Journey to the Worlds: Mental Toughness and the Lion (pt3)


This is Part 3 of a 3-part post on mental toughness. To read the first post go to My Journey to the Worlds: Mental Toughness and the Lion (pt 1), and My Journey to the Worlds: Mental Toughness and the Lion (pt 2).

Master of His World

In my first Mental Toughness and the Lion post I reiterated the importance of having a solid mental inner game, and how more and more experts are coming to believe our outer world is a reflection of our inner world. To be mentally tough on the outside (during performance) you need to be mentally tough on the inside. In the second post I described a new technique Dr. Glen Albaugh is pioneering that uses imagery and positive mental state associations to bypass the rational mind to affect automatic play directly. Here’s my interpretation of what may be going on.

Dr. Albaugh was one of the first performance coaches to apply the notion of a “3-part brain” to golf: the Rational Brain, the Emotional Brain, and the Automatic Brain. The 3-part brain is not a new concept, but the application to Golf has been a breakthrough for many players.

The Rational part of the brain is the newest part of our brain – the neocortex. It processes thoughts and ideas and concepts. It’s the part of our brain that develops strategy. But the Rational brain operates relatively slowly, and can only process one idea at a time. The Rational brain is not directly connected to movement, which is why learning a new movement is often characterized by jerky, unsteady movement.

The Emotional part of our brain is the strongest. It interprets (judges?) situations. Emotions are powerful operators on the brain, and seldom provide warning they are coming. But the Emotional brain also does not interface directly with the body’s motor control system, and it is seldom an efficient facilitator of performance.

The Automatic Brain, which is part of the limbic system, is the oldest part of the brain. It’s the part of the brain that IS hard-wired to the body. There’s even a separate neural system with a sort of “brain” of its own that operates at an automatic level to help us function optimally.

Our limbic system is tied into our autonomic system, which among other things controls our fight/flight reflex. The limbic system is very good at pattern recognition and processing images, and at getting the body to do things automatically. After all, the quicker our ancestors could pick out the image of a saber-tooth tiger bearing down, the more likely they were to survive. And the better and quicker our limbic system could get our bodies moving once the image has been identified, the more likely we were to find a convenient tree to shinny up out of harms way.

So the automatic brain works quickly and smoothly with the body. That’s one of the reasons we play our best golf when we give up trying to control our movement and just let the automatic brain figure out how to get it done. It’s why we practice to groove a particular swing – so it can be automatic.

Well, imagine if the feeling of being in the Zone – where we play our best – could be made more automatic?

The implications for the way we learn, practice, and ultimately play golf could be profound.

In my own work teaching students on a daily basis I’ve become more and more convinced that the answer to playing better golf lies not in mechanics, but in developing the ability to visualize or imagine a shot and then translating that image from the mind into a kinesthetic feel the body can understand and execute. Mechanics has its place. But it is not the answer. We’ve known the “see it, feel it” idea for some time. But we don’t effectively teach it. That needs to change, and I’m going to be spending the next year with my students figuring out the most effective way to do it.

It’s possible that the Lion image gets processed by the mini-brain of the limbic system and carries along with it the positive thought/emotion state that comes from Flow. If the image association by-passes the Rational brain and works directly with the autonomic system, it should be easier to activate the precursors for Zone performance.

Does it work?

I don’t know.

But next week at the World Long Drive Championships I’ll be up against the best of the best, and I’ll have to be at my very best to prevail. I’ll take any edge I can get. And I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the mean time I’m going to be like the lion: The Master of my world. I’m going to be me, to the very best of my capabilities. If I win … great. If not, I’ll go down knowing the lion in me gave it everything I had.