If I had a magic wand to help golfers master the golf swing, I wouldn’t let them think. I would simply tell them what to do and they would do it. If they did in incorrectly, I would move them where I wanted them and they would move to that position. No thinking, just doing.
I recently had a conversation with a friend David who I ran into on a flight back to Oklahoma City. He is a Marine Sergeant. His duties require training and evaluating new recruits at boot camp. He said that many of the new recruits are getting discouraged and try to leave the Marines. They claim that “Boot camp is not what they thought it would be”.
Then he said something to me that he tells the unhappy recruits that I found very interesting. I want to quote him because what he said was very profound. He said:
“You get up every day, put one foot in front of the other and just do what you’re told. Boot camp is the easiest and best part of your life because you don’t have to think.”
Is this true? Is life easier when we don’t think? Is golf easier if we don’t think? Does “not thinking” really makes things easier? Now that I am thinking about thinking.
This reminds me of Moe’s poem.
I have a little robot that goes around with me.
I tell him what I’m thinking I tell him what I see.
I tell my little Robot all my hopes and fears.
He listens and remembers everything it hears.
At first, my little robot followed my commands but after years of training
It’s gotten out of hand.
He doesn’t care what’s right or wrong or what is false or true
No matter what I try now he tells me what to do.
– Moe Norman
When students overthink they become resistant to change. Resistance comes in many forms but mostly from misdirected thoughts. It usually goes something like this.
Me: “I want you to shorten your backswing and when you swing through to keep your trail foot on the ground.”
Student: “Well I’ve been trying to do that but my last instructor said that I should rotate all the way through”.
or another form of resistance might look like this:
Me: “You are taking the club back a bit too far inside, let’s shorten your backswing turning less”.
Student: (Hits Ball) – “When I do that it doesn’t feel right”.
Years ago I had a frustrating day of teaching. Frustration is a term I use for when I experience resistance. At the end of the day, I was exhausted. A friend and instructor Peter Fox noticed my stress level. He asked what happened.
“I just want people to say “Okay” when I ask them to do something. I want to be heard. I feel like when I teach no matter what I say there is so much chatter in the student’s mind that they can’t hear what I am saying. I feel like I’m talking to a rock.”
A few weeks later I receive a package in the mail. Inside the box was a fist-sized stone inscribed with the word “Okay”. I call this my “Okay” rock and Peter and I refer to it often.
I think (pardon the expression) that we must define the usefulness of thinking and how we can use it as a tool that helps us rather than controls us. It seems that we must be careful about what we think. “Garbage in becomes Garbage out” as Moe would say.
The EGO tells stories
It might make more sense if I look at this from another perspective – the ego. In my experience, it tends to be a predominately male phenomenon as well. We spend our entire lives solving problems and navigating our worlds. We run families and businesses and we take pride in having answers and being “right”. With a problem-solving mindset, we are always looking for the “reasons”. We tell ourselves stories that define our worldview. This shapes our decisions.
When I tell the students ego to keep the right foot on the ground, his ego hears “your swing is wrong”. Then his initial reaction is usually, “I can’t be wrong. there must be a reason for this. Oh, yes! it’s my last instructor’s fault because he is the one that told me to do that”. This is where resistance starts and often times instruction ends. We must get past this resistance to learn and change.
So what exactly is good thinking? Is there such a thing as no thought?
Thinking can be productive. With the correct information, it can be a very useful tool. But that is exactly what it should be used for – a tool for change. This makes golf instruction and changes very simple.
Me: “Keep your right foot on the ground through impact”.
Me: “It came up again. Try again”.
Thinking while playing golf
If you have access to our masterclasses in the Single Plane Academy Inner Circle you will have already seen the four processes, I use when I play golf. I have a pre-round, pre-shot, between-shot and post-round routine. These four routines create the rhythm of how I “play” golf. The rhythm makes me feel comfortable. This is where I find my zone. I even have a “reset” routine that I use when I fall out of my rhythm. Golf is not a game of chaotic occurrences and random events. It is a process that puts me into my rhythm where I play my best and shot my lowest scores.
The four routines I use are designed to eliminate thoughts. By eliminating the mind-chatter my physiology, what Moe called the “body-mind”, can take over. This “body-mind” is the robot. If you have trained it well, it will perform well if you don’t interrupt it with thoughts.
Recently a student asked me “what do you do when you hit a bad shot, don’t you analyze it and try to figure out what went wrong?”. No. I don’t. I simply return to my processes and play one shot at a time. If I hit a bad shot on the course, there is no possible way I could know what went wrong. It would be a guess.
More importantly, trying to figure out what goes wrong on a bad shot would activate my mind to start thinking. When the mental activity starts it creates stories. Once the stories start golf becomes a series of stories. Stories need subjects, objects, villains, and saints. Eventually, someone wins and someone loses.
Usually, when a bad shot occurs, it is nothing more than the “swing felt bad”. That’s it. End of story.
When I play, I avoid creating stories on the golf course. I let the story create itself.
The time to think of the course is when you need to make a decision on picking a target or what club to hit. This is where thoughts can be useful. Make decisions and don’t tell yourself stories.