Damn, it can be hard to be optimistic. Sometimes it seems like you try everything; yet, you get nowhere. Learned helplessness seems to creep into our lives and even into our golf game. Play more, practice harder, take a lesson, buy new clubs, but the same results apply to your golf game. Regularly, golfers (and people in general) think they are trying something new, but indeed they are falling back on old habits. Habits are just behaviors and behaviors can change. Optimism can help break bad habits while generating and sustaining new ones. Not only will creating an optimistic mindset enhance your golfing performance, but it will generate some interesting neurology as well. Come on, quit being such a downer and start seeing the brighter side of things.

Fun fact, we talk to ourselves on a daily basis more than we converse with other people. Some experts say we can generate 4,000 thoughts per minute while others say we talk to ourselves at a rate of 10,000 words a day. For the purpose of this article just know we talk to ourselves in great abundance. Yes, we all do it and we mostly talk to ourselves in the privacy of our own mind. Can you imagine if even 70% of what you were telling yourself was negative or pessimistic? What is that doing to your perspective and perceptions about golf, work, or life? Interestingly enough, neuroscience understands the optimistic brain and the pessimistic brain. There are different neural connections and cognitive processes for each. Further, the pessimistic mind will develop cognitive clogs which place limits on our creativity, motivation, and problem-solving ability. However, we can train our brain to be positive and it all starts with how we talk to ourselves throughout the course of a regular day.

Self-talk is an incredible psychological skill that we usually don’t use to our advantage. Creating positive thoughts generates positive outcomes. Positive self-talk generates positive thinking and will lead to an overall optimistic mindset. However, we mostly think negative and that is because it is easier to speak negatively than positively. Biologically, this makes sense. Deep inside your brain, you have these two pieces of tissue called amygdala. The amygdala generates emotions like fear, anger, and frustration. The amygdala is a very old part of the brain and it has a super highway to your prefrontal cortex which is a very new part of the brain. To simplify, the amygdala creates powerful emotions that emerge easily due to its access to the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for things like reasoning and judgment which are not so quick to emerge sometimes. Unfortunately, in order to be optimistic, we need to be able to train our prefrontal cortex to calm our amygdala. Sounds like a bunch of neuroscience jargon, and well…it is, but here is how you can actually train your brain to play better golf.

First of all, we must recognize we have a pessimistic side, it has deep biological roots, and it will always be there. However, we can arm ourselves with psychological strategies to enhance our cognitive abilities which develop optimism. When you hit a shot that is not up to your standards go ahead and get mad. Sounds counterproductive, but there is more. This is the key, you have to let the anger go and not let it become your identity for the round. Tiger was (and I hope he still is) a master at this step. He would get angry and then turn that anger into a deep focus. Try this strategy. When you hit a poor shot, grip the club tightly for 10 seconds. The tight grip represents your anger and frustration, then release the club and with that release, you are letting go of the frustration and anger. Then, and this is the hard part, say two good things about the shot. I know it is difficult to recognize a poor golf shot in a positive light, but if you want to change you need to do things differently. Remember, change is uncomfortable so this should be uncomfortable for you. Even if you have to say something like, “my stance was solid” or “I really liked the trajectory of that shot” you have to say two good things about the shot.

So why recognize something as good when it wasn’t? Because you are trained only to see the negative and I can guarantee there was something good about every bad golf shot. When you start to see the good along with recognizing your positive efforts, your self-talk becomes more positive than negative leading to an optimistic mindset. It isn’t easy and it won’t feel natural but you can do this and it will enhance your performance on the course along with in life. Producing positive self-talk is a powerful psychological skill that will enhance your ability to get better, generate good habits, and regulate emotions. All of a sudden threatening shots will become an excitable challenge, you will embrace the elements, and your perspective will change for the better.

Being optimistic doesn’t mean you have to be the overly cheery individual who ruins the day with an overabundance of ridiculous compliments. Optimism is a mindset that is consistent and sharp. It works in one’s favor and generates things like intrinsic motivation, focus, emotion regulation, and a sustained energy level. Just like a consistent golf swing produces similar golf shots, a consistent mindset will produce steady results. For my fellow golfer who simply enjoys the thrills golf can give us, optimism will increase the rate at which we celebrate this great game.