F.E.A.R. Busters

This article examines the greatest factor obstructing performance achievement in golf – fear. Four areas of fear are revealed for greater athlete awareness of their properties, as well as ways to overcome them during competitive play. 

Countless acronyms have been cleverly created from the word ‘fear’. For this discussion, F.E.A.R. stands for: Fateful Emotions Achieve Regret.

  • Fateful: The dominant fear, for which others fall under; fear conditioned by the unknown.
  • Emotions: Fear conditioned by perceptions of what others think.
  • Achieve: Fear conditioned by thoughts of success.
  • Regret: Fear conditioned by thoughts of failure.
Each fear is examined to demonstrate its affects on performance, and ways to prevent it from occurring in your next performance.
Mac McLendon shot a first round 75 at the 1979 Masters, after which he told his wife, “I’m playing so badly, I just know I’m going to hit somebody. In fact, whatever you do tomorrow don’t get out in front of me.” The next morning, McLendon hooked his drive off the first tee and the ball hit his wife. In his words, “I had one shot that may go down in history as the most accurate shot in golf.” 
Performing well is a process that requires the ability to repeatedly regain focus, control, and composure. Those who master this process are often skilled at being comfortable with the uncomfortable, and accepting what comes from their actions.  Embrace the process of performance by making it purposeful for you.

Purpose indicates conscious intention through a committed self. Clear, rational thinking underscores deliberate behaviors and actions, and affirms commitment toward a plan for the now. Those who lack purpose can lack genuine self-awareness, and suffer from irrational thinking.

When purposeful thoughts, behaviors, and actions drive your performance you can learn to master the process of performing. Those who perform without purpose are more likely to be affected by negative and distorted thinking, leading to unwanted behaviors and actions. Through purposeful play you’ll also learn to enjoy the game more and perform with greater confidence. So, have a purpose in everything you do.
During the January 1993 Super Bowl, Leon Lett of the Cowboys, recovered a loose ball and ran 60 yards for what appeared to be a momentous touchdown. Just before he reached the goal line, Don Beebe of the Bills tracked him down from behind and knocked the ball loose. Though the Cowboys went on to win, Lett became haunted by the pre-score turnover, and Beebe became immortalized for his hustle. 
In November of 1993, during the following season, the Cowboys blocked a final seconds field goal attempt by the Dolphins to secure a Thanksgiving Day game victory. As the ball rolled around on the turf, most of the Cowboys kept their distance, knowing that as long as none of them touched the ball the victory would be sealed. Surprisingly, Lett attempted to recover the ball but couldn’t reel it in, allowing the Bills to recover it. This time, the ensuing field goal attempt was good. 
In the years following, Lett was quiet about what went through his mind during both of those episodes. One could surmise that he hadn’t fully processed what happened during the Super Bowl, and that his actions in the November game suggest he was both caught up in the fever of the play and hyper-focused on redeeming himself in the eyes of others. 
Critical to performing well involves controlling the controllables. Regardless of when something occurs, if it’s out of your control you must let it go. To unlock mind-muscle memory and trigger unconscious performance execution you must focus on areas within your control. In so doing you’ll discover greater purpose, confidence, and attention to task-oriented initiatives.
With time expired in the 2005 Conference USA basketball tournament finals, Darius Washington of Memphis stepped to the free throw line trailing Louisville by two points. He had three free throw opportunities to win the game. 

With great focus and confidence, Washington sank his first attempt, after which he made a throat-slashing gesture toward his bench to signify he would finish the next two, as well. Washington proceeded to miss both free throws, and Louisville won the game by one point. 

Competition can be a great teacher of humility: when athletes affix their eyes on the finish line they can lose sight of what’s right in front of them. 

It appears that Washington’s presumptuousness blurred his focus in the N.O.W., because there’s No Other Way (N.O.W.) to achieve. Performers of every discipline must be eternally focused on the task at hand. When centered in the moment, mind-body memory can perform free from conscious distractions. Tap into your unconscious self and allow it to execute rehearsed movement patterns. For, the best performers master the ability to get out of their own way.

In 1978, at age 73, accomplished tightrope performer Karl Wallenda attempted a 121 foot high walk between two towers of a hotel in Puerto Rico. Wallenda had a lifetime of successful tightrope experiences, each achievement further immortalizing him as the greatest of his generation.

Tragically, Wallenda lost his balance, and fell to his death. In an interview following the tragedy, his wife was quoted as saying, “All Karl thought about for four months prior to the walk was not falling. It was the only time he’s ever thought that way. He normally concentrates on walking the rope, not falling.” 

Your thoughts dictate your emotions and actions. Attune your inner eye to the achievable, task-specific areas within your control, and never what you don’t want to do. 

Keep this in mind – what you see will be. When left unchecked, thoughts of failure can manipulate coordination, and affect emotional control. Be task (not outcome) oriented, and you’ll strengthen focus, confidence, and emotional control. Task-orientation involves focusing on executing the tasks needed to achieve. Whereas outcome-orientation centers on performance results, and are conditioned by thoughts of success or failure.

To help drive forward task-oriented thoughts, attune your mind to the fundamentals. Become your best self coach, who provides clear instruction involving technique execution. Task-orientation is critical. It narrows focus on what’s needed to achieve, and allows you to disengage from the lure of outcome-oriented areas. Make your tasks primary and you’ll be immersed in the moments.

Also, when emotional arousal becomes unstable, center yourself using a rehearsed breathing and relaxation technique.You can practice this using simulated training exercises. Create situations where thoughts of failure have affected performance in the past. Rather than shy away from negative thoughts, confront and embrace them so you’re better able to control them. Center yourself by rehearsing a breathing and relaxation technique, then re-direct your thoughts to the simple, manageable tasks you master in this performance scenario. Narrow your focus on these tasks, instructing your body to perform the vision your mind sees. See it precisely how you will execute it. What you see will be.

5 Finger Command

When you grip the club in preparation for your next shot you are solidifying your commitment to connect with the ball with absolute confidence and total control of rehearsed technique patterns. As your second hand embraces the grip you should have 5 finger command of your intentions. Each finger symbolizes an essential step leading to your next shot:
  1. Purposeful process: Each shot is critical. Therefore, absolute purpose must drive your thoughts and behaviors in planning your next shot. Be thorough and precise in your plan, and adhere to your pre-shot routine independent of shot significance and variables.
  2. Control the controllables: In performance, only a small percentage is within your control. As soon as the ball takes flight you are relieved of your duties for that shot. You may consider the many factors influencing your approach and how you adjust to them, but you may not manipulate them.
  3. Focus on task: When standing over the ball your single most important job is to effectively allow yourself to perform with confident and fluid mind-muscle memory. This involves releasing all thoughts not pertaining to the tasks required to connect with the ball the way you want to.
  4. Confidence in flow: You are performing with full confidence at the start of your backswing. Allow yourself to flow effortlessly through this optimal confidence.
  5. Accept reality: Whatever happens, happens. Accept the conditions of the ball’s lie, and prepare yourself to begin the process all over again.
The 5 finger command is a performance-driven mantra, designed to promote rehearsed technique patterns, a clear mind, and a calm body. Their culminating effects center on winning the moment, or what I refer to as W.I.N. N.O.W.: when you’re focused on What’s Important Now, because there’s No Other Way.
R.P.T. Routine Cycle
While your 5 finger command demonstrates a pre-shot affirmation, there’s a larger approach which governs everything you do. It’s the ongoing routine cycle you perform throughout competitive play, involving three stages: release, plan, and trigger.

1. Release: Give yourself permission to let go of what’s occurred in the past. Unless you have a time machine there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Let it go!

  • It’s advisable that you utilize breathing and relaxation techniques. They can aid your ability to let go of past moments and enter a relaxed and focused mind-body state, so you’re best prepared for the now and moments ahead.

2. Plan: You’re preparing for your next shot and your focus must be clear on what needs to happen now. In addition to supporting technique execution, this involves initiating your optimal performance state so you’re ready at the start of your pre-shot routine.

  • Remain focused on your plan, but immerse yourself in your breathing. How you breathe can indicate and/or influence your thinking and behaviors. Focusing on your breathing also enhances self-awareness, allowing for more coordinated movements. Additionally, it helps unlock the unconscious mind-muscle memory supporting ideal performance execution.

3. Trigger: With a task-oriented focus, your trigger initiates your commitment to the shot.

  • Develop the use of a visual, verbal, or action-oriented trigger. This serves as an ignition switch to narrow your focus and maximize your confidence. There’s a good chance you already do something out of habit that works well for you. If so, examine its purpose and effectiveness, and either strengthen it through purposeful practice, or change it up for something more effective. The objective is to use something which locks you in to the tasks needed for successful performance execution.
High performance consistency is something all athletes seek, yet few take the time to understand what promotes such consistency. You can learn to master performance consistency by following the guideline outlined in this article. But it requires you to confront and embrace innermost thoughts that may induce fear. This can be scary for some, which is why they’re most likely not consistently great performers. They are dismissive of great performance outings, reminding themselves that they should perform that way every time. Their analysis compounds pressure and allows for emotional letdowns when their performances don’t match their expectations. 

If you truly want to achieve on a consistent basis, do yourself a tremendous favor: perform with a purpose that enhances the controllables, keeps you in the N.O.W., and is rooted in task-orientation. Between every shot apply your 5-finger command and your R.P.T. routine cycle. And bottom line, thoroughly embrace and enjoy each and every moment!
I have over ten years of performance training through my experiences in coaching, mental conditioning and edutaining of groups and individual clients. My diverse athletic experiences as a college football player, triathlete, mixed martial artist, and coach, have helped intensify my awareness for cultivating elite-level success across various sport, performance, and tactical disciplines. I regularly consult with professional athletes and organizational leadership, including, NFL, UFC, MLB, NBA, NHL, WTA, and PGA, as well as CrossFit, and NCAA competitors and staffs. I served as the Mental Performance Specialist with the US Army Special Forces, Director of Mental Conditioning with the Evert Tennis Academy, and I direct in-house consultation and leadership development with public and private sector organizations. I’m available to provide dynamic and interactive workshops for your organization and large-scale symposiums.

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