January is the time of year when most of us come up with resolutions we want to accomplish. But, did you know that it usually takes about two weeks for goals to be abandoned? While the reasons why we quit are personal and specific to the individual, we can say that, in general, there are due to two main patterns: either we are finding it hard to draw on self-control and willpower, or we realize that what we have set to accomplish is far too general and out of touch with reality.
Researchers have lately found that goals have a better chance to be reached when we focus on one small and meaningful behavioral change until it becomes a habit. Why? Because most of us can accomplish small specific changes, and we don’t usually need to have a lot of willpower when the changes we are looking for are small. Furthermore, they have also discovered that pairing a new action to a cue is critical in making this new behavior automatic.
You may have noticed how making a small swing change (i.e., stance, grip pressure) can make positive changes in ball flight and length. Such small change is usually not hard to do, but it often gives you the willpower to tackle another (bigger) swing change, and so on and so on. This is what, in therapy, is called ‘the snowball metaphor’: one small, doable, and meaningful change leads to a bigger change.
The same happens with your mental game. What are your mental game goals? Picking a target, visualizing the ball flight, paying attention to your intention one shot at a time, responding to a bad shot with composure instead of frustration, switching your internal dialogue from past or future to present thoughts, sticking to your pre-shot routine …
My 2014 goal was to stick to my pre-shot routine. I knew that expecting to do this with every shot was going to create too much pressure, so I decided to start small. I felt able to do this with my 56 degree club, around the green. To that effect, I created a very specific chipping routine that I could stick to. My ‘small behavioral change’ was to kneel down and check the contours and slope of the green (by the way, Lydia Ko, LPGA, does that!). I did it while holding the club (the club was the cue). After a while, I noticed how this routine had become a habit, and I now enjoy more frequent ‘up and down’s’ Accomplishing this goal has given me the willpower and the confidence to work on a slightly bigger change. Word of caution: Every person is different and what worked for me may not necessarily work for you!
1. Identify a goal you want to accomplish this season. (For example: I want to putt with confidence)
2. Deconstruct your goal: work towards it from the bottom up. Ask yourself: What is the smallest behavior change I can make that will bring me closer to my goal? (For example: create a specific pre-shot routine that you can always stick to and works for you)
3. Come up with a very specific and small behavior change (i.e., walk around the green to check the slope)
4. Pair the action to a cue (i.e., ‘I will start walking around the green as I am taking my glove off’)
5. Keep doing it until it becomes second nature
6. Remember: drastic actions might end in failure. On the other hand, discrete and meaningful shifts in behavior may bring success. Pay attention to them!
7. Confidence does not happen in a vacuum. You need to work for it. Giving yourself a chance to do the best you can do, will ultimately increase your confidence.