October 24, 2011

Playing Beyond Your Comfort Zone

One question that players always ask me is: “Why do I shoot 33 on the front nine and turn around and shoot 43 on the back nine? I feel like I am two different players.” I respond that maybe a comfort zone is at work. A comfort zone starts with an expectation the player has about his or her ability to shoot a certain score. A comfort zone, or what would more appropriately be called a “discomfort zone”, creates feeling of anxiety when you play better or worse than you typically play. Thus, we limit ourselves with our own expectations. Most of the time a comfort zone comes into play when you are playing better than expected. It can work the opposite way also. When you shoot 45 on the front side and say to yourself “I better than that”, and you shoot 38 on the back side.

Most players place limitations on their performance because they expect to shoot within a certain scoring range on a given day. John, for example, usually shoots in the mid seventies and has a scoring zone of plus or minus four shots from his average score. He always manages to finish a round within his comfort zone because of his expectations. If he shoots 33 on the front nine, he then shoots 40 on the back nine. Conversely, if he shoots 40 on the front nine, he plays himself back into his comfort zone and shoots 33 on the back nine.

If you are having trouble beating your comfort zone, here are some ideas:

1. Don’t Protect Your Score—Play Aggressively. When you realize you are playing great, the focus often shifts to avoiding failure, rather than continuing to play aggressively and go for the best round of your life. You begin to “protect” and play defensive golf. This causes you to look at the hazards, water, and out of bounds. The key is to play one hole at a time and maintain the same style of play that got you in position to shoot a good score, rather than adopting a cautious style of play to maintain your score.

2. Focus on Hitting Quality Shots—Forget about Your Score. As soon as you become score-conscious the comfort zone is at work. You notice your score is better than “normal” and begin to project what score you can shoot for the round. “If I could just par in” you say to yourself. Then you begin to just try to make par on the last few holes. Your strategy changes as you try to protect a good score. You usually then make bogeys with this strategy. Sound familiar? Have someone else keep your score.

3. Don’t Limit Yourself with Expectations. On the golf course, you have to learn to play with no expectations. Humans place limits on their potential. If you think you are a bogey golfer then you will play to bogey most likely. How many holes have you birdied on your home course. You must believe you have the ability to par or birdie every hole on the golf course.? But don`t expect to birdie every hole or shoot a certain score. If you are playing “above” what you expect, assume that you are only playing near your maximum potential.

4.Don’t Think Ahead. A player who projects the score she will shoot is not focused on playing one shot at a time. She is thinking ahead about a finishing score and not focusing on the task, which is to get the ball into the hole in the least number of strokes. This is the time to focus your mind on the process of hitting good shots. Without a process, present-oriented focus, you are doomed to think about your possible score for the round. And the thought of score is irrelevant to what you need to do to make that three-footer you are standing over! Add up your score at the end of the round. When you can play a round and not know what you shot, you will be closer to conquering the comfort zone phenomenon.

Performance Tip:

1. The key is to stay in the process and forget about score. To do this, set two or three goals for yourself before the round. These should be process goals. For example, you might set two physical goals such as hitting 10 of 14 fairways and hitting 12 of 18 greens, and you might set one mental goal such as focusing only on the present shot for 18 holes. If you start to project your score, stop and refocus on the present shot. Ask yourself the question: “What do I need to do right now to hit a good shot or putt?”

Dr. Patrick J. Cohn is a leading mental game coach who consults with Tour Pros and amateurs. He is the author of Going Low, Peak Performance Golf, The Mental Game of Golf and The Mental Art of Putting. For more information, visit: www.peaksports.com

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