Making Better New Year’s Resolutions for Golf

Have you ever made a New Year’s Resolution?  Of course, everyone has.  I try to make resolutions every year.  Have you ever failed at your resolution before February?  Don’t worry, I have too.  Depending on the researcher you choose, 80-88% of New Year’s resolutions fail each year.  Let’s choose to be in the 10-12%.

Resolutions fail for a couple reasons.  The key is to not fall victim to the same mistakes everyone else makes.  I help students every semester focus on the right goals because setting a good goal can improve success chances.  Creating mastery goals with incremental steps will improve the likelihood of success.

New Year’s resolutions fail because they are result based goals.  Result goals focus on what the end will look like.  Resolutions about weight loss, quitting smoking, or getting healthy are great examples.  They look at the end result.  Desiring those ends aren’t inherently bad, but without more, those resolutions fail the vast majority of the time.

Mastery goals are significantly better.  Mastery focuses on performing a movement or task extremely well.  For learning, I could set the goal to understand and be able to recite areas of law.  Someone who wants to lose weight could set a mastery goal to only eat 1,600 calories each day or a specific calorie goal for each meal.  In the end, weight loss will occur but the reason is the resolution is based on an action each day.

This year, make a mastery golf resolution.  Everyone wants a lower score.  I aspire to be a single-digit handicap.  For many years, I said I would practice more and get there, but I never did.  I made the same golf mistakes.  All my goals now focus on what I will do each week and movements I want to master.  I resolve to work my plan as well as possible.  My off-season focus is exercise while also making swings each week.  So far, I am working on my game much more than before.  However, I still don’t get all the days in each week.  It is difficult to get through 4-5 days of work each week.

The second key is to make small incremental changes.  Trying to change everything at once makes failure likely.  Individuals trying to run a marathon start with significantly shorter distances.  No one starts with 26 miles.  Start with running one mile and work up to 26.

Golf is the same way.  Trying to make 4 swing changes at once won’t happen.  Work on 1 change throughout your set.  Be very specific, like changing the swing plane.  I focused on nothing but weight shift during the first part of the summer.  After about a month, I worked on swing plane.  My focus is limited to ensure the changes have lasting affects.  Slow incremental changes can have the biggest impact on long-term scores.

Now is the time to set the resolutions for the upcoming year.  My resolution is to follow my weekly plan I set out for the offseason.  Small changes will hopefully setup for a great beginning to the spring season.  Enjoy the holiday!


Tweeking My Mindset to Improve My Score

Do you ever think you are inherently good or bad at something? You then perform the task and reaffirm your original suspicions. Most of us fall into that trap daily. Unfortunately, the fixed mindset trap can create a cycle of non-improvement.

Dr. Carol Dweck, professor at Stanford, researched mindsets to see who overcame obstacles and succeeded on subsequent assessments. She found that individuals who had a fixed mindset, one where ability is tied to a person’s character traits or is innate, struggled to overcome obstacles and improve. However, individuals with a Growth Mindset, a mindset that emphasizes the ability to improve and learn from mistakes, performed better over the long haul. The growth mindset individuals did not internalize failure and learned from it.

I notice this phenomenon on a daily basis in my profession. I help students with standardized tests for professional licensure, and I encounter students daily who say, “I am not good at standardized tests.” The statement alone illustrates the problems with a fixed mindset. If someone thinks they are bad at something, then motivation to work on it is low. Not only that, continued failure only reinforces the poor self-image. The mindset hampers the ability to learn and improve.

Dr. Dweck’s research is the foundation for understanding some of the early differences in performance of young girls and boys. Dr. Boucher from Indiana investigated the stereotype that girls are poor at math. Her results, along with others, illustrated that when someone is told they are bad at something, they perform worse. The negative stereotype or limitation forces a fixed mindset on students.

The psychological research impacts how many of us play golf. We all see it on our weekend round. A playing partner will miss a putt and say something like “I always miss 3 foot putts” or “I am a bad putter.” Think about the hole at your local club that you hate. The thought of “my ball always go right on #3” has the subconscious effect of causing the ball to go right. All of those statements are fixed mindset statements. They tend to create a fundamental feeling about the person instead of focusing on the attempted task. Living in a fixed mindset will stifle long term improvement when our statements form a negative self-identity.

The good news is we can all migrate to the growth mindset. I am still a 16 handicap golfer, but I believe improvement is possible. Not only that, I know that improvement is a long road that will not happen overnight (or even in 1 season). Looking through the stats and analyzing the information demonstrates areas to work on. Forcing ourselves to believe in the possibility of improvement is the first step to success.

The second thing we must do is talk better to ourselves on the course. I worked hard last summer to focus on the positive. The errant tee shot is a new situation to find a solution. A few slices did not mean the next shot would slice. Craig Sigl, sports psychologist, says to put the last hole behind you and say, I have 9 holes left (or however many you have) to have fun. It is the idea that I will get that 3 footer next time.

Changing mindsets is one of the hardest changes to make, but it can also have a huge impact. I am resolving to keep getting better and focusing on the next shot. I encourage everyone to find a technique that works for you to stay positive on a beautiful day on the course.

Stay warm.

Check Out New Motor Learning Research to Decrease Strokes

Improving at golf seems easy. Pick something to work on, go to the range, and spend hours repeating the new movement over and over.  Most people call it creating muscle memory or getting more reps.  Tiger talks about reps all the time.  If reps is all that matters, then most of us are doomed to mediocrity because we have jobs and families that prevent hours making changes and getting reps.  However, science is starting to change the way we think about learning, and Golf Science Lab is leading the charge to help everyone practice better.

I wrote about interleaving and variable practice in my first few posts last spring. I use similar ideas when teaching my students how to perform on certain standardized tests, and motor learning research started advocating these new approaches.  After integrating some of the concepts, I discovered Golf Science Lab at the end of the summer.  I would highly recommend checking out their site.

Their site is chalked full of excellent information from numerous sources. My first trip to the site was almost overwhelming due to the amount of information.  They have articles and podcasts on nearly every conceivable practice and mental game topic.  I had no idea where to start.  I thought the best place would be to sign up for their emails and purchase the motor learning quickstart guide.

I am always skeptical of pdf books because anyone can publish a book and sell it online. Internet marketing is full of write a 20 page pdf, put some good graphics in it, and then sell it on an email list.  Their site made me feel like the book would be worth it, and I waste more than $10 on silly purchases all the time.  I bought the motor learning guide.

The motor learning quickstart guide included a small game like training manual as well. I am not disappointed I purchased these guides.  Both products included solid information about how we learn and mistakes most golfers make on the range.  The guide included citations to research to provide the foundation for their recommendations. The information is there to completely change the way to practice.

My lone criticism of the manuals is they have more theory than hyper specific application tools. For example, the guide explains the difference between block and random practice.  The research foundation illustrates what most golfers do wrong and why random practice is better.  The end of the section includes a small discussion of how that translates to golf.  Most people reading the section will understand random practice would include switching clubs, changing shot type, or switching trajectories.

I think the guides could add a little specificity by suggesting a practice routine. However, the website includes a significant amount of that information.  The guides are good quick easy reads.  You come away with the idea of what not to do when practicing.  You also discover what you should do with each repetition to create lasting changes.  The website provides the more specific information.

Not only is the guide worth $10, Cordie is excellent at responding to questions. I emailed them about my project here and asked about any resources for game like training while not hitting a golf ball, like swings at the office.  He graciously responded within a couple days that they didn’t have any podcasts or articles for that yet, but he would consider the topic for the future.  He could have ended the conversation there, but he proceeded to give a few suggestions for creating game like training in my situation (drawing out holes and playing each shot in my head while swinging).  The ideas were great to integrate into my at-home practice.

Golf Science Lab provides vast amounts of information to maximize everyday golfers’ potential. I plan to listen to a couple podcasts each week while driving home.  I would highly recommend subscribing to their free podcasts and checking out their site.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.