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To Succeed, You Must Believe in Yourself:

To succeed, you must believe in yourself
Joan A. King, Sports Hypnotist

What do Hilary Lunke, Ben Curtis, Annika Sorenstam, Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods have in common?

They all believe they can win.

To play at your best you must believe in yourself. You must believe in your body's ability to perform. You must believe that you can get better.

Self-doubt means that you question your competence to hit the ball where you want it to go. As you begin to doubt, you tell your body how to swing the club, which then becomes more difficult, mechanical and forced.

Anxiety begins when you first doubt your ability. There is no doubt in sinking a 1-inch putt. When you feel the pressure and miss a 4-footer to win, you create a self-fulfilling prophesy that you can't sink 4-footers.

These world-class champions know that no matter how much pressure there is to win a major, they feel less anxiety when they do not doubt that they can win. They trust their competence even when they are surrounded by doubting voices.

Playing to his potential is every golfer's dream and involved much more than just swinging the golf club. The inner or mental game of how you think and feel about yourself is equally as important.

To play the game to your potential means believing in yourself by controlling your thoughts, emotions, memories, personality and reactions.

Here are eight mental techniques for training your brain to trust in your competence:

  1. Have a Positive Attitude: Golf is a game of misses and your have to lay your missed shots. All misses in golf are mental errors. Your brain tells your body what to do. If you don't give the right messages, you don't get the results you want.
    Stop thinking of the missed shot and focus on believing that you can recover with the next shot.
    Champions control how they react to what is happening to them. Have realistic expectations. Your golf game does not reflect on who you are as a person, but your reaction to your golf shots does. Remember that you play the game for fun. Perfectionism only increases stress and tension.
  2. Trust your ability: Once you have learned to swing the golf club, you don't lose your swing. It is recorded in your brain. Once a motor skill is learned it is never forgotten, and after a year without practice, the performance level returns to 80 percent after 10 days of retraining.
    Don't fall into the trap of constantly thinking there is something wrong with your golf swing. Thinking will make it so! Believe in your ability no matter what the results are. Trust that you can improve.
  3. Use positive self-talk: When you tell yourself, "Don't hit the ball in the water," your subconscious mind produces an image of the ball going into the water. Unless you change the image (hitting to the target), your body will respond accordingly. It wasn't your swing that was faulty; it was your failure to run your brain correctly.
    We all have negative thoughts that we replay in our heads. These are voices of fear from your past experiences, or anxious thoughts of the results that you think might happen. To stay in the NOW, put all self-talk in positive, present tense, active verbs. Instead of saying I can make this putt, say I am making it.
  4. Let go of mental interference: Your body knows without conscious thought how to hit the golf ball. Being in the zone is the absence of mental interference. On the golf course, stop giving yourself instruction and judging your performance. Relax and let your unconscious mind do what you have trained it to do.
    Let go of all thoughts and feelings stemming from doubt and fear of failure. Use your energy to program what you want, not what you don't want. See the good in every shot. If it wasn't the result you wanted, learn from your mistake.
  5. Relax your body and mind: It is physically impossible to be relaxed and anxious at the same time. When you are playing, you must be in a relaxed state to play well. The way you relax your mind and body in golf is by controlled, deep breathing.
    Changing your breathing can change your thoughts and emotions. Taking a deep breath through your abdomen before every shot will relax your mind and your muscles. Your swing will be smoother and easier.
  6. Focus on the task at hand: You have a very active mind. Be decisive! Once you make up your mind, don't change it.
    Don't hit any shot until you have completely prepared your mind. To stay in the process of creating your shot, use the same preshot routine every time. Your brain will then know automatically what you want and give you consistent results.
  7. Anchor your good shots: Compliment yourself after hitting a good shot. Don't negate it by saying, "It's about time." Smile inside and congratulate yourself and anchor that good feeling.
    You created the good feeling. This is what success feels like. This is what you are waiting for. Anchoring your good shots with good feelings will train your brain to bring up the memory more easily, especially under pressure.
  8. Mental rehearsal: Practice makes perfect, but only perfect practice makes perfect. The only place you can practice perfectly is inside your head. At night or in the morning while you are half-awake is the best time to practice your golf game.
    Rehearse what you want to happen. Program your mind. Scientists have found that your mind is actually programming your muscles as you visualize yourself hitting the perfect shot.
Joan King of Jupiter is the founder and president of Positive Mental Imagery, a mental sports consulting service dedicated to helping golfers achieve their peak performances. Since 1992 she has given workshops and individual consultations to amateur and professional golfers and has produced several self-hypnosis audio tapes and CDs for golf (www.pmi4.com/cart) King can be reached at (561) 747-7276 or by e-mail (info@pmi4.com). For additional information and a free monthly mental golf newsletter, visit the PMI Web site at (www.pmi4.com)

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