CHOKING YOUR INNER CHOKER
by Dr. Roberta A. Isleib
What do the following three golfers have in common?
If you said all three golfers "choked under pressure", you were correct. Psychologists say that choking may occur when your motivation to perform well backfires-and this can happen at many levels of skill.
HOW DOES IT HAPPEN?
Choking takes place when your conscious or thinking mind steps in to try to control skills that you've already learned well enough to perform automatically. With the added pressure of an audience or your hiked-up expectations, you tell yourself to be careful, then revert to the mechanical performance of a novice. In fact, you are better off without this extra oversight from your well-meaning brain!
"When you choke, you introduce qualities of protectiveness or pressing
in your performance," says Dr. Joseph Parent, author of the new book
Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game. "The combination of the two
is the worst-trying too hard and making sure not to commit mistakes. The
golfer has ceased to trust that her body can execute the shots she knows."
SO WHAT'S THE CURE?
1. Recognize the symptoms of pressure. Listen to what you're telling yourself as you play. If you "hear" yourself thinking thoughts like "I need to be careful" or "I need to try a little harder", look out! Your thinking mind is moving in. Trust that your body knows how to swing. "I like to use the motto, nothing special, nothing extra, under those conditions," says Dr. Parent.
2. Practice under conditions as similar as possible to those you'll be facing. Sian Beilock and Thomas Carr, researchers at Michigan State University, trained novice golfers to putt in three different environments. The first group practiced putting with no distractions. The second group learned while listening to a tape recorder with instructions to repeat the word "cognition" whenever they heard it on the tape. Group three putted while being videotaped. They were told a professional would later critique their performance. Next, all three groups were tested under low and high stress conditions. Not surprisingly, the third group, acclimated to performing under pressure, out-putted the other golfers in the high-stress condition where money was at stake for both them and a partner.
Put yourself in competitive situations before the match, so the circumstances will feel familiar. A game where you force yourself to start over if you miss a putt is more pressure than simply putting around the practice green. A money match between you and a friend with an audience watching may be even better practice.
3. Try to reduce the extra meaning you may have added to your performance. If you need to sink a putt to top your personal best, remind yourself the putt is familiar-a simple four foot uphill putt. Avoid focusing on the fact that this particular four foot putt means you will break ninety for the first time in your career!
4. Bring up positive images of how you've performed in similar situations. "Human beings seem predisposed to focus on the negative," Dr. Parent laughs. "You've got to squeeze out the pictures of all the times you've blown it and replace those memories with positive images."