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Understanding Decision Making In Golf

If you have read other articles on the site, or one of my books, you might have become aware of some common beliefs that golfers have about the game, and about themselves. Beliefs that might be stopping you from reaching your potential.

If you aren’t enjoying the game, or if you have stopped improving, examining your beliefs can be the key that unlocks the puzzle.

Beliefs are like a window or a pair of glasses. You see the world through them. Your perception of reality is coloured by your concepts and theories about the world. They act like a filter. You tend to pay more attention, and give more credence to elements of your experience that fit with your beliefs.

Events which do not fit, or indeed which contradict those beliefs, are dismissed, or even ignored altogether.

For example, you might have a belief that being anxious on a short putt can cause you to make a poor stroke, or to miss such a putt.

When you do so, you blame your negative thinking or your feelings for the result

Beliefs Underpin Experience

If the putt goes in however, you quickly forget the way you were feeling before the stroke was made.

This pattern of events is sometimes referred to as confirmation bias.

See if you can think of any examples within your own game where you blamed a poor shot on a particular factor, but have hit good shots in the same situation?

This is why understanding your beliefs is so important.

Your experience of golf and life will not change until your beliefs change.

If you believe that you can only enjoy the game if you play to a certain standard, then that will be your experience.

If you believe that you will feel nervous coming down the final few holes with a good score going, that will be your experience.

If you believe that those feelings can interfere with your capacity to play your best golf, then that will be your experience.

Yet most golfers go through their whole careers trying to alter their experience, without ever examining the beliefs which underpin it.

Cause, or Symptom?

Changing or fixing your golf swing is trying to alter your experience.

Changing or fixing your thinking is trying to alter your experience.

Changing or fixing your state of mind is trying to alter your experience.

You are trying to alter a symptom, without examining and understanding the cause. How is that likely to work out?

Understanding how your mind works is at least as important as understanding the techniques and strategies of the game. If you don’t understand the process by which those techniques and strategies are evaluated and then adopted, how can you be confident they are helpful or appropriate for you?

For example, course management and decision making in golf are regarded as very important aspects of being successful.

They are also one of the most misunderstood aspects of the game for the reasons alluded to above.

Hindsight is Always 20/20

In a previous article I stated that in my experience, it is impossible for a human being to control what they think about or when they think it.

This has profound implications when it comes to the concept of decision making in golf.

If you accept that you don’t have any control over what you think, then the idea of a ‘decision’, takes on a whole new meaning.

When you take action, the reality is that you can only act on the thinking you have at a particular moment (which you have no control over).

So if you think ‘it’s a 7 iron’, and you hit the 7 iron over the back of the green, it looks like we made a ‘bad decision’.

However it only looks like you had a choice of which club you should hit because you have a different perspective after hitting the shot.

The thought ‘I should’ve hit an 8 iron’, only arose after the event.

In the moment of choosing the club, there was only one thing you could do, because your thought was ‘it’s a 7 iron’.  (I write about this in more detail in my second book, Take Relief.)

Play With Freedom

Understanding this fundamental truth about the way human psychology works is extremely powerful for a golfer.

It allows you to accept and forget about mistakes, and it stops you blaming yourself for ‘bad decisions’, when really, there was no ‘decision’ made.

You just did what you thought was the right thing to do at that moment in time.

Being angry with yourself for choosing the wrong club or misreading a putt is like being angry with yourself for not being able to see into the future.

Absurd and not really helpful.

Any time it looks like you have a ‘decision’ to make on the golf course, it’s a sign you aren’t seeing things clearly and are taking your beliefs seriously.

On your good days when your mind is open, you might notice you don’t have any decisions to make at all.

Letting go of the belief that you have agency over your thoughts and feelings in my experience, is one of the most liberating and powerful things a golfer can do if they want to play their best more often.

Understanding the nature of thought is one of the gateways to understanding the true nature of your experience. Your experience comprises everything you perceive. Everything you feel and everything you do.

Understanding true nature is the foundation upon which you can build a solid and resilient mental game. Skills, technique and improved performance become much easier once the foundations are in place.

I hope this article has given you some fresh ideas about decision making in golf, and off the golf course too.

Please feel free to get in touch if you have any thoughts or questions. You can arrange a time for a chat using the link below.

In summary:

The concept of decision making on a golf course, or anywhere else for that matter, is a trick of the mind. 
You can only act on the thinking you have in the moment, and you have no control over what you think and when you think it.

Letting go of the belief you control over your thoughts and feelings, and therefore responsibility for your actions, is one of the most liberating and empowering things a golfer can do.

If you would like some help exploring your beliefs to find out whether they might be getting in the way of your best golf, please use this link to book a discovery call.

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