Creatures Of Habit

Human beings are creatures of habit. We rely on these habits and routines to help us predict the future in order to ensure our survival. If we couldn’t predict what was going to happen based on previous experience, we would be in a constant state of distress and overwhelmed by uncertainty. As a result, habits and routines bring a feeling of stability, comfort, and familiarity to our interactions with the world giving us the sense that we are safe and secure, which allows us to move through the world more efficiently.
I am fond of the saying, “we take ourselves wherever we go”, and thus believe habits and routines serve a similar function in golf; to predict the future giving us the best chance of survival. Although our physical existence is not threatened during a round of golf, I would argue that the metaphor of survival is inherent in any competition or game. For example, the object of the game of golf is to get the ball in the hole in as few shots as possible. In competition, the golfer who wins has “survived” the other competitors and the game itself. 
If we want to increase our chances of “survival” in golf, we would be foolish not to take advantage of the benefits that habits and routines can offer us on our journey to improve performance. Specifically, an effective pre-shot routine can go a long way to help ensure that we have prepared our minds to play our best golf. 
Other than the opening tee shot, I am of the belief that the pre-shot routine begins from the moment your last shot was struck. However, for this discussion, I will focus on the time most golfers associate with the pre-shot routine, the moments immediately before a shot is executed. As an aside, it would be worth spending some time growing your awareness of when your pre-shot routine begins as it is different for everyone. Regardless of when yours begins, here are some things to consider as you develop your own pre-shot routine to take advantage of the evolutionary benefits of routine. 
What is the purpose of a pre-shot routine?

  1. Provides the golfer with a consistent and predictable moment of comfort and familiarity specifically designed to maximize performance.
  2. Provides the golfer an opportunity to re-focus on the task-at-hand, bringing oneself into the present and away from the past.
  3. Provides the golfer an opportunity to practice reducing mental interference caused by irrational thinking (i.e. fear, anxiety, anger, elation, overconfidence)
  4. Provides a mental barrier from stimuli competing for our attention. 
  5. Provides an opportunity for the golfer to consciously plan an intention for the upcoming shot free from irrational and impulsive thinking
  6. Provides an opportunity for golfers to engrain neural pathways associated with desired performance, while at the same time extinguishing neural pathways associated with unwanted performance.
  7. Helps to build confidence in a golfer’s ability to effectively manage the inevitable emotional fluctuations that can potentially interfere with performance during a round.  

 What are the characteristics of an effective pre-shot routine:

  1. It is simple.
  2. It is repeatable.
  3. It is consistent in duration.
  4. It establishes connection to a specific target.
  5. It includes a physical rehearsal of the shot about to be played.
  6. It includes a mental rehearsal (i.e., visualization) of the shot about to be played.
  7. It inspires confidence by including positive self-talk.
  8. Induces a relaxed, focused attention (e.g., breathwork)

What are the steps of an effective pre-shot routine?
Although everyone’s pre-shot routine is different, here is one way to consider building your routine:
Step 1  Where’s my mind at? – A Mental Status Check: Where am I at? How am I feeling? Am I too up or too down? Am I upset or elated? Am I tense or relaxed? In this step, I want to take a “mental inventory” and make any necessary corrections to put myself in the best frame of mind to perform.
Step 2  What’s my plan? – Analyze, plan, and establish a target or a goal. In this step, I want to come up with a game plan for the shot.
Step 3  Physically and mentally rehearse the plan – Visualize yourself successfully executing your plan and with your practice swings, feel the movement patterns required to hit your intended shot.
Step 4  Execute the plan – Setup and swing to the target!
Although it might not work for everyone, I like to use the phrase “think, feel, make it real” as an easy way to remember the steps above.
Effective pre-shot routines take time to develop. Be patient with yourself and play around with different routines until you design one that works best for you. In the end, the goal is to create a routine that triggers optimal performance by ensuring your are in a mindset that supports playing your best.

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