Changing Seasons

Today Marks the first day of Spring!  Some people love the summertime, others love the cold of the winter. Myself? More than anything, I love the changing of the seasons. It really doesn’t matter from what season to another, I love the fact that there exists an undeniable certainty, a dependable progression of the year that you can count on almost like nothing else in this world. Fall doesn’t care if you didn’t make the most of your time on the golf course, it’s coming nonetheless. Winter won’t hold off until you’re feeling less anxious on the hills in Whistler – the seasons will change no matter what happens in our lives on this planet.

Seasons put my life into perspective. I gaze out onto the trees in my backyard and know not only that some of them are older than me, but that they will be here for many generations to come long after I am gone. It’s times like these, when season pass and focus is shifted, that we come to see life through different lenses.

The reality that I have come to embrace is that we all age really, really fast.  In a blink of an eye, we have blown through yet another 5 years of our lives and before you know it, you’re in your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and onwards.  Decades seem to fly by if you’re not careful!  A daunting thought for some while magical for others!  Life streams by if you’re not deliberate in finding ways to ensure that you are not only enjoying as much of it as you can, but also are living fully in the manner that you want.

Most people live life as though it were a dress rehearsal. They don’t live in the moment simply because they hold the belief system that another moment will present itself in the future.  We have all existed in that mindset where we believe that tomorrow is another day, allowing opportunities and possibilities to pass us by because we are too shy, too self-conscious or too busy with the responsibilities of life to grab a hold of the moment and make it ours.  After many years of education and reflection I have come to understand that in this life I must pursue every opportunity that presents itself, and try and live as much in the moment as possible.

There is no doubt in that this task is not easy.  We all lose track of days and weeks that melt into months and before you know it, another season has come and gone. I often look back and reflect on what I have to show for the days and months of passed time.  Sometimes, it feels like not very much. Sometimes I will think only in terms of my work or career, and put aside my own spiritual connections, relationships and emotional development, but certainly that doesn’t seem fair or right.  Being a whole person is tough work in this era where priorities have shifted and accumulated.

Refining life into its ultimate form, within all areas, on a day to day, week to week, and month to month basis will definitely be challenging.  Sure, at times we all find that no matter the effort some area will suffer from a little neglect. We should never let months, seasons or life go by without paying attention to, and feeding our passions, our relationships, our spirituality, our emotional needs, and of course our professional goals and career.

The Mental Side of your Golf Swing

Emotional states harness energies that can drive and motivate an athlete to push the limits of their golf game further or cause them to choke under pressure. In the realm of performance, arousal is a psychological state linked, in its most ultimate form, to an athletes ability to establish peak performance if used effectively. The varying forms of arousal (Somatic, Cognitive, behavioral), one being a physiological experience while the other a psychological, coexist together to create the emotional elixir’s most recognized as anxiety and excitement. High levels of arousal, which primarily result in performance anxiety, can prove to be a highly negative and evidently a destructive state if left neglected and uncontrolled. During such levels of anxiety the heart rate increases, breathing patterns change as there is an influence on both the respiratory volume and the metabolic rate, and often there is evidence of both perspiration and numbness of the hands. Excitement, which also stems from high arousal, on the contrary proves to enhance performance, confidence and the overall human spirit and experience. How can two emotional states characterized by same psychological affects play such contradicting roles?

Essentially there exists a rather fine line between most forms of energy. When observant, we can appreciate similar formulas of coexistence between love and hate, good and bad, brilliance and insanity, and in this particular case anxiety and excitement. Intriguingly enough one can make the argument that if both states evolve from the same seed, that potentially the modes that we exist within are simply a matter of preconditioned choices! In the case of golf performance, the sport that requires a temperament unlike any other; anxiety, fear and stress are all too prevalent. And while there is an extensive spread of tailored solutions for this rather universal human reaction, the most effective method of transforming anxiety into a productive energy is to revise it into its alternate form best known as excitement!

Redirecting energy is vital in the world of competitive golf. Ruminating on the threats posed by anxiety can begin the spiraling effects of focusing on potential threats, questioning your decision making, and getting overly quick on the greens. But through practice one can regain control of their emotional state under such circumstances and begin to focus on the potential opportunities ahead by redirecting themselves through exciting thoughts, talk and behavior! Simple expressions of excitement can reverse the emotional state triggered by anxiety and enhance overall performance. A Harvard study published by the American Psychological Association (http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2013/12/performance-
anxiety.aspx) indicates that expressions regarding feelings of excitement can be tremendously effective. Thoughts, feelings and most importantly verbal statements of excitement can allow the mind to embark on the journey of all the potential possibilities of a triumphant finish. It is important to remember that ‘Thought precedes Motion’, which simply means that if you want your body to perform at its best you must first indicate those messages to your mind. In the world of psychology, verbal guidance can be far
more effective than most are willing to believe. So on the next occasion that you find yourself triggered and feeling anxious while standing over the ball, my suggestion is to take a step back and verbally tell yourself ‘I am excited, and this is going to be a good day’. Speaking these words may initially feel disingenuous, but in due time you will understand the authentic notions of excitement and exhilaration that you are instilling within yourself as your anxiety dissipates and your golf game prevails.

The Mental Patterns of Golf

Provide me with a one-word description of golf!? This is a very common question that I often pose to my clients. The array of emotion based responses are fascinating, as clients weigh in with such adjectives as frustrating, exhilarating, peaceful, fun, maddening etc. But the most accurate and refreshing response received to this day has been… addictive! And if you think about it clearly, what better one-word description encompasses all that we know of this exhilarating sport known as Golf. There is no description more encompassing of a sport such as golf! And this is best described by a psychological principle referred to as “intermittent reinforcement”. Intermittent reinforcement is the formula foundation for all forms of addition. Take gambling with a slot machine as an example. You lose, lose, lose, lose and suddenly you win! And yet, despite the guaranteed repetitive loss and the incidental win, people love to play slot machines for hours. Why is intermittent reinforcement so powerful? In its simplest translation, the reinforcement pattern that blooms into addiction must entail of high levels of reward and amusement without the predictability factors which can trigger boredom. It‟s the unpredictability of when the reward arrives that draws and engages people into the activity. The rewards that are distributed intermittently trigger and release significantly higher doses of a pleasure inducing hormone known as dopamine, than the same rewards distributed on a more consistent (predictable) basis. Can you think of another activity that features in more intermittent reinforcement than golf? No matter what level of golf you are playing, it is guaranteed that you are going to hit more shots that feel miss-struck than well-struck. Some may argue that the pros hit the ball well on almost every shot, but on the contrary the better you are the higher the standard to what constitutes a shot that delivers maximum satisfaction and reward. To a highly skilled golfer, maximum satisfaction is gained through a perfectly struck and executed shot. While by the same token, for the double-bogey player, a drive that is struck decently and stays in the fairway is also a cause for celebration. And of course the complex addicting aspects of this sport may begin with individual shots, but it certainly does not stop there! Let’s not neglect to take into consideration the array of challenges that every golfer faces with the two primary clubs, the driver and the putter. One involves an explosive movement that results in bashing the ball as far as humanly possible while the other requires the delicate touch of a surgeon’s hand. And let’s not forget the long irons/hybrid shots and short-iron shots, along with chipping and pitching. The never-ending faculties and challenges to master in achieving excellence in this game will never fail to cease.

Intermittent reinforcement is in every Facet of the sport of golf. How often do you catch yourself reminiscing on that one epic round of golf or golf season where your performance was nothing short of excellence? That round of golf or the season which you simply have not managed to duplicate as of yet? Fortunately golf does not pose the same mental health challenges as other forms of addiction. On the contrary there are obvious health benefits such as exercise, social engagement, mindfulness, and time spent in nature. Have you gained a clearer understanding to the many ways golf can be considered an addiction through intermittent reward? It’s the sport that requires a temperament unlike any other, and there is no surprise that it is also the activity with the highest number of participant’s worldwide.

Fear

Fear is essentially an emotional response induced by a perceived threat, which causes a change in brain, organ and bodily function…Leaving us to hide, to run away, and even to freeze in our shoes.

Overall Fear has gotten a bad rap among most athletes! As it is truly far less complicated than we proceed to believe. A simple and rather useful definition of fear is: An anxious feeling, caused by our anticipation of an imagined event or experience. The key word here is ‘Imagined’! As I often explain to my clients, fear is a recording in your brain that is turned on every time you step close to that which you fear. The consequences do not necessarily exist but nevertheless the recording is set off and the physical and psychological reactions are triggered.

Medical experts tell us that the anxious feelings associated to fear is considered to be a standardized biological reaction. It’s pretty much the same set of body signals, whether we’re afraid of getting bitten by a dog, making a bad shot, or losing a tournament. So what we come to gather is that Fear, like all other emotions, is basically information. It offers us knowledge and understanding—if we choose to accept it—of our psychobiological status.

That strange idea of “fearing our fears” becomes less strange when we realize that many of our avoidance reactions—turning down an invitation to a play a round of golf with someone who is potentially better than you; putting off a doctor’s appointment because you don’t want to hear the inevitable; or not asking for what you feel is rightfully yours from a friend, a parent, or a coach; are instant reflexes that are reactions to the memories of fear. They happen so quickly that we don’t actually experience the full effect of the fear. We experience a “micro-fear”—a reaction that is a kind of a shorthand code for the real fear. This reflex reaction has the same effect of causing us to evade and avoid as the real fear. This is why it’s fairly accurate to say that many of our so-called fear reactions are actually the fears of fears.

When we let go of our notion of fear as an uncontrollable force that exists within us—and begin to understand that fear and its companion emotions are basically a series of messages or information, we can then think about them consciously. And the more clearly and calmly we can articulate the origins of the fear, the less our fears will frighten us and control us.

The Mental Thought Patterns that set our Health Experiences

Scientists are discovering the precise pathways by which changes in human consciousness (thinking) produce changes in our brain and bodies. This consciousness activates our genes and changes our brain. Science even shows that thoughts, with their embedded feelings, turn sets of genes on and off in complex relationships. We take the facts, experiences and the events of our lives and assign meaning to them through thinking—we are reacting to the events and circumstances of life.

We may have a fixed set of genes in our chromosomes, but which of those genes is active and how they are active has a great deal to do with how we think and process our subjective experiences, i.e. our reactions. Our thoughts, with their intertwined emotions, produce words and behaviors, which in turn stimulate more thinking, choices and thought building. We are constantly reacting to the circumstances and events of this life and as this cycle goes on, our brains become shaped in a process that will either be in a positive direction or a negative direction. So it is the quality of our thinking and choices, our reactions, which determine our brain architecture. This means that the quality of our thinking (consciousness) affects the shape or architecture of the brain and quality of health in our minds and bodies. Science and scripture show how we are wired for love and optimism (scripture: “we are made in His image”; When we react by thinking negatively and making negative choices, the quality of our thinking suffers, which means the quality of our “brain architecture” suffers, and, in turn, our health.

Taking this to a deeper level, research shows that DNA actually changes shape according to our thoughts. As you think those negative thoughts about the week ahead that hasn’t happened yet, or that person who hasn’t actually said or done anything yet, (even in the absence of the concrete stimulus) the toxic thinking has changed your brain wiring in a negative direction!

So when we make a poor quality thinking decision—i.e. a toxic thought—such as unforgiveness, bitterness or irritation, we change the DNA and subsequent genetic expression affecting the shape of the wiring in our brain in a negative direction. This immediately puts the brain into protect mode and the brain translates these poor quality toxic thoughts as stress. This stress will then manifest itself in our bodies.

Stress is defined as “a condition of mental and physical tension or strain, as depression or hypertension, which can result from a reaction to a situation in which a person feels threatened, pressured etc. Synonyms for stress include anxiety, nervousness, fearfulness, apprehensiveness, impatience, fear, tenseness, or restlessness. It is our mind and body’s response to toxic thinking, and even a little bit of stress from a little bit of toxic thinking has far reaching consequences for mental and physical health. There is much research proving this.

Reaction is the key word above, which I discussed in the first few paragraphs. And here is the caveat: you cannot control the events or circumstances of your life but you can control your reactions. And controlling those reactions means the difference between healthy minds and bodies and sick minds and bodies because, according to research, 75-98% of mental and physical illnesses come from our thought lives!

An undisciplined mind is one filled with a continuous stream of thoughts, worries, fears and distorted perceptions, all of which trigger degenerative processes in the mind and body.

Parenting versus Coaching

From a parental perspective, coaching is the most natural fitting role! It is almost an earned right to be able to coach your youth child to success. Who else would be more fitting for such a task? You have spent countless hours in preparation, organizing snacks and drinks, scrubbing uniforms, driving for endless hours, ensuring early arrival, lingering around in freezing temperatures, while forsaking anything else that you may have potentially done with your time. Coaching is one of the bigger traps that parents tend to stumble into, which inadvertently contributes to the development of performance problems and much unhappiness. Naturally as a parent you want your youth athlete to be both happy and successful. But far too often it is found that parents become so caught up in their child’s performance and the outcome of the game that they completely lose perspective on what is essentially most central to youth sports: The child’s emotional and psychological well-being, self-image and overall happiness.

Interference in the coaching process via pre-game motivation, implementing techniques and strategies, goal setting, post-game critiquing and a continuous push to train and excel from the parents almost always backfires both within the sporting arena and at home! Although the intentions may be good, as you believe you are being a helpful parent and a team player through coaching, evidence shows otherwise. Coaches play a valuable role in creating the foundation from which peak performance evolves. They have the tools to educate, push athletes outside of comfort zone, and constructively handle failures, setbacks and mistakes. They understand team dynamics and know how to establish strong players with valuable perspectives that support respect, confidence, strength, and ownership of their sport. But most importantly coaches do not share personal relationships that go beyond the sporting arena! This small yet monumental factor allows a coach the ability to serve a specific goal focused entirely on enhancing both the youth athletes’ ability to excel as a performer and as a teammate.

It is essential to understand that how a parent may handle a child’s early athletic successes and failures can last a lifetime and powerfully shape the child’s sense of self and happiness as an adult. Unless the parent is directly asked to provide constructive input by the child, the best choice a parent can make is to play their role to the best of their ability. Be your child’s supportive, loving fan and help your child keep his/her sport in perspective. Remember that the sport and the opportunity to grow and perform belongs to the child and not you! When you allow your child the ability to take ownership of their sport, when you assist in maintaining a positive perspective, and when you ensure that the child continues to have fun and remain happy, only then will both the parent and child know success. Increasing the likelihood of a healthy short-term/long-term parent child relationship, parent coach relationship, and undoubtedly increasing the child’s ability to perform to his/her full potential!