Learning how to control your emotions and not letting your emotions rule you is a key to playing (or performing) in the zone (Cohn 67). Players of all levels experience pressure and anxiety but how the person deals with that separates the champion from the choker (Cohn 68).
Pressure is not always harmful. It increases your motivation to practice, enhances your concentration and supplies extra energy and adrenaline which helps increase your endurance. Pressure becomes a problem when you don’t cope with it and it takes you out of your optimal zone (Cohn 68). The key to is to find your zone and recognize when you’re moving out of your zone. The sooner you recognize when you’re out of your zone the quicker you can take control before gets too far out of hand.
Identify the feelings and emotions you’ve experienced when you’re performing poorly (tension, shallow breathing, excessive nervousness are all common). Once you identified that you are moving out of the zone, step back, take three deep breaths and begin to focus on the task at hand not the future outcome. This is also excellent strategy for overwhelm. Just focus on the next task, and the next one after that.
“When you’re going through hell, just keep on moving,” Rodney Atkins.
Change your self-talk to positive statements rather than negative statements (Cohn 75). Write down the negative statements and then write the opposite positive statement to replace it (Cohn 76).
Good preparation is one of the best ways to handle pressure (Cohn 76).
Another performance enhancer is to work on both your strengths and weaknesses (Cohn 117). I have always been really good around the green, pretty decent on putting and outstanding on chipping. In fact I even won a putter in a chipping contest one time. I know that these are my strengths yet I still practice those areas to make sure those skills stay sharp.
However, when I started taking golf lessons years ago the worst club in my bag was my 6-iron. So naturally that’s the club the pro had me show up to practice with. For a long time I really did not like that club but over the course of time it became my money club. Anytime I needed to hit the ball 180-185 yards I can trust the 6-iron to get it there and get it there accurately. I even knocked in an eagle from 180 yards out one day with the 6-iron. Turning a weakness into a strength is also possible with business, such as small talk, closing a sale, making cold calls, whatever your weakness is, spend some time at least mitigating it or turning it into a strength.
Other ways to hone your zone:
- Practice enhancing your imagery (Cohn 119). Visualization really does work. Even if I have not been to the venue before, I visualize myself in the front of the room, giving my presentation or if I’m going flying I visualize myself taking off, flying to my destination and making a perfect landing (Of course it is a perfect landing why visualize a bad one?)
- Practice your tension control (Cohn 119). Yeah, I need work on this one. Several of my friends have told me it’s time to start learning how to meditate to get a better handle on calming myself down in intense situations. When I tell them I don’t have the patience for meditation, which sounds as stupid coming out of my mouth as it just does writing it down here, they tell me that the point of meditation is to help increase my patience. Duh. I guess you do have to practice something in order to get something out of it.
- Practice your skills (Cohn 121). When you have achieved a high level of mastery of your skills, the confidence just comes naturally. Continue to improve and practice your skills. Never stop learning. I own nearly every book there is on adult learning techniques, presenting, training and so forth, even though I already know most of the stuff. I always think there’s more I can learn and apply.
Patience means maintaining your composure and sticking to your game plane (Cohn 132), making small adjustments to course (or life, business, personal situations) conditions along the way. Set mini-goals for yourself (Cohn 136). These work just as well in golf as they do in life. Remember that talent and hard work equal success (Cohn 139). If you’re enjoying what you’re doing, you’ll be armed with that intrinsic motivation that employers look for in good people
Ultimately, it’s about staying in the present. Most anxiety and fear is directed towards what’s going to happen in the future by worrying about what will or won’t happen. Staying in the present helps you control your emotions, which is one of the few things truly under your complete control.
Cohn, Patrick. The Mental Game of Golf: A Guide to Peak Performance. Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing, 1994. Print.