Minding Your Swing Without Thinking

 I tell my students to turn off their conscious brain while swinging. What does that mean?

One of the all-time greats and a Legend in my book, Golf, Learn From the Legends, Sam Snead, tells us that he is “Loosey Goosey” when he addresses the ball and for the most part his mind is “blank” as he makes his swing. This does not mean that he has turned off his brain, it is quite the opposite. He takes his conscious brain out of the way and allows his subconscious brain to control the motor cortex. There is no time for conscious thought during the swing. This action takes 1.2 seconds to complete and to interrupt the activity of the motor cortex while it is sending coordinated signals to every muscle group in the body is to cause a negative consequence for the result you are seeking. Turn off the conscious brain when you swing.

You already have the skill to do this and use it every day in your normal activities. Without the input of conscious thought, you stand upright and walk. Your brain combines input from the five senses and coordinates with your motor cortex which sends signals to hundreds of muscles to maintain your balance and move you in the appropriate direction.  And typically, also without conscious thought, your brain adapts to changes in terrain, avoids obstacles and other dangerous conditions. Understand that your conscious input is not necessary for 95 percent of your daily activities. Walking is just one good example. It is a motor skill that you taught yourself around the age of one, and it became an autonomous learned skill stored inside your brain. Consider this, you walk without thinking and you learned to walk without coaching. Walking is a difficult skill, but you mastered it. You can take your golf game to the next level.

Let’s examine why we fail. In one of my previous blogs I write about being in Toronto, Ontario at the CN Tower. There is a circular glass observation floor you can walk out on that allows you to look down 1,122 feet to the ground. The feeling is like being suspended in air.  Some people crossing that space feel their legs go weak,  lose the ability to walk and drop to their hands and knees and begin crawling, some become immobile, while others grab the nearest person for support. For these people, the fear of heights has interrupted their balance and the functions of the motor cortex.  They have lost the ability to maintain their posture and retain their balance and standing/walking becomes impossible. If the brain can lose one of the most autonomous motor skills you possess, what happens when you are fearing failure as you begin your golf swing.

You have practiced your swing and your putting and successfully struck ball after ball in practice. Golf for you is a semi-autonomous skill.  You have good outcomes playing the course alone, in your foursome, or with your best golf buddy. But, this all changes when you are hitting the ball with strangers present, when something is on the line, (possibly an egg or greenie), or you have hit your last four shots really well and put pressure on yourself to  repeat.  This does not happen just on the tee; it happens all over the course.  For some it is the pressure to turn a good drive into a par or a birdie, or to roll in that four-foot putt for a par to tie or win a hole.

What the cause?

Simply stated it not your inability to strike the ball correctly or roll a putt. It is your inability to maintain your concentration, and allow your motor cortex to repeat the autonomous skills you have in your brain.  

The motor cortex is not a conscious part of your brain, it does not think about anything. It receives a message from the frontal cortex to produce a golf swing. It will autonomously produce the swing you have practiced over and over. It cannot think so it is not worried about the last shot that it produced that went astray. It does not know about the new guy in your foursome that is irritating you with his remarks. It does not know that you have lined up for eight-foot putts and you always seem to miss. It does not know that you have not hit the green you are shooting for in the last month. It is not worried about the score or that there is out of bounds or a lake on this hole. It knows only one thing, how to send a series of signals to your muscle groups that will produce the shot you are trying. If you Leave this process alone, it will work. 

Well, if that is true, why is it so hard to produce the shot or make the putt?

As a golfer you have a lot of distractions. In your conscious brain you have visions of previous success and failure of the shot or putt you are going to attempt, recordings of advice received from well-meaning friends and instructors, feelings that you are being judged by your companions. The brain is analog and not digital, so it functions as a unit. As you start your swing, your conscious thoughts will affect the outcome of the swing or putt you are attempting, and it becomes a cauldron of failure. You must develop the same attitude about the shot you are attempting as you have about getting out of bed and walking to the bathroom every morning. You do it without thinking.

The time for conscious thought is in the preshot routine. Your routine should be careful, positive, and used to create a platform that will support the shot you are going to make. Pick a line or a target and consciously think of the ball following the line or flying to the target. This is no time at all for negativity.  Once the preshot routine is complete, the platform established, use your mantra to shut off the thinking brain, and let your sub-conscious brain strike the ball. 

Shutting off the conscious brain means no thoughts about where the club is during the swing, no thoughts about weight shift, no thoughts about releasing the club, no critique of your actions while they are taking place. And most helpful no thoughts about the trees on the right, the creek you must carry or the weather conditions. All these conditions and actions have been covered in the preshot routine. Your motor cortex can only do its job if you do not interrupt it.

Being “Loosey Goosey” during the swing produces winning shots!  

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