Desire to improve is vital. Having an idea of where you want to get to and a plan for how you are going to get there is a healthy habit of all successful golfers. However, pushing yourself past your limitations to the point where you are no longer being productive is not going to help you in any way. While you must push yourself and embrace new challenges, you must also be aware of the point in practice where your focus and productivity begin to wain. You will recognize that your have reached this point by the following symptoms:
- you become easily agitated by minor mistakes
- your pace of practice begins to change drastically
- you begin to feel a sense of desperation to immediately fix a poor shot as soon as it is hit.
Does any of this sound familiar? For me, this is a habit that I spent a lot of years being totally unaware was ingraining itself into many of my practice sessions. Sometimes there were even sessions where I left the practice range feeling like my game was in worse shape than when I had arrived. Looking back, I notice that this habit, while predominant in my full swing practice, was never really a concern in any of my short game practice sessions. Interestingly enough, to this day, putting and chipping are what I have traditionally considered the strengths of my game (although the gap is closing fast). To this point, I feel there is a strong positive correlation between the development of a certain golf skill, and our ability to recognize and manage our physical and emotional limits when it comes to practicing said golf skill.
Ideally, you would like to avoid this point all together; however, I do not know of any passionate athlete who doesn’t find themselves arriving at this point from time to time. So if all-out prevention is unrealistic, perhaps it would be wise to form some strategies for handling ourselves when we inevitably and inadvertently do reach this state.
When you do find yourself entering this zone, it is important to accept that in this state YOU ARE PHYSICALLY AND PSYCHOLOGICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM OPTIMALLY. Read that again. What this means is that the dip in performance you experience while in this state is not a fair representation of the current state of your golf game. It also means that virtually all practice you perform while in this state is useless to your quest for improvement. Vision 54 authors and mental coaches Pia Nilson and Lynn Marriot wisely preach “you get good at what you practice”, so unless you plan to play all of your golf in this state, there really isn’t much point to practicing while in this state.
So what do you do when you find yourself here? In extreme cases, Stop! Take a break. Accept that your body is currently in a state that prevents it from producing beneficial practice, and that the best way to get out of this state is to step away from the fuel source that is keeping you there. This break might only be 5 minutes, but in that 5 minutes, if you can break away from what you are doing long enough for the above listed symptoms to fully pass and subside, you will be able to enter back into a zone of optimal focus and concentration. More importantly, you will get back to practicing at a level that is worth your time and effort.
Pay attention to your tendencies and habits as you go deep into your practice sessions and you will learn a lot about yourself. More importantly, you will learn to recognize when you are in an optimal learning state, and be able to sense when you start to leave this state and begin to reach your physical and emotional limits. Get good at implementing this level of self-awareness and you will notice a dramatic increase in the efficiency and quality of your time spend in practice. Who knows? Instead of getting home an hour later than you promised, it may only be half an hour….and you’ll be a lot more confident about the value you got out of that half hour.