Thursday, August 29, 2013

Chasing Confidence

One of my off-season goals was to read as much as I could about confidence.  I started conversations with numerous players and bloggers and did online searches.  Here is what I decided after reading, listening and thinking through all I digested.

Confidence isn't something you can chase.  It is a state of being that is reliant upon total focus.  Total focus allows you the freedom to play.  You must be in the moment to be confident, yet if you are in the moment, confidence never enters your mind.  If you talk about being confident or you set out to work on confidence, you aren't likely to find it.  If instead, you work to learn complete focus in any situation and to allow yourself the freedom to do what you visualize, you will feel the confidence you want. 

Jack Nicklaus at the 1960 Masters.

Players who feel a lack of confidence are usually experiencing interference.  The interference can be based in negative emotions such as doubt, fear, embarrassment or anger.  Interference can also come from positive emotions, such as excitement or aggressiveness.  If you don't feel confident on the golf course, your first step is to figure out what is interfering with your focus and when is it happening?  A confident player will have unwanted emotions and errant thoughts going through her mind, but the difference is, she doesn't allow them to disrupt her focus.  She recognizes that these emotions and thoughts have no power over her and her ability to choose her focus keeps her in the present.  When a stray thought pops in your mind, you can simply let it go and refocus your mind.  

Tour players often talk of the learning process of winning a major.  What they are learning to deal with is heightened interference.  Their desire might be too high, leading them out of the moment and into scenes of holding trophies.  Their patience might be thin due to the demanding conditions of the course.  The pressures of the press and expectations might make them apprehensive.  Majors amplify whatever interference you have through tough conditions, rarity, vaulted value and intense competition.  Learning to win a major means learning to be completely into the task at hand and set all those other things aside.

You can see the focus in the eyes of the best in any sport.  Jerry Rice stayed in the moment and caught the ball.  Receivers who are worried about the hit or the run after catch before they tuck it away won't be among the best.  Are you in the moment on the golf course?

Figuring out how to be as simple with the task at hand is one way to avoid interference.  See the shot you want to hit, commit to hit wholeheartedly and execute it.  The shot you want is one that is comfortable for you, one you can visualize and one that will lead to the result you want.  Our adage is, "do what you can with what you have from where you are."  This way of thinking makes any shot seem less pressure-filled and more doable.  It is an adage that puts your mind into the situation at hand. 

Another quality of confident people is, they are usually clear on what they can and can't control.  When things happen that are out of their control, they shrug it off.  However, when a confident player makes a mistake within her control, she uses the mistake to learn and adjust.  If you are a confident golfer, mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow.  Anger or frustration might pop in, but it doesn't become the focus of a confident player.  It is simply a quick stage they pass through on their way to refocusing.  If anger or frustration happen often and continuously, the player will never be confident, because she isn't accepting what is happening.  She is reacting to what was.  In order to learn from your mistakes and use them to improve, you have to first accept that you made them.

“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

Confident players look confident.  They exude it with body language and a sense of purpose.  They are assured, but rarely cocky.  Cocky people are usually worried about impressing others, while confident people know they can't control others' viewpoints.  If you want to appear confident, you are once again in the wrong frame of mind.  Think of the eyes of the most focused athletes in any sport and you will get the idea of what confidence looks like. 

No amount of practice or preparation will lead to confidence if you don't choose to embrace the moment.  Practice will make it easier to "fake it" when you aren't focused and into the shot, but it isn't a sure path to confidence.  Both practice and preparation are important to your success, but they need to include focus and freedom.  If you lack confidence, it will always show up at the most important times.  In order to learn to excel at important times, you must let go of thoughts of confidence and simply get into the task at hand.  Learn focus by putting yourself in tough situations whenever possible.  Role play when you have a shot or putt.  Pretend to be at the US Open and picture the grand stands full of fans in front of you.  Make your practice meaningful and stressful and learn to focus through it.  If you are conscious of how you are thinking and what you are doing under pressure, you will be susceptible to interference and you will soon slip out of the moment and into the past or future.  Learn to do it without a process.  Nike was onto something when they said, Just Do It!

Adam Scott has taken his talents and learned to excel under pressure.

The main point is, if you want to play golf with confidence, learn to be in control of your focus.  If you feel uncomfortable over the ball, you are too into you and not into the shot.  If you feel pressure to force shots, you are choosing shots with which you don't feel comfortable.  If you are worried about where the ball could go or how you are swinging, you have lost track of the most important task, which is picking a target and a shot and committing to it.  If you are thinking about letting people down or being embarrassed by your score, you are thinking of things you can't control.
Even the pros talk about finding and losing confidence, but the greats never mention it.  They seem to understand deep in their bones that if they play golf with complete focus on what they do with each shot, confidence won't matter.  They've earned their confidence by learning to control their focus, be in the moment and play with freedom. 

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