and they don’t have now a we’ll call it a positive or a resourceful meaning of what outcome means.

They’re told it’s not about the outcome. Oh, my God, I’m not supposed to think about the outcome. And I want to tell people, let’s embrace it. I can’t wait to hit this golf shot close. I can’t wait to play well today. I can instead, oh, I’m not supposed to think about this. And I think people are getting further and further away.

That outcome is like this evil thing. It’s like, no, it’s how we perceive it is the key part. And then once I’m clear on what I want, my process would support it. Okay. So everybody, it does start with an outcome, okay? 

And yes, we want to refine our processes, but why don’t we connect with the outcome in a more powerful, empowering way instead of fearing like that’s always supposed to think about, Oh no, I’m not supposed to think about outcome. I think that’s a detriment.

So something that I and it’s two words I speak to my clients a lot about desired results. What’s your desired result? And actually all of our processes, all of our systems should be built towards achieving that desired result in the simplest, easiest, most accurate way possible.

And I remember hearing this story from Tony Robbins about this actually, where he was talking about an employee that worked for him. And he said, look, I want this piece of information. And it came back in two weeks. And the employee said, well, I didn’t get the information, but I made 15 calls. And he said, okay, well, did you get closer to getting the information?

No, no, no. I made 15 calls and he said, to be honest, I don’t read about 15 goals. You could have made one call. No calls. You could have sent one email. All I cared about was you getting that desired result. Did you get the desired result of this piece of information? 

I think there’s a powerful message there, which is that no one really should take pride in this incredibly complex, long winded process if it one doesn’t get you to the desired result or to get you there much longer than what it actually needs to.

We should actually pride ourselves on saying, Here’s my desired result I want to get. There is simply Yes, yes. And that again, you can get that into a pre-show routine. And I speak a lot to my clients about that, which is you can put the most complex pre-show routine on the planet in place that you feel is doing all this incredible stuff.

But actually, what do you want? What’s the desired result? I want to feel confident. I want to feel engaged. I want to feel focused. Okay, perfect. Well, preferably. I mean, if you only have to do one thing to get that right, it may not be one thing. One thing even better.

That’s a great point where when I meet somebody for the first time in person and we make over pre-shot routine, I’m not one to say everybody has the same pre-show routine. Just like what you’re saying, I want to know what works for somebody to be fully engaged, fully committed to the golf shot that’s ahead of them.

And I want to observe their present routine and then I ask them questions. I said, Oh, I noticed you did a practice swing. Why did you do a practice swing? Oh, I don’t know. My coach told me to do it. Okay. So that’s a process which is now irrelevant because it’s not leading them closer to the outcome. So now we have wasted some part of our time.

Right. And that’s an example of many, many things that I asked people about: why do you do what you’re doing in your process? And sometimes I don’t get a very, very good answer because if I go back to here’s what’s the best shot I want to hit right now, I want to hit 15 feet over there.

And then you and I both say, okay, that’s my desired result. And in order to get my desired result, I want to be in a certain state which is confident and focused. Great. Now we can say, what’s the process that’s going to lead to that? Some people, it’s breathing, visualization. Sometimes I mean, we can have a long drawn list.

That’s why we call it FlowCode. What is your code to create the flow? And we do start with the outcome, everybody. So we can reverse engineer from that and get back to a behavior and get back to processes. But please, let’s embrace that. We want to hit great shots. We want to play well. And in order to do that, we are going to have the simplest, most powerful process to be able to do that.

But see, is that process leading to the outcome you want? But if you have no outcome, we have no way of a feedback loop to see if it’s working or not.

And that’s just the danger of overemphasizing the process and not the result, because we can start to fluff the process up with all these things that actually have no value. 

We feel we’re being productive, we feel we’re adding value, but we actually don’t know because we’re not measuring it against the results. So that’s where you fall into that, kind of like the false growth mindset and you hear that being talked a lot about by Carol Dweck and various others.

We want this growth mindset and all the folks’ growth mindset we need to track. We need to ensure that it’s getting us closer to where we want to be. So I love that. Love it. Are there any other myths that you feel are kind of fresh in your mind or that you hear a lot about as you’ve been coaching over the last 28 years? Any others that pop into your mind?

Yeah, I think and again, I’m going to say it from the swing standpoint first. So when I was and still am a swing instructor, golf has become more about measuring models of swings and your swing needs to be in these positions and stuff like that. And on the mental side, I saw this ten, 15 years ago where I’m working with some junior students.

They’re competitive students. And the parents would come to me and say, Hey, little Johnny needs to be more like Tiger Woods. So the parents would think that Tiger Woods now is the epitome of mental game. Thus you should teach him to be like Tiger Woods. And I said, Well, Tiger Woods is probably one of the greatest mental games.

Well, and players. But the mental game skills that I have ever seen for sure yet is his personality style. Should that have everybody do that and that’s why I push back. I think all of us can play great golf with who we are. And I do some personality style stuff with a company called Athletes Assessment. And you start to have the self-awareness of who you are and can play great golf.

Now, there’s interference that could get in the way that we have to be ready for. But I have found if I have little Johnny who’s talkative, who’s got a playful mindset to him, and I say, you have to be like Tiger Woods and super intense and you can’t talk to anybody and you have to slam clubs after you hit a bad shot like that.

That would be the biggest detriment I could do as a coach. And where and this is where I become smart but sometimes is that I’ll have these parents and say, yeah, they need to be like Tiger Woods. I said, But little Johnny just shot 68 yesterday. Yeah, but he was having too much fun in between shots and talking to his playing parties.

I’m going. Holy smokes. Have we gotten further away from what this is about? Right. Results do matter in competitive competitions, but there’s also this: allow your kid to enjoy it, allow your kids to connect to other players, allow your kids to be playful and childlike. 

And some of that gets taken away. When we put our own ideas of how somebody should or should not be personality wise now, I, I mean, if I say, hey, there’s Brooks Koepka, there’s Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa and Bryson DeChambeau, those are all world class players that are all four completely different personality styles.

I would not one teach one to be the other. I think that would be counter. You need to know who you are. This is about self-awareness. You need to know what situations could maybe affect you. Pace of play, playing partners, those types of things. But please honor who you are. You can play great golf, who you are. We don’t need to be somebody else, per se.

We can learn from other people. Don’t get me wrong, you and I have talked about modeling and learning from people. But please don’t feel like you have to be somebody you’re not. Because I think that’s counter stress. That’ll fall, fall apart real quick. 

We can build other skills. So I think it’s this idea that if you want to be mentally strong, you have to be like a tiger or fill in the blank, Kobe Bryant or you know, and I can tell you lists and lists and lists of world class athletes throughout the years that were completely different.

And so let’s honor who you are.

Actually, I think it’s important for people, especially in today’s age, when there’s so much information, there’s so much information. And the information that generally gets boosted to the top or put in front of our eyes is the information that has the best story behind it. Tiger Woods getting up at 5:00 in the morning, 4:00 in the morning. Kobe Bryant getting up at 3:00 in the morning and getting his child’s golf at 3:00.

Those stories they they’re exciting, they’re readable. They have the most kind of value in terms of engagement. So we have to appreciate it and we have to have our own filtering process. We have so many different resources and it’s incredible YouTube. We have tons of different things we can get for free, but we have to have our filtering process.

And I just want to reiterate, it’s again, something that I do with so many of my clients is going through this process of going and I think I’ve mentioned this on a passport cost, but going through key experiences that you have had as an individual, yes, we can learn from others, but I think where most people fall down is actually learning from themselves, learning from their own experiences rather than the experiences of other others.

So we go through and we make a list of all these experiences. We then go through each experience and we say, Right, what lessons can be learned from each of those experiences? Maybe 1 to 3 lessons that we took. And then from those lessons we kind of theme them because a lot of them fall into different sections, and then we create your own personal principles for you to live your life by you, to live your golf game by.

They’re going to help you make better decisions but also become more fulfilled. And I think having these principles that become your filtering process is valuable on that side because you make better decisions that move you closer toward success because you don’t make the same errors over and over again. 

Also, when you live in alignment with the things you value you believe in that makes such a difference to the way you feel about yourself, the way you feel fulfilled, the confidence you have in your identity, who you are and everything like that.

So I think that’s super powerful in understanding what you believe in, what do you value? And then live true to that because you will perform so much better than just trying to live out the life of someone else. That’s really, really.

I love what you said there. And I think if we can learn about when we were at our best, you know, that was us, right? Well, how are we thinking? How were you feeling? What were we doing? You’re exactly right. That experience nothing can replace that. And sometimes we’re going to choke. Sometimes we’re going to have that.

Oh, great. Let’s learn from those things, too. But I want people to know that everybody out there can play great golf, be who they are, right. And so we can recall and go, Yeah, I had that one challenge and I overcame it and I did this great. It’s already within you, right? So you and I have a framework that says all of these things are already within you.

Let’s just tap into them. Definitely.

So we’ve been speaking a lot, Rick, about building your own flowcode, your own personal blueprint for flow. But I’ve heard a lot of people speaking that or saying that ultimately flow doesn’t happen very often. So why the hell should I try it? 

What’s the point in trying it if it doesn’t happen that frequently? I’d just love to hear your thoughts on that and how you would recommend people train flow, because I know we suggest they should, even if it doesn’t happen that frequently.

Yeah, and I could go on a long tirade on this one. I think when we look at optimizing, you know, there’s like the biohacking world, optimizing all of these things to me has a very positive connotation. Right? We want to make our lives better. We want to make our golf game better. Okay. Now we use a word like flow because it’s actually a research state.

And back when I was getting my master’s degree, they called it The Zone, right? So your zone and right now we’re going to use flow because that’s what’s actually utilized now in research. So back 20, 30 years ago, the zone was like, yeah, you maybe you get into it, maybe you don’t, you know, okay, we don’t really have much research behind it.

Fast forward, we have tons of research flowing out. We, of course, have a lot of sayings, wait a second, we know the neurochemicals, we know the physiological responses, we know heart rate variability. We know these things that actually are tied into this flow state. 

Wonderful. We can reverse engineer it. So this is not something again out there like, well, yeah, let’s have some positive thinking and maybe you’ll slip into it and it’s like, No, these are things that are actually getting research over and over and over again.

I think we still have an old paradigm that says that the mental game is about fixing things that are screwed up in your care. And again, we, we certainly talk about fears and anxieties and uncomfortable feelings and doubt and stuff like that. Of course that is part of it. 

Yet I think if we run our whole filter through what’s wrong with me and I look at this stuff that always comes up, I think we get stuck in that paradigm.

But if we can start looking at what makes people great and understand that you, everybody has their own recipe for success or their own flow code to do that. And you really looked to go, wow, what I did was play my best golf. I did this, I did that, I did that. Oh, that’s maybe something I could repeat.

And, that is exciting to me. The last thing that I’ll stay on if you don’t get to a full blown flow state but you’re at least working towards it to me, you’ve improved your flow or what I call your default mode, right? So when you’re not at your best, at least your next level is much better than if I’m like, Well, I don’t have my A-game.

Oh my gosh, this is horrible that I’m we you and I am trying to create habits. So then your default mode is at a much higher level. And yes, it’s easier then to get in a flow state. So I’ve tried to up everything through people understanding that they have in the flow. We call it positive psychology, right? What are the things that the best of the best have done?

What are the best of the best that all these listeners have done? If they’re really honest with themselves that they can go back and go, Oh, there is a code for this. I can do this, this and this, and I do perform better and I enjoy it more and I’m challenging myself more. All these things that are about flow that are researched and have been proven.

So that’s my little tirade that I’m over with now.

I love it. And just to add onto that, we speak or know about various levels of flow. And I think people forget this when we talk about flow, we’re not just talking about maximum flow, Max, but we’re also talking about how do we, as you said, your default, your base level flow, how do we ensure that we’re always in base level flow, which ultimately is being in the present moment?

Now we know we can train that. We know being in the present moment is going to improve performance. There’s been countless studies to suggest that. So how can we ensure that we train being just in the present moment? We may not always have all the external conditions and various different situations may not match up to get us into maximum flow all the time.

That may not always be there, but can we at least consider how we can get more into base level flow, which is just being in the present moment? So I think it’s really important to reiterate something I’ve shared a couple of times with clients is and maybe not the same in the US. I’m not even sure if you have buses, but for any of the UK listeners that know what they like.

But I kind of, I kind of compare being in base level flow and then tapping into or creating a space for maximum flow similar to standing at a bus stop waiting for a bus. Now in the UK, the buses don’t always show up on time. 

They may even be delayed. Sometimes they’re unpredictable. You don’t necessarily know when they’re going to show up, but you can’t get on that bus even when it does show up.

If you haven’t got your bus ticket and you’re not standing at the bus stop. So that’s the same way I look at bass level flow. If we’re not training base level flow, we’re not in base level flow. Then when the conditions do meet, we can’t expect ourselves to be able to tap into maximum level flow. So just ensure that you’re standing at that bus stop with your bus ticket.

So when the bus does show up eventually and it could be unpredictable that you’re in a position to be able to benefit from that bus that’s going to pass. I think that’s a really important message to pass on.

Exactly. So when we look at, you know, this episode of there has been misconceptions and in the mental game it’s always evolving. We feel we’re at the cusp of what’s exciting with flow because it is something that is researched. Everybody, I have plenty of research articles from the Journal of Applied Sports Psychology that talks about flow as something we can measure.

Flow is something we can reverse engineer. And here’s the key thing: each one of us potentially has our own code, right? Even though we’re going to drive all these different things to the present moment and enjoyment and how we look at challenges and our, you know, our skill sets, that’s what excites me. The most. So back to the golf swing idea.

Even though everybody wants a golf swing to look a certain way, there’s a lot of different swings that produce a lot of great results. Right. And so that’s the same thing here with the mental side is, is let’s let let’s enjoy that journey of self-awareness. Let’s enjoy that journey of knowing that we can be great at something. And we can look at what we’ve done in the past.

And there are things as we train and read things and listen to podcasts like us, let’s go. Oh, I’ll let me try that. And you put together your own FlowCode, not only play better golf, everybody, but all of this is going to help you in life. 

Absolutely love it. I think it’s a great way to wrap up the episode. Rick. Some really key things that we spoke about there and hopefully one knows it will have been valuable for the listeners, that’s for sure. So I really enjoyed it. Looking forward to the next one and we’ll catch every one. So thank you so much for listening to today’s episode of the Flow Golf podcast.

Golf Mental Game Myths
Golf mental game myths
Golf mental game myths



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