Life Lessons with Dr Bob Rotella the Golf Psychologist
Some excellent lessons in life and dare I say, inspiring words, have come from an unlikely and somewhat esoteric source this week – a book on the psychology of golf that a friend lent me. The book in question is Your 15th Club: The Inner Secret to Great Golf by Dr Bob Rotella. As you’d expect the large majority of examples and advice in the book are related on how to improve your game, mainly concentrating on the mental approach you take and how to make this stronger. But it occurred to me very early on in the book that the majority of the advice transcends golf and falls into realm of general life rather neatly, and parallels between the game of golf* and real life situations, emotions, feelings, and other psychological affairs can be drawn very easily. So let me try to draw you a few.
*By the way did I mention I am a golf nut? I think I did.
You are in control of your own mind
Many people will blame external factors for the their own short comings. Dr Bob is having none of this and I tend to agree:
“If you’re reading this book (blog) you’re old enough to take responsibility for your own thinking. It doesn’t matter any longer what your parents did or didn’t tell you. It doesn’t matter whether they encouraged you or discouraged you. Whatever happened in the past is the past….. But it’s not that important. Your mind is your own. You have it within yourself to develop the confidence you need to see what kind of golfer (person) you can become.”
That quote is pretty self explanatory but to expand a little, it is evident to me that in most walks of life that we are playing a confidence game. How often have you seen someone with lesser talent that yourself get ahead just because they had the confidence in their ability and put themselves out there? No one is going to spoon feed you confidence, you have to be your own cheerleader and build it up within. It’s obviously not easy but Dr Bob has some advice on how to do this…
Feed your subconscious self image positive thoughts
Basically what Dr Bob advises is that you start a regimen of consciously and regularly feeding your subconscious with positive images. In the book the examples are obviously of yourself sending the ball into the hole, a smooth yet powerful swing off the tee, and so on. This thought process can be done at any time, but a good one might be just before you go to bed, as your imagination can be more vivid with your eyes shut and no other distractions going on. This helps in golf because part of any good golfers pre shot routine will always include seeing the ball go into the hole, or seeing the shot they want to make. This may sound like baloney but I have played, watched and read enough about golf to know that this definitely does make a difference. The putts I can see the ball rolling into the hole before I strike them are much more likely to go in.
I have no reason to believe that this technique cannot be successfully applied in almost any area of life that may involve some sort of skill of both the mind and body. For example:
Jeff believes he is a bad driver. He frets about his jerky gear changes and parallel parking is his worst nightmare.
The problem here is Jeffs subconscious believes he is a bad driver*. This could well be backed up by hard evidence but it is more than likely that Jeff only ever remembers the time he crunches the gears, not the 90%+ he makes with no problem. If Jeff took up Dr Bob’s advice and imagined himself for five or ten minutes a night cruising down a scenic highway smoothly changing through the gears, and meticulously checking his mirrors, position and then gliding into a tight parking spot first time, he will no doubt be more confident the next time he is faced with this task. Driving is a task that is performed in the main by your subconscious once you have been learning for a while, and confidence is half the game.
*For the record I may as well be Jeff as I think I am a pretty terrible driver, so I’m going to try this visualisation process to see if it helps. But the main focus will be those putts going into the hole, of course 🙂
The key here is to be realistic. There’s not much point in feeding your subconscious images of you winning the Olympic downhill ski jumping gold medal if you’ve never touched a pair of skis before.
The way I’m going to think about this is to imagine yourself, but just slightly better. If you can do that, you will improve your confidence, as Dr Bob says your subconscious cannot tell the difference between real life and imagined images (see: waking up in a cold sweat and blind panic after a bad dream, for proof of this concept).
Self fulfilling prophecies
I’m sure everyone has heard of self fulfilling prophecies and I am certain that a large percent of the time these are a coincidence, but again going back to the golf analogies there are many (way too many in fact!) times I have stepped up to a 3 foot putt thinking:
“I’m going to miss this and look like a right tit”
Sure enough, those putts are ones that I miss far more often
Dr Bob has a pseudo-science sounding explanation for this, which is fair enough, he is a psychologist and affairs of the mind are very hard to prove with hard science and empirical evidence. Basically the subconscious, being a more simplistic form of your consciousness, can only take in the data you feed into it either from your real life experiences or with what your “real” conscious thinks about. So if you are constantly thinking about the thing that you do not want to happen, all the subconscious sees is that you are thinking about this certain thing happening, therefore it is something you want, and it conspires to make it happen.
It therefore pays to think about positive outcomes, as much as is humanly possible.
Again this is not about wishful thinking for unlikely outcomes that are out of your control, you are not going to win the lottery no matter how hard you think about it. But in your everyday life, at work, time spent with your loved ones at home, there are perhaps hundreds of things a day you are in control of and you will have thousands of thoughts about them, so think mindfully and keep it positive.
This game (life) will beat you up
In life, as in golf, just as you think you have it licked and are getting on top of things, something comes along and crushes you, whether that be a triple bogey when you were green side in two on a par five, or an unexpected and expensive car repair setting back your financial plans a few months. Some people call and bemoan this bad luck, some just call it “shit happens”. Dr Bob is most definitely in the latter camp!
He recommends that you develop a casual nonchalance to the bad shots yet get more excited by the good ones. This re-enforces the positive memories as the more emotion you feel towards a particular event (good or bad) the more likely you are to recall it.
The way to do this with your bad shots in real life is to put things in perspective. If you are reading this blog you are likely have a roof over your head, are living in the UK or the USA or some other rich western country, and have no worries about putting food on your plate every day. There are some serious things in life that are worth worrying about but small everyday problems and financial or other set backs are not anywhere near that category.
Let these issues slide over you just as easily as those sneaky 10 foot putts slide past the hole on a Sunday morning, but remember to embrace the good shit in life with vigour and let it sear itself into your memory.
So maybe you’ve heard this all before…
All of what Dr Bob is saying is uncannily similar to many life coaches and positive thinking gurus you can read about on the internet, but I thought it was worth sharing with you because it really struck a chord with me for the following reasons:
- A) This is written by a professional psychologist, not some quack or self titled guru trying to make a quick buck on the web
- B) It follows that what he says actually makes sense logically, it is laid out well, it makes sense to my mind and the examples are easy for me to understand, being a golfer for the last 8 years or so.
- C) If Dr Bob’s words and advice are good enough for millionaire golfers then they are good enough for me
So there you have it! Have you ever heard some interesting advice or inspirational stuff from strange and unexpected sources? Let us know in the comments, and happy golfing for any fellow swingers out there!
I would also like to point out that I fully realise I wrote “Dr Bob” like maybe 20 or so times in this article, I don’t know why but it made me chuckle writing his full title every time so this was deliberate 🙂