Have you ever read a book on the mental game and thought “that’s not realistic”?
It’s very easy to say you shouldn’t get angry on the course…but much harder to do.
Even in his pomp, Tiger got mad – why else would he be one of the most fined players on tour? And Greg Norman reportedly pinched himself, hard, under his ribs after a bad shot.
It’s difficult to see this as anything other than anger.
And yet they both did pretty well by most standards; both are multiple major winners and both were number one in the world in their day. So their anger didn’t seem to have a significant effect on their play.
But it’s different for us…isn’t it?
We’re all too familiar with the anger-induced meltdown – we’ve seen it in our playing partners, we’ve experienced it ourselves. And it doesn’t have to be the classic “club-throwing tantrum” either. That’s the most florid type of breakdown, but far more common is the quiet anger turned inwards as we get progressivley more quiet as the round progresses save for the odd angry outburst after a particularly disappointing shot.
So why does it seem to be different for the professionals?
Why can they seem to get angry, and not let it affect their game? Is it because of their superior skills, be they physical or mental game?
Or is it because they know the difference between a reaction…and a response?
Are they even different?
I’d argue although they’re similar, they’re subtly different. And exploring this subtle difference could mean a lot for your golf game.
Dictionary.com defines a reaction as “an action in response to a stimulus”, among other things. It’s a simple “A causes B” thing, along the lines of “I hit a poor shot and then I get angry”. Our reactions feel like they’re set in stone; they never change and we don’t get a choice in how we experience them. Hence, if we hit a poor shot, we’re going to get angry.
And this can be a big part of the frustration we feel.
If the stimulus always causes the reaction, then we’re cursed to repeat the past. We might make some small inroads, but as soon as we hit a poor shot we’re at risk of falling into the chasm of mounting anger, with an all-too-predictable effect on our score.
On and on, a hamster wheel of misery and frustration.
But it doesn’t have to be like this.
Even if we can’t change our reaction, we don’t have to fall into the same pattern of behaviour.
Your reaction doesn’t have to be your response.
Let’s assume, for the moment, you can’t change your reaction.
(I don’t actually think this is the case, but for the purposes of this article let’s assume it is)
You’ve hit that shot. You know the one. The shot which seems to creep into your game no matter what you try to do…the shot which returns from the dead more often than a horror movie villain.
Your first reaction is 3 parts frustration, 2 parts anger and a dash of depression: “here we go again”.
Your response can be entirely different.
You get to choose your response.
Response is defined as “an answer or reply”. The definition is similar, but different in that its less specific. For any given stimulus, there are a huge number of responses – and you can explore them to find which works best for you.
With a little awareness, you can start to recognise when you’re reacting. Realise you’re reacting and you can then acknowledge your feelings before exploring a variety of responses to see which one works best.These responses can range from cheerful insouciance to committing to improve on your flow from pre-shot to follow through.
You can even explore letting your anger flare and die out, like the golfers above.
Even if your reaction is set in stone, you can acknowledge how you feel, and why…before settling on your desired response.
Recognise, acknowledge and move on.
You can break the cycle.
Get off the treadmill of frustration and take your first steps to more enjoyable golf.
While this is a simple concept, it isn’t always easy to follow. We’re so conditioned to reacting, we have difficulty believing it could be this simple. Next week’s article will help you put it into practice…but as with anything, knowing isn’t quite the same as understanding. If you’re struggling to get out of reaction and into response, you might like to consider individual mental game coaching. I have a few spaces available for highly-motivated players of all skill levels, so if this has struck a chord, please get in touch.