How Our Evolutionary Instincts Can Affect the Golf Mindset

blog-post2In discussing their ‘Vision 54’ philosophy in the book ‘Every Shot Must Have a Purpose’ Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriot write of the implications of human ancestral instinct patterns that we as a species have evolved, and how their pertain to our golf games today. The most significant among these is the instinct to default to focussing our attention on negative outcomes and situations. According to Pia and Lynn, this is actually a survival instinct that remains conditioned in us dating back to a time when our ancestors faced life and death situations on a daily basis. Because the consequence of a misstep was so severe during these times, our ancestors developed a primal functioning in their brains to become very proficient at being aware and highly sensitive to all negative situations and possibilities. Simply put, it is an instinct that was developed to give us the ability to not only recognize dangerous situations, but also to make it an instinctive priority to dedicate more attention and energy to them than other types of situations.

Unfortunately, while the way of life has changed, and the law of the jungle no longer governs our more civilized society, our ancestral ‘survival’ instincts still remain with us. Old habits die hard, and for many of us the game of golf is one of the modern day arenas where these instincts have found a place to expose themselves. Due to this, there is often a default tendency for a golfer to give very little attention to positives during the a practice session, while placing significant value and emotional energy into the negative moments. While this instinct may serve to help you recognize that it’s not worth it to try to retrieve your golf ball when it comes to rest next to an alligator (Happy Gilmore excluded), it’s not a habit that is going to help you learn to play your best and most rewarding golf.

So what can you do to counter this? The next time you go for a practice session, make it your goal to flip this habit around. To do this, all you have to do is the following:

  • After a positive shot, spend 5-10 seconds admiring it. Give it extra attention, and make the effort to build the habit of assigning value to positive outcomes.
  • After a negative shot, make it your goal to remain very neutral and unreactive (on an emotional level) to the outcome that just occurred.

That’s it. That’s all you need to do. When we assign value and energy to an outcome, regardless if it is desirable or not, this automatically becomes the focus of our brain on an unconscious level. Therefore, there is some significant benefit to establishing an ability to control what and where we apply our attention and energy towards. It is your immense benefit to build the habit of intentionally assigning value and attention to positive outcomes. Make this the focus of your practice for a few sessions, and it will soon become an automatic habit that you do not need to think about.

While this might seem like some pretty simplistic advice, it is not always an easy habit to follow when times get challenging. Yet it could not be a more crucial mental habit. At first it might seem like a very trivial idea that does little more than distract you from focussing on the area(s) of your game that are really holding you back, but it will slowly form into a habit, and the benefits will be well worth your time and investment. Lock in to the habit of purposely investing your attention and focus in the positive results you get during your practice, and pretty soon your brain will start to feel like a radio that only tunes into positive frequencies that lead to opportunities for improvement. This will be beneficial not just for your long-term success with golf, but in many other areas of your life as well. Besides, like your ancestors before you, you owe it to the future of the human race to keep evolving with the times.