The mental side of golf can sure feel like a mind warp sometimes. One day you’re in the zone and think you have FINALLY figured it out. At that moment you know you are never going to let yourself slip out of the zone ever again. Then the next day your mind seems to be your own worst enemy. Ugh. We’ve all been there.
We’ve all had experiences in the zone, yet it can be difficult to rationalize why we can be there one day but not the next. When we’re in the zone our thoughts are crystal clear and staying focused feels effortless — things just click. Nothing from the outside world clouds our brains and we cruise over the bad shots like the small speed bumps they are. Golf almost feels easy, until it’s not anymore.
So is the zone just a phenomenon that sporadically happens from time to time, or can we get ourselves into it more often? If we have any hope of doing that, we first we need to understand what exactly it is and why it’s not typically the default setting for our brains.
My belief is that being in the zone (or not) comes down to a battle between the primitive part of our brain and our higher levels of consciousness. When we’re in the zone, we’ve tapped into our higher conscious and stifled our primitive brain. I’ve previously written about how I believe the primitive part of our brain can mistreat confidence in golf, and these primal instincts are what can override our higher consciousness and keep us from getting into the zone.
The primitive part of the brain is not rational enough for life in our ever-evolving, complex world. In the days of hunting woolly mammoths, things were pretty black and white — hunt or starve, build a fire or freeze to death overnight. Our world has evolved a lot since then but our brains haven’t completely kept pace, so we carry with us many instincts that aren’t in line with modern realities. While our basic primal instincts are still useful to our survival in ways, they can work against us on the golf course or in other more complex life situations.
When our brains are stuck in primitive mode, they struggle to rationalize complex situations and are terrible at dealing with adversity. In primitive mode we live and die by every shot, putting far too much weight in our future outlook based on the result of a single shot (a good example of this is letting your first tee shot determine how your day is going to go). A missed green with a wedge from the fairway feels like the end of the world. How could I have screwed that up so bad. That was my chance. I may as well toss in the towel because a woolly mammoth is probably going to come and eat me now, and no woman from the tribe would possibly want to reproduce with such a screw up anyway. By the time you remind your primitive brain this is nonsense, you’ve already sabotaged yourself for no good reason.
So how do we tap into our higher consciousness and get into the zone more often? I believe acknowledging that the primitive part of your brain exists is the first step. Once we’re aware of it, it’s easier to recognize when it’s trying to take over, and then tame it and let our higher consciousness shine through.
Imagine a far more intelligent life form secretly observing you for the first time, and you happen to be throwing a hissy fit on the golf course after hitting a bad shot. How embarrassing would it be for that to be their first impression of your life on this earth? They would struggle to pinpoint any real reason for the rage and would probably categorize you as completely insane or not very aware of your actions. Or both. In reality, you’re just letting a primitive part of your brain control you.
Or better yet, picture yourself observing yourself. What would make you the proudest to see yourself doing after the bad shots? You’d probably be proud to see yourself stay focused, march forward, and recover from that poor shot like a boss.
When our higher conscious is engaged, each shot is simply one small component in a series of inevitable ups and downs over the course of a round, season, and career. Our higher conscious understands there are no real consequences (such as woolly mammoths ready to eat anyone who three-putts) and quickly refocuses on what is required to execute the next shot.
Our higher conscious realizes a round of golf is simply a sum of individual shots and moments and all you can control is the present moment you’re in. If you spent life doing nothing but dwelling on the past and worrying about the future it would be pretty difficult to ever be happy in the present moment since you’re never really living in it. The same goes with golf, yet our default setting is often to dwell on past shots and worry beyond the present moment, such as what our final score might be.
And maybe most importantly, our higher conscious realizes that where our biggest challenges lurk, so too do our greatest opportunities for triumph.