By Jim Murphy (adapted from his book Inner Excellence, McGraw-Hill)
“It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” —Aristotle
Golf is a game of feel. To consistently score low comes from learning how to get into your ideal performance state as often as possible. Every golfer has common characteristics in how they feel when they perform their best; learning to control the variables that influence how you feel is crucial.
Feelings run our lives. When we feel good, we take setbacks in stride, see more opportunities, and find beauty to be just a little more apparent. When we feel bad, obstacles become larger and more difficult to overcome. Life becomes a constant reaction to circumstances and to the thoughts and feelings that result. We become pawns of the environment, bumped from circumstance to circumstance. In the challenging environment of a golf tournament, this condition is problematic. If we stay in a constant state of reaction, we have little control and persistently feel negative. Those repeated feelings become patterns, and the patterns become beliefs.
“We don’t have power because we are constantly reacting to the outer world. You are either consciously creating your life or you are reacting to it.” —John Kehoe, author Mind Power into the Twenty-First Century
Beliefs are habits of behavior and expectation that are formed from how we interpret the events in our lives. We each have our own filter that determines how we see the world, and that filter creates the meaning that defines our experience.
So, in this chapter we’ll learn to create the feelings we want, more often, which will pave the way for empowering beliefs. We’ll look at how to manage our state by examining three areas that profoundly affect it: our attention, our desires, and our physiology. We will address how to maximize emotional control and minimize the limitations of fear, doubt, and frustration.
A Few Words on Feelings
We defined Zoë in Chapter 3 as absolute fullness of life. It comes from a state of resonance, in which we feel connected and congruent, fully engaged in what we love. While Zoë goes far beyond feelings, we recognize it by the feel of it. In our discussion, our state and our feelings are used interchangeably. Our emotions and desires are part of our state. Psychologist Robert Vallerand identified seven basic emotions: happiness, interest, surprise, fear, anger, guilt, and sadness. Every other emotion essentially is a derivative of those seven. Each of the seven basic emotions is useful in one way or another, and with the exception of guilt and sadness, they all provide energy (though the energy from fear may propel us or stop us). Anger is an interesting emotion because it produces a lot of energy and has the potential to strongly affect performance. For most of us, anger is a response to frustration that decreases our ability to focus and make quality decisions. We should be aware of how it affects us and our performance. Anger, as is true of frustration and fear, is usually a symptom of a self-occupied mind that is not seeing the bigger picture.
Feelings include the sensations we have in the body that come directly from our five senses. When we feel the hands on the club before we take a swing, smell the grass after a fresh cut, or feel the impact of the club hitting the ball, we notice the event through our senses.
We experience the world through our senses and through the imagination. When what we physically touch, smell, taste, hear, and see enters the mind, we do some internal computations to decide the meaning and then react or respond in some fashion.
In the next chapter we’ll discuss those computations and perceptions that lead to beliefs. Here we will look at setting up favorable conditions for those computations. That is, we will learn how to create more positive feelings that will help us perceive the events in our lives with far greater vision.
In a positive frame of mind, we can bring our best selves to the situations we encounter. Our thoughts affect how we feel, and how we feel affects how we think. Our thoughts and feelings trigger chemical and electrical reactions in the brain that can be powerful enough to speed healing or cause ulcers, or, on a day-to-day basis, free us from tension or fill us with anxiety. Our thoughts show up in the body as feelings, sickness, health, confidence, and so on. How we carry ourselves on the outside—what we do with our bodies—affects how we feel on the inside. If we want change—and all of us who are goal oriented (or dream oriented) want change—then we must work from the outside in as well as from the inside out.
In golf (and the rest of your life), where you place your eyes has a definite impact on how you feel. Looking down creates an environment where negative thoughts and feelings thrive, whereas looking up creates more chances to feel positive. Notice where you place your eyes and chin after a poor shot—if it’s down, those negative thoughts will be harder to replace. Whenever you hit a poor shot, are feeling off or just not present, the first thing to do is stop. Look up. Find a spot above the horizon and take a few long, slow deep cleansing breathes in and out of the nose (ideally close to the resonance breathing rate of six breathes per minute) and let all concerns and desires go, along with your exhalation.
What Gets Your Attention Gets You
If there is one powerful thing that self-actualizing people have learned to do, it’s to control where they place their attention. They have built their environment, formed relationships, and focused their desires around that which inspires, teaches, and empowers.
Author Dr. E. Stanley Jones, a friend of Gandhi’s, said it well: “What gets your attention gets you.” It gets you. Your thoughts become feelings, moods, and attitudes that direct your life. They become you.
Think of how your state is affected when you’re watching a movie. If the movie is engaging, your whole being is caught up in it. Your heart rate speeds up as if you’re the one being chased, or you’ll start to cry as if you’re the one with the broken heart. Your mind, unable to differentiate between reality and what you vividly imagine, feels it as real.
Movies are so powerful because they greatly influence your state. When you realize how sensitive you truly are to sensory input and to what degree it affects your state, you begin to understand that every image has a consequence. Every image that enters your mind produces a thought. Thoughts are powerful forces. Your life unfolds the way it does because of your thoughts. To change your behavior, you need to change your thoughts, and to change your thoughts, you must change where you focus your attention.
Jim Murphy, Tour Council Performance Coach
This article was adapted from chapter 5 of Inner Excellence.
Murphy, Jim (2009-11-19). Inner Excellence : Achieve Extraordinary Business Success through Mental Toughness (pp. 96-97). McGraw-Hill. Kindle Edition.