Photo by kevindooleyBy Dr. Tom Kubistant USGTF Contributing Writer Reprinted by permission from Golf Today One sure sign that the science of human performance has become more accepted is the emergence of playing clichés. From over-inflated announcers to self-appointed mental gurus to even your playing partners, it seems we cannot talk about playing good golf without using stock clichés. A cliché is an overused word or phrase which has become trite and commonplace. The impact of the concept has become cheapened by its constant repetition. In an effort to have the phrase more commonly understood, it has become diluted. However, here is the kicker: even though they are overused, CLICHÉS ARE STILL VALID. Beyond the veneer of obfuscation, the core concepts of clichés are still true. Good performers know this and have derived their own personal meanings and applications from common playing clichés. An important part of heightened performances is translating general playing clichés into one’s personal style. Let’s examine the more common golf clichés, review why each core concept is still valid, and renovate it to make it moremeaningful for your personal style. (There is also an accompanying sidebar to this article of Kubistant’s Klichés!) However,before we begin, let me expose three common performancephrases which are invalid and downright destructive. THREE FALLACIES The science of human performance is sometimes confusingenough without inaccurate and invalid concepts. In the early and middle parts of the 20th century when this science was inits infancy, there were few proven principles. In the gap, sensationalistjournalists and even teaching pros invented phrases andsayings which sounded good, but had no basis in science. Letme expose these fallacies. 1.“Muscle Memory.” This is a nice sounding alliteral phrase. The concept seems solid: if you practice enough you can trust your muscles that they know what to do. You can then just turn off your brain, react to the shot (see below), and let it go. This all seems nice and acceptable, but it ain’t true. Muscles don’t have memories! There aren’t little brains in each muscle fiber! Specific neurological impulses codified in the brain command specific muscles to fire in a prescribed sequence. Believing in this myth of muscle memory simply promotes a passive mind and an irresponsible mentality. The brain has to be continually engaged to direct the body in a specific and fluid manner. Back in the 1940s and 50s this phrase was popular. It was even attributed to Ben Hogan. When he heard that he was being credited with this phrase, he bristled. He said that he found his game “in the dirt” which required continual practice. During a round he said he concentrated so hard purposefully engaged with each swing. “Muscle Memory” sounds nice, but it is simply invalid. 2.“React To The Shot.” There are so many emphases to the golf swing and for each specific shot it can quickly become overwhelming. Trying to remember all of them and organize them into swing thoughts usually leads to short-circuiting the mind and body. What to do standing over the shot is one of the critical moments in the shot performance. “Reacting to the shot” seems to be an acceptable response to combating all these emphases. However, a reacting mentality simply leads to abdicating self control. Plus, under pressure or doubt, a reactive mindset only leads to fragmenting, freezing, and outright choking. As is detailed below in the clichés, each shot is a separate performance unique unto itself. As such, each shot is a creative experience. Instead of mindlessly reacting, the mind has to be fully immersed and engaged in the shot experience. It is through these two concentration dimensions that an integrated mind and body can emerge. A reacting mode is really a form of giving up. Full and fluid performances emerge from deep and expansive concentration. 3. “Focus And Concentration.” However, concentration is even misused. I hope it is my professional legacy that I have expanded on the true dimensions and applications of performance concentration. Historically, there have been gaps in understanding concentration. Hence invalid phrases have been invented. True concentration is composed of three elements and three dynamics. It is composed of being engaged, immersed, and yet detached. And the active processes of it are zooming, focusing, and idling. (For a more complete description, please see my recent “A Duffer’s Guide To Concentration” article on Golf Today’s website.) Focusing is a part of concentration, not separate from it. As I have warned, whenever you hear an announcer, an infomercial, or even a teaching pro use the phrase, “Focus and concentration,” RUN AWAY! These people have no idea what they are talking about. Okay? These are the three most common fallacies of human performance. There are also a lot of proven practices. Some are cloaked within clichés AND they are still valid. Let’s look at three categories of them. “PLAY WITHIN YOURSELF” First, there are numerous clichés emphasizing the importance of being true to yourself. “Play within yourself,” “Stay within yourself,” “Swing within yourself,” “It is what it is,” and on a preventive level, “Stay out of your own way” and “Let it go” all refer to the importance of self-acceptance and control. We all know that golf is a game which cannot be forced by swinging or trying harder. Yet we all fall prey to the temptation of swinging beyond our ideal rhythm, trying to jam shots into a target, and becoming more intense It is one of the grand paradoxes of The Game that the less we try to control outcomes, the more they take care of themselves. Along with this, the more we emphasize the processes and qualities of the performance the better outcomes and scores emerge. So the goal of any performance is to stay within yourself. This is the only area in which you have true control. This is also the only area in which you can feel completely comfortable in your efforts. Consistency, efficiency, and even ease all emerge from staying within yourself. One of the enduring fascinations with golf is that what resides within you is THE ultimate playing arena. “PLAY ONE SHOT AT A TIME” Next, there is a whole group of clichés which, one way or another, emphasize staying in the moment with each specific shot. “Play one shot at a time,” “Be with the shot,” “Be in the moment,” “Stay patient,” and at remedial levels, “I got ahead of myself,” and “I jumped on the bogey train,” all refer to the importance of concentrating on the here-and-now. Golf is a dead ball sport. The ball just waits for you to do something with it. It is not already in motion to which you have to react or alter. Each shot starts from scratch. As such, every golf shot is a uniquely creative process. So a round of golf is really a series of 72, 90, or 108 separate performances. You see, there is absolutely no relationship between the 7-iron you hit on the driving range or first hole and the 7-iron you are hitting now on the eighteenth…unless you allow it to. This is one of the secrets of the mental game. You have to remind yourself that every shot is a separate performance unique unto itself. So if you have flubbed every 7-iron throughout the round, this does not necessarily mean you will flub the present one…unless you believe it to be so. When you start connecting bad shot performances believing in momentum is when you jump on the bogey train and give up on rounds. When you think about it, every shot performance is a unique experience. The stance, lie, and conditions are always slightly different. So are your specific physical, mental, and emotional states. Approach each shot as a brand new experience separate unto itself. Become both relaxed and eager with each new experience. It is another paradox that when you play one shot at a time is where enduring consistency emerges. “IN THE ZONE” Sometimes a round of golf – or even just one pure hit – can be a wondrous experience. Everything – mind and body, mechanics and rhythm, and process and target – somehow seamlessly merge into producing something more. These rare experiences are peak performances. Romantic golfers have created a whole bunch of clichés in an attempt to define these experiences. “In the zone,” “In the flow,” “Playing in a fog,” “A cocoon of concentration,” and even “A state of grace” all refer to those experiences where we are deeply within ourselves yet perform beyond ourselves. Indeed, these performances are glimpses of what we can do…and can become. With respect to those in the Shivas Irons Society, not every round of golf is a magical and mystical experience. Indeed, it is one of the frustrations of The Game that one round we are in the flow on some kind of magic performance river and the next we are in shambles on the bank. Expecting each performance to be a mystical peak performance merely ensures disjointed efforts. Human performance can be a gateway to something more and something better within ourselves. I have been researching the science of human performance for over thirty years and even though I have identified about 90% of the factors necessary for being in a position for a peak performance to occur, there are still some elusive elements. Efficient optimal performances provide the foundation for maximal performances. And systematically using both of these prepare for the possibility of the rare peak performance. Relaxing, centering, concentrating, accepting, and being in the moment all open up the performance pathways to both consistent and even elevated efforts. Here is the key: do not try to force a peak performance or being in the zone. Simply, do those things that will put you in a position so that these states can emerge. WHAT CLICHÉS MEAN TO YOU Good golfers know what to emphasize to perform well. They have adapted common playing clichés to mean something to them. They then honor their meanings. Clichés are valid. What do these mean to you and your performances? If nothing else, golf is a game of precision. And this precision must extend to the concepts to be communicated and understood. One major reason why so many golfers do not understand how to play the game is that they lack precise concepts for successful performances. Before you create a solid game plan or even commitment to a single shot, you have to have broad playing perspectives. Perspectives build the structure in which specific playing strategies and tactics emerge. If you are to play within yourself, play one shot at a time, and be in the zone, you must begin with knowing how best you perform. Personalize these playing clichés of what each means to you. This is THE best time you can invest in your game away from the course. Now, how do I analyze the grandest cliché of “Be the ball”? NA-NA-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na…!