“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”
— Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Some days we are just so darn brilliant in our games. Why? Who knows? We change putters. We change coaches. We change golf partners. We eat our Wheaties or alter our warm-up or put on special lenses or wolf back vitamins or, more than likely, do something that creates the brilliance out of thin air. And hey, we smile and take credit for our brilliant game.
But the next round is vastly different. We struggle with three-footers. We question our routine. We change things up. We switch clubs. We take chances. We take unnecessary advice. We second guess. And as the game progresses, we self-talk and beat ourselves up. Our mind gets out of control and our “feel” game is diminished. And we blame everything from weather to slow pokes.
Your Brain is a Vault of Memories
I’m writing this from the viewpoint of golf, but it applies to any sport. And the reason you get variations from shot to shot and day-to-day is very simple. Your brain is a vault of memories—good, bad and ugly. And your brain extracts both the useful and useless from that vault in the most random of ways for every putt or shot you take. Most of us even encourage that randomness by self-talking ourselves to death. And yes, that goes for “positive” self-talk as well, as you need an absolutely quiet mind in all sports.
Your brain is a very efficient sponge for information, but it is only the good memories that you want to access. Training your brain to consistently extract and filter the messages so that you get only the good messages requires a strategy. So, what follows is a very specific exercise that allows you to develop a Zone shot for most, if not every shot. (The example here if for golf, but you can use it in any sport.)
Three-step Zone Shot
1) First, imagine some of your best golf memories, those where your game was totally in sync with your concept of winning and having fun. Pick one memory and examine it closely. For most people, this memory is usually imagined as vivid, bright, clear, colorful—with larger-than-life holes and broad, hazard-free fairways. I think you’ll be amazed by the brilliance of your image. Moving forward, this powerful “image” is going to be the filter against which you’ll measure all your golf memories. We’ll call it the Zone image.
2) Now think of times when you felt crushed by your inconsistency and wondered why you play this game. Pick one memory, perhaps an embarrassing incident, and, like most people, there is a good chance you’ll find the image of the memory to be dark, indistinct and even black and white. This “image” represents the kind of random, unfiltered memory that you want to avoid. I think you’ll be equally amazed (saddened) by the consistency of this kind of image when you examine several of them. We’ll call this your No-Zone image.
3) Now I want you to treat this No-Zone image like a malleable piece of clay, and you are going to mold it (fix, alter, change) so it resembles to your Zone image. To do this, imagine the image right in front of you. Reach your arms out as if to grab its dark, indistinct, black and white edges. Then, by moving your arms outward, imagine stretching it out and adding the vivid-bright-clear-colorful attributes of the Zone shot of step #1. Do this stretching motion several times, each time with increasing vividness, speed and excitement.
You may start to notice a shift in the No-Zone image. And you may notice that the feeling of embarrassment is fading as well! The goal is to get the No-Zone image looking and feeling just like the Zone shot – so that the end result is always the same. Plus, the exercise is discreet, and you can actually do it before any shot. All your partners have to know is that you are warming up in preparation for the shot. And you are!
With this filtering process, you are doing two things. First, you are shifting the No-Zone image so it will completely fade from your memory banks, and, second, you are teaching your brain, by repetition, to filter all memories so that every shot in the future is a Zone shot—defined and precise.
Once you set up these kinds of filters, you can virtually “eliminate” all manner of distracting hazards from trees to water. You can even eliminate the distracting effects of wind, rain and heat so that you enjoy the advantage they give you over opponents who complain. It doesn’t mean you’ll be successful 100% of the time, as your skill level and experience in forming a given type of shot is a huge component, but it will certainly eliminate many of the distractions that lead to second guessing. And it’ll help to eliminate the undermining comments of your golf partners, where they bring into focus the obstacles that you were already working to eliminate.
Quality over Quantity
We have all manner of memories of sport experiences, the number of which depends on your age, practice time and competitive experience. Quantity does little to create a consistent shot, but quality does, and you need a perfect filter to extract the perfect Zone shot—drives to putts, whatever the weather and whomever you are playing.
As noted in the quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. at the beginning of this post, a mind stretched to new dimensions never returns to it original form. The same is true for your game, as every time you await your turn to putt (or swish baskets or rifle a puck past a goaltender), you have the opportunity to resolve distractions by stretching out the ideal Zone shot so that the No-Zone never returns. And in golf, dropping a fifty-footer into a hole that appears to be the size of a dinner-plate just feels good and easy.
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