Updated: May 30
If you want to improve your putting you must learn to pay ATTENTION to your ATTENTION. Paying ATTENTION to your ATTENTION is simply one of the most important factors in successful putting.
If you are passionate about improving your putting you are in the right place! In the next few minutes, you will learn something you don’t already know and that something will make a difference to your putting performance.
When we putt we have to complete several demanding tasks. These include green reading, aiming, determining the amount of force to impact on the ball, accurate putter face control, a rhythmic stroke and mentally proficiency. In this blog, I want to teach you how to cultivate your mental skills and focus on what really matters on the putting green, and that is paying ATTENTION to your ATTENTION.
The ATTENTION system allows us to notice, select and direct the brains computational resources to a sub-set of all that’s available. As golfers, we can think of ATTENTION as the leader of the brain. Wherever our ATTENTION goes the rest of the brain follows. What do I mean? Well, the brain is a highly efficient energy-demanding organ. Unfortunately, the brain suffers from overload, in other words, there is way too much going on in the environment to process at any given time. So, to solve this problem, evolution devised a solution which is the brains ATTENTION system. According to the neuroscience literature, ATTENTION appears to be the mechanism through which the brain focuses its resources. It seems the frontal part of the brain acts as a filter trying to let the information come into the right filter where you are paying ATTENTION to and trying to inhibit the information coming from the ignored one. This filtering ability of the brain is indeed key for ATTENTION. So, if there is too much going on in the environment for the brain to process at any given time the brain will suffer from overload.
Paying ATTENTION to your ATTENTION’ is a mental skill that you have to be proficient in to be a great putter. It has to be learned by practice and you practice it to become expert enough to be able to control and switch your ATTENTION to where it is needed. If you can direct your ATTENTION in the right place at the right time you are directing where your brain manages its greatest resources. This ability to control your ATTENTION will increase the probability of holing more putts, how good is that?
When you observe the great putters they all have two ATTENTION characteristics, firstly they are laser-like in paying ATTENTION to their ATTENTION, the other is they can change or switch their ATTENTION when they have to without their mind wandering.
Let’s look at the 2020 Memorial Tournament. Tiger Woods the greatest golfer of his generation missed several short putts that he would normally never miss. Why? well, I suggest that it was not Tiger’s stroke or technique to blame it was more likely to be his diminished ATTENTION control. Basically, he was not able to pay ATTENTION to his ATTENTION because he was likely suffering from back pain!
When he was putting with a bad back, this may have resulted in an external stress response. This stress response may have diminished his levels of ATTENTION to such an extent that it can be similar to choking! He was not able to pay ATTENTION to his ATTENTION, his mind was wandering. In other words, his brain was probably ‘overloaded’ which prevented him from executing the putting tasks required to hole those short putts.
So, like Tiger when you are on the putting green your ATTENTION can get hijacked. It can be hijacked by both external and internal distractions. For example, your mind wanders to a previous 3-putt (internal) or it wanders to those noisy golfers on a nearby tee (external). These types of distractions can and will easily disrupt your ATTENTION which is not conducive for successful putting.
A growing body of evidence suggests that we mind wander, we take our minds away from the task at hand about 50% of the time. This is scary, right? So, imagine allowing your mind to wander 50% of the time when you are trying to putt, read the green topography or picking your aiming line! Now, these mind wandering trips might be small little trips that take us away to the wrong place and when this mind-wandering happens it can be very problematic for putting. The consequences are you are likely to miss the putt. So, one question you might ask is why do we do this? Why do we mind wander so much when we putt?
Well, part of the answer is our mind is very good at time travel! It can time travel very easily. Think of the mind as a metaphor for your music player on your phone. You can rewind the mind to past events that have already happened (e.g., when you had a 3 putt the last time you played this hole). Right? or we can fast forward the mind to the future (e.g., if I hole this putt I can better my handicap or win the match).
According to the neuroscientists we can land in this time travel mode very frequently and often without noticing we are mind wandering! We can reflect on past events, we can relive events that have already happened and we can fast forward to events that have not happened and may never happen! The consequences of mind wandering can be especially dire, it could mean the difference between a 1 putt versus a 3 putt.
So, at this point you may be thinking mind wandering is happening a lot when I am putting, and often it happens without any awareness, and under stress, it's even worse! So, you may ask is there anything we can do about this? Well, thankfully I am happy to say the answer is YES!
The answer lies in Mindfulness Training. Mindfulness Training is to do with paying attention to the present moment experience with awareness and without any emotional activity to what’s happening. It's about keeping your music player ‘on play’ to experience the unfolding moments of your putting routine and action. Mindfulness is not just a concept its more like practice, you have to embody this mindful mode of being to have many benefits from it.
So, how do I practice paying ATTENTION to your ATTENTION you might ask?
Well, when your mind wanders you get distracted, you are distracted from focusing your ATTENTION on the putting task at hand. If you get distracted from seeing the aim line you have to pay ATTENTION to your ATTENTION and 'reset your focus of attention' on exactly that, bring your ATTENTION back to the aim line.
I am working with a number of golfers, providing them with training exercises to do each day to cultivate more moments of mindfulness when they are putting. So here is one training exercise I recommend for you to help avoid mind wandering and by learning how to pay ATTENTION to your ATTENTION!
A word of warning though paying ATTENTION to your ATTENTION is tough to do and practicing paying ATTENTION to your ATTENTION is even tougher, and not everyone can do it or indeed wants to do it. Not every golfer wants to achieve putting greatness. That's’ just life, golfers are people and we are all different we have different levels of motivation, desire, discipline and goals.
So, how do we practice?
1. Find a quiet space and get comfortable sitting on a chair
2. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing
3. Listen to how your breath sounds and how it feels when you inhale and exhale
4. Do this for 2 minutes, during this period your mind will wander when it does try and bring your focus back to your breathing
5. Remember, this is an exercise in awareness of your mind wandering and how to bring your mind back to where it needs to be
Do this exercise every day for 1 week then after a week increase the time by a minute each week until you get to 15 minutes of mindfulness training per day. Eventually, you will become an expert in paying ATTENTION to your ATTENTION and this will improve your performance.
Of course, it’s not paying ATTENTION to your ATTENTION by itself that makes you a great putter. Its paying ATTENTION to your ATTENTION together with deliberate and structured putting practice, plus lots of passion! You must be passionate about putting to be motivated to practice your mindfulness training, stroke and technique, aiming, green reading and mental readiness. There are no short cuts or quick fixes if you want to be the best putter you can be, like most things in life, to excel you have to make a great deal of effort!
So, my advice is to start by finding your passion for putting because that’s going to make the rest easy. Practice paying ATTENTION to your ATTENTION, practice, practice and practice.
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