Visualization – Why It REALLY Works and WILL Improve Your Game

Whether in small workshops, seminars or with individual clients (athletes or executives), I always include a section on visualization, when discussing capabilities of an individual.  Visualization is really a skill that must be honed.  But to maximize its effect and impact on the golf course, it must be truly understood; how it works and why it works – otherwise people tend to think it’s some kind of hocus-pocus and attempt at self-hypnosis; it’s anything but that.

I’ve read, heard and witnessed many people and ‘gurus’ strongly recommend visualization; but I’ve really never heard anybody explain truly WHY and HOW it works.  I’m not saying that people haven’t explained it – only that I’ve not seen it done in a manner that everyone can understand.  Golf and the application of visualization is the emphasis of this article but the practice can be applied to any sport and really any circumstance of which our level of skill impacts the outcome.  So whether it’s a boardroom presentation, a five foot putt for the championship or even a date for which you are nervous – it all applies.

Visualizing a golf shot (or boardroom presentation) is more than picturing the shot in your mind; it is the ability of placing yourself in the exact circumstance and experiencing the outcome.  So often clients will tell me that they’ve tried it before – but it just doesn’t work for them.  It is usually because they don’t truly understand how to do it or why it works. So let’s start there.

Why it Works

First of all, visualizing your shot or putt is NOT closing your eyes and picturing the putt merely going in the hole or picturing the ball flying through the air and coming to rest one foot from the pin.  Before explaining what it IS, let’s discuss how and why it works.

As Human Beings we have an inherent absolute necessity to feel that we live in an uncertain world.  The breakdown of why is an entire chapter in my book that will be coming along soon.  But just accept that while we plan on outcome we need a certain level of uncertainty.  I call this the Need for the Application of Uncertainty.  A brief example to which nearly everyone could relate is as follows.

Imagine you were a poker player and you had the ability to know what cards were held by every single player at your table, therefore you could NEVER lose.  How much fun would playing poker become for you?  You might continue to play and become a professional poker player and earn your income in that manner – but truly, how much fun would it be?  Not much, in fact it would become work and likely something you dread.  You might enjoy the money earned from your profession but it wouldn’t be FUN.  Furthermore, because all of the other players at the table felt they had a chance to win (not knowing of your prowess), you’d likely come to a point of which you felt you were ‘cheating’ in a sense, knowing you couldn’t lose.

If you truly place yourself in that example, you will fully experience that feeling – AND you will fully experience what I mean by needing an element of uncertainty.  This concept is behind many people retiring from a sport or profession in which they’ve done everything – Michael Jordan comes to mind.  He’d done everything he’d set out to do – knowing he was the best; why not try his hand at baseball, right?

Now, getting back to visualization – the concept of visualization is the effort to prevent the Application of Uncertainty during your golf game.  This is for EVERYONE – the weekend golfer and the PGA and LPGA Professional.  The Need for the Application of Uncertainty must be eliminated from your game to every extent possible.  It cannot be eliminated in total from our lives because as stated – we truly need this in some measure to exist but we can eliminate it from the game to the greatest extent possible.

The concept of the Need for the Application of Uncertainty is hopefully clear for you at this point, because the next piece often fries one’s mind a little when attempting to fully comprehend.

Our mind basically has two modes, history and future.  One might state that current is a third mode but as soon as you say the word ‘current’, it’s already history.  So, from this aspect, our mind is either in historical mode or future mode.

Historical mode is fact, it’s what we’ve done before, what we remember – tasks, experiences, memories, etc.  The Future Mode however, is NOT fact – in fact, it’s anything BUT fact.  It is based on our aptitude, circumstances, proficiency (very different than aptitude), etc.  In regards to golf, the future mode is full of factors such as wind, sogginess of ground, comfort with the 9-iron, fatigue, hydration and a million other factors including – luck or good fortune and FEAR.  By the way, ‘luck’ or good fortune, is something that humans inherently place as a direct correlation to their prior performance, spirituality, superstitions, etc. – all of which have to do with future outcomes and what they feel they ‘deserve’.

Long story short, true visualization isn’t hocus-pocus or self-hypnosis – it is merely the ability to take a moment in time, in this case the 9-iron shot you are about to make, and moving it from your future mode INTO your historical mode.  AND by quickly and temporarily perfecting the ability, you are able to limit the effects on Application of Uncertainty on your shot.  This is able to be accomplished because your mind (in that moment) NOW has the ability to recall the shot (from the recent visualization experience) and simply REPEAT the shot with the outcome just experienced.  This occurs because we know AND our mind knows that anything we’ve done before can be repeated.  It does NOT know whether what has yet to occur, can occur or whether what has occurred, will again.  Putting ourselves in the position of already having made the shot eliminates the need to experience any of those emotional consequences of outcome.

Make sense?

Try to put yourself in previous circumstances with which you can relate.  Once you understand all of the above and can relate to it, you are well on your way to be able to tremendously improve your game as long as you have the physical ability to perform the shot.  In other words, a lawyer can visualize performing brain surgery all he or she wants, but without the aptitude and proficiency they really won’t pull it off.  So you still have to practice the mechanics of your swing of course, but visualization will tremendously improve the outcome of the proficiency level you have.

How to do it

You have a 155 yard shot to a back pin and you pull out your 9-iron (that’s my 155 club).  Stand behind the ball and look at the green, decide which side of the green is best to come in from, decide the trajectory and bend of the ball flight that you think best and is a shot you know you can perform because you’ve done it in the past.

Now, close your eyes and TRULY visualize the ball leaving the ground, going in flight in the desired path and trajectory, then hitting the green and stopping or releasing as you’ve just designed.  Do this in normal speed – not slow, not fast – picture the flight in normal speed.  Do it over and over until you can ‘feel’ that you are watching a ‘movie’ NOT that you are making it.  Of course you did make the movie – but visualize the ‘replay’ of it.  As you visualize, make yourself ‘feel’ the emotions of success and therefore the experience of outcome – and these are NOT excitement or luckiness, merely the satisfaction of a properly played shot; a shot you are ‘supposed’ to be able to make.  (These emotions of success I mention – it’s a sense of ‘nothing special’, just the awareness of what you were planning to do anyway.  Just as though you ‘planned’ to drive to work today – when you safely arrived, were you ecstatic?  No, you merely accomplished the mere feat of driving to work – SAME THING!  You merely got your ball to arrive where you planned.)

Address the ball as you normally do, then look up at the target and ‘replay’ the movie again with your eyes open, immediately before starting your swing or putt.  For some players, the ‘immediate’ might be 1 or 2 seconds before starting the swing – just comfortably for you, right before you swing.

NOW, I will alert you – I would STRONGLY recommend that you start practicing this on the range and THEN by yourself on the course (or as a two-some, sandwiched in between foursomes, perhaps with a buddy) because it does take a good amount of time to develop this routine.  And if with a foursome, you are likely to short-change the process for fear of feeling silly or making your foursome lose pace.  So just make sure you are able to do it without any outside distraction or pressure, to ensure you develop YOUR perfect movie method and timeframe.  Do it with a friend who wants to improve their game too or your golf coach; in this manner you will have someone with whom you can each remind and practice.  As you get good at it you’ll likely NOT need to keep your eyes closed – I don’t, Phil doesn’t and many others don’t.  It’s just works for you best.

You know your game best – start keeping stats of GIR’s, DIF’s, scrambling and putts.  I GUARANTEE you that you will see a tremendous difference in those stats and therefore your game.

Two Notes of Caution

1)      Don’t fall into the trap that most do – don’t get out of the routine and think that you’ve ‘got it’ and no longer need to visualize; it’s a SKILL to perfect it BUT it’s not a skill in golf – it is merely the way to eliminate the majority of negative effects of the Need of Application of Uncertainty and therefore must be maintained.  That’s why you always see the real good tour players do it – some do it with eyes open and others while closed.

2)      MANY amateur golfer fall prey to the ‘fear’ of the missed shot – SO if you if you are a high-handicapper (OR a lower-handicapper who believes you ‘choke’ under pressure in a match) and you want to improve your game with this technique then I STRONGLY recommend you follow the steps of visualization as noted above BUT make the ‘movie’ as though you have a network camera angle of a Professional you know and consider steady.  A friend of mine uses Freddie Couples because of Fred’s always reliable tempo.  So make the movie of THEM making the shot on your course and in your EXACT situation AND with your EXACT desired results.  Make sense?

David A. Jones, President of Captive Coaching and Consulting

© Copyright 2011 Captive Coaching and Consulting, llc

Please contact me for mental aspect coaching – whether for athletes or executives or evaluation needs for you or the needs of your organization that requires the maximization of your capabilities or of those of your employees; because every organization improves with employees engaged and empowered to fulfill mission.

About captivecoaching

David Jones is the founder of Captive Coaching and Consulting, LLC. Captive was founded to serve two aspects: 1) To assist with the growth of individuals in their personal and business lives as well as their relationships 2) To improve the employee production, employee retention and profitability of businesses by applying the principles of APACHE theory.
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