The Thought Pattern Interrupt – Golf


By Dr. Stephen Walker – CC-AASP

“The inability to forget is infinitely more devastating than the inability to remember.”
– Mark Twain

Athletes in every sport will from time to time lose focus, become self-conscious, have self-doubts to contend with and worry about things. It happens in every sport but especially in mentally challenging sports and endurance events grueling on the best of days. People think that golf requires 4-5 hours of sustained concentration, but in reality the focused periods are relatively short, its just that there are many of them, and the athlete is required to channel their mental center of attention upon demand. Jack Nicklaus referred to the six inches between our ears as the most important in the game. Our thought patterns can both help or hinder our performance and perhaps most importantly determine whether we experience a round as joyful or disastrous. As our thinking goes, so goes our game.

There are emotions in golf that have strong physical components. Those that do have what’s called an attractor field – an energy field that at times can be quite palpable and influence our senses including sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. Sometimes the result is a closed thought loop and corresponding mood that can be disconcerting or worse…..

The resulting anxiety, anger, disappointment, confusion and/or self-doubt can really impair performance.

These disruptive thought patterns may be transitional or long standing. Some represent concerns that pop-up unexpectedly, serving as an annoying distraction. Others may have assaulted your confidence for several years, and relate to a dreaded experience that got traction in your young mind many years ago. Such judgments may have nothing to do with the sport you are engaged in but nevertheless, they do test your poise. Whether incidental or enduring, they can cause you to lose focus and make mistakes.

Imagine how potent a really disruptive pattern might be. You might say, “I never perform well when it’s windy” or “I always have trouble with this track.” This article is designed to help you develop a BrainTough Skill™ early in the season so that you are savvy in working with your thought habits…take into account those triggers that have the potential to throw you out of your optimal performance zone…and establish a mental conditioning routine that enables you to get back on track quickly and efficiently.

Mental Conditioning – Good Thought Habits

Good habits in thinking are essential to building confidence, a positive self-expectation and focus. Some sports are extraordinarily challenging. Especially those that require you to maintain concentration in the midst of both internal and external stress, as well as changing conditions in competition, weather, and opponents play. The thought pattern interrupt (TPI) is one of a few really valuable mental conditioning skills one should acquire to excel at golf. Consider a thirty minute mental conditioning session, 4 times each week as a solid investment in developing your game and overall preparation.

Thought Pattern Interrupt – Golf

The thought pattern interrupt (TPI) (Copyright 2008 SE Walker) is a technique first developed by the renowned hypnotherapist, Dr. Milton Erickson, and has been used widely in cognitive-behavioral work and neurolinguistic programming (NLP). The TPI involves a four-step process that is designed to shift the flow, neutralize negative thinking, and channel the players attention toward a more productive thought pattern. The four steps are:

1) Recognize and explore the thinking pattern getting in the way. You might need to chart a problem as you experienced it on the course. When you have time to work the process, sit alone and think about your situation. Do your best to identify the disruptive thought pattern and the negative feelings associated with it. Take enough time with this to examine them in detail, exploring the original experience if possible, but at least the most frequent and common situations that trigger the pattern. Journal this process and explore as much of the attractor field as you can, including all of the physical senses you encounter during the experience.

If you are not sure where to start, think about a competition you didn’t perform well in. We all have at least one in which we feel we psyched ourselves out. Consider what disruptive thought pattern or condition you hold responsible for interfering with your focus. Anything that has the ability to take you out of a good mindset for performing is fair game. Windy conditions, heat, arriving late to the event, an unwanted pairing, anything can do it. The best athletes perform well in all kinds of conditions. Their ability to neutralize a disruptive train of thought in favor of cool concentration on the task at hand can make a huge difference, not just in how much you enjoy the competition but in how well you perform.

2) After reviewing these situations, consider what you would like to have happen instead. Talk with your coach about the situations you are most likely to experience again in upcoming competitions. Explore them until you are clear about how you want to deal with them. Discuss ideas for alternative responses you might want to employ.

There are some strategies for crafting these alternative responses. For example, Erickson suggested enlarging the possibilities. If playing in wind is a mental challenge, then enlarging the possibilities might include a clear focus on maintaining your form and a smooth swing in conditions that involve wind. Your focus goes to what is “possible” to accomplish, even in conditions you don’t favor.

Another strategy taught by Erickson concentrates on reframing your sensory focus. Once asked how he might confer with someone feeling guilty about a pattern of eating too much, he replied, “I hope you really enjoy lunch today. Enjoy it thoroughly and well. You know, it’s as easy to enjoy a small portion as it is a large portion. In fact, a small portion can be enjoyed even more than a large one. And you really will enjoy it more because you won’t have to feel guilty about that small portion.” In this case, Erickson reframed the thought pattern around food. You might be able to do this for yourself but it requires preparation. You must purposely craft your internal dialogue the way you want it to go, and repeat the process until you’ve established an efficient and readily repeatable neural pathway.

Don’t hurry. Think about how these alternatives might look and what replacement pattern you will employ for the results you want to achieve. Consider the attractor (Copyright 2008 SE Walker) field and how the replacement will feel different. When you are crafting the script for the alternative, always give yourself a positive self-expectation and include a goal, an encouraging outcome, or perhaps a waking ‘dream’ to visualize your success. Practice session(s) will naturally include the distraction, followed by your systematic and routine shift in focus to the desired concentration goal. Multiple practice sessions will be rewarded by good thinking habits and a positive self-expectation in a variety of conditions that were previously disruptive.

3) Occasionally, we get surprised by an intrusive thought pattern, one that
we haven’t planned for. In such a case, you can prepare a designed response for the moment the disruption occurs, with the intent to ‘change the channel’ of your thinking. In these situations, the plan should involve a quick recognition of the problem, a physical gesture to snap you out of it, and a rapid shift in focus.

Wear a rubber band around your wrist. When you notice a counter-productive intrusion, snap the rubber band on your wrist to acknowledge the mistake and accept a self-imposed ‘penalty’ if that is useful. Then it is imperative to REFOCUS on the task at hand, and if you can, repeat to yourself an inspiring quote you favor. Consciously take a deep breath to shift your attention toward the desired point of concentration.

4) For a TPI to be successful, it must be practiced and rehearsed repeatedly.

Consider the number of times you have practiced chipping, putting, swing mechanics or put a plan together for a particular course or tournament. You think nothing of repeating the same shot or practice routine over and over. Set aside practice sessions several times a week to practice your mental conditioning skills. These practice sessions will reinforce your ability to focus, control stress and maintain concentration when you need it most.

In conclusion, the TPI is but one method for proactively addressing those emotional glitches that can interfere with your performance. More than that, it can help you enjoy competition more, and feel better about your overall training program and practice routine.

“I’ve developed a regimen that allows me to move from peaks of concentration into valleys of relaxation and back again. My focus begins to sharpen as I walk onto the tee, then steadily intensifies as I complete the process of analysis and evaluation that produces a clear-cut strategy for every shot. It peaks as I set up to the ball and execute the swing, when my mind picture is totally positive.”
– Jack Nicklaus

Glossary of Terms:

Attractor field – a thought energy field that can be quite strong and can affect the senses such as sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.

Enlarging the possibilities – Ericksonian method of expanding one’s perception of what’s possible and establishing a positive self-expectation that the new target is achievable. Breaking a world record seems to be an impossible feat, but one can enlarge the possibilities to perform five tenths of a second faster, which may be enough to break the record. The athlete’s perception of what is possible stretches to accommodate the goal. (Copyright 2008 SE Walker)

Neural pathway – Thought patterns pass through circuitry in the nervous system throughout the brain and body. At first, this pathway may be cumbersome circuitous and inefficient. As a neural pathway is used more frequently it becomes better organized, requires less effort and is more effective.


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One thought on “The Thought Pattern Interrupt – Golf

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