Confidence is something that has always intrigued me. As every golfer knows, confidence can be both gained and lost very quickly — without warning.
So what is confidence and where does it come from? Or even more importantly, why can we lose it and where does it go? One definition of confidence is “the belief that one can count on something”. When it comes to confidence in golf, it isn’t always as easy to explain.
In very simplistic terms, when you hit good shots you gain confidence. When you hit bad shots you may lose confidence. If at any given point in our golfing career we are able to gain this confidence, how and why do we ever lose it? It seems to take several good shots to gain confidence, but often only one bad shot to erode it.
Say you and I have only ten shots to warm up before a round, and we begin with the same level of theoretical ability and confidence. You hit your first shot poorly, but make an adjustment and hit your next nine shots well. I hit my first nine shots well and then hit my tenth shot poorly, right before heading to the tee. We both hit nine warm-up shots well — does one of us have more confidence on the first tee than the other?
Probably you, but why? Mathematically we have the same odds of hitting our tee shot well if you base it on our warm-up, but the confidence I built up in my first nine shots may have been eroded by my last shot. Whereas you made an adjustment and regained your confidence after the first shot with a series of good shots.
Are you following me? Bear with me as I build on that with another analogy.
Say you want to start taking a shortcut home at night by walking through a poorly lit park. You do it once and get home safely. You’ve gained some confidence that the route is safe. You do it eight more times and continue to get home safely. Now you’re pretty confident this route is safe. The tenth time you get jumped and someone steals your wallet. Even though you got home safely nine out of ten times, your brain has lost confidence that the route is safe. That is rational when it comes to personal safety. Even though the park was safe 9 out of 10 times, the consequences of it not being safe are high, so our brains defy the odds and deem it unsafe in order to protect us from harm.
This instinct is great for survival, but can work against us in golf. It leads me to believe our primitive brain can mistreat confidence on the golf course. Just like the example of starting with nine good warm-up shots and hitting a bad tenth shot, the brain can ignore the fact that nine of them were executed well and focus on the bad one in order to protect us from harm, similar to walking through the park. In terms of golf, of course, that is nonsense.
Belief in our ability, or confidence, should accumulate based on the times we execute well and not be affected by the times we don’t. Take a well executed shot, put it in a jar and put the lid on. You did it, and nobody can ever take that away from you. Take the next well executed shot and put it in the same jar. Take each poor shot and simply discard them in the trash. The result of a bad golf shot doesn’t have any impact on our personal safety, so there is no sense taking them into consideration on the next shot.
Just because a shot was poorly executed doesn’t take away from the fact that you possess the ability to play the shot well, so why let it erode your belief the next time you’re faced with that shot? The well executed shots are your true potential coming through, and the more you put in the jar the more likely they are to breed and multiply.
Staying confident and hitting good shots isn’t always going to be perfectly correlated, but maintaining confidence on the golf course will increase the chances of hitting each shot well.
Each time I’m faced with a shot, I’m going to think of how full my Confidence Jar is. After all, we’re just playing golf, not hunting woolly mammoths.