Four simple tips to overcome coronavirus stress on the course, according to a psychologist

March 25, 2020

Golf can be a release from reality. A chance to escape the pressures of everyday life and into the unique competitive challenges presented by a game that requires equal parts physical and mental mastery. But golf can also be a brutal reflection of reality. If things aren’t right in your personal or professional life, your golf game can share those struggles.

Whichever camp you find yourself in, you’ve probably found it difficult to avoid the stress in your life caused by the recent spread of the coronavirus. The virus has seemingly claimed every corner of what we once called “normal.” We can’t work, we can’t eat, we can’t even watch sports like we used to. If you’ve seen that stress creep into your golf game, you shouldn’t be alarmed. You shouldn’t even be surprised.

While the stress around you is certainly understandable, there are exercises you can practice from the comfort of your home to strengthen your mental game for the coming weeks and beyond.

“The hard part about psychology is that it’s invisible,” says Dr. Michael Gervais, a high performance psychologist who works with elite athletes, musicians, and Fortune 100 CEOs. “We can’t see the mind, which is what makes this conversation tricky. But that does not mean it’s not important or that there aren’t clear ways you can train it.”

In 2013, Gervais founded Compete to Create with Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. The pair created a series of seminars and classes for improving mental performance by building up two key categories: awareness and wisdom.

Here are four tips from Gervais to bolster your mental approach to golf (and your life) among the craziness.

1) Pick a narrative

“It starts here, masterfully understanding what makes you, you,” Gervais says. “We all have a narrative—a fancy word for the principles that guide your thoughts, your words and your actions. It’s your responsibility to understand your narrative. To understand the thoughts that work for you.”

When it comes to understanding your thoughts, focus on your comfort zones.

“There are two basic camps of thoughts,” Gervais notes. “Those that create constriction and tightness, and those that create space.”

As for the sorts of thoughts that lead to either of those avenues, Gervais says the key is to listen to yourself.

“We don’t have the science yet to evaluate how well you’ve done today, but you do,” he says. “You are an instrument to understand your own thoughts.”

2) Write to release it

It’s harder than it sounds to reach the level of self-awareness needed to understand your thoughts. Coming to a place of grace under pressure requires discipline and consistency. One of the finest ways to train your mind’s self-awareness, Gervais says, is to write your thoughts and emotions down.

“Write to externalize your hard drive.” He says. “To see it, to understand it, to sort it out. It’s a forcing mechanism, to say ‘these are the things that I think.'”

But by writing your thoughts out, you’re subconsciously processing the high-stress events in your life while teaching yourself the way you think.

3) Speak to wise people

“You’ve met a wise person before, they’re different, right? Those people that have wisdom, there’s an elegance to them,” Gervais says.

Those conversations will help you to understand their thought processes and methodologies. In theory, your conversations with wise individuals should instill wisdom upon you.

4) Practice mindfulness

The final tenet to understanding your thoughts is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness has become a popular topic of conversation in the golf world, with some players even using smartphone apps to help improve their mental preparation.

“There are two main pillars to mindfulness,” Gervais says. “The first is awareness of your thoughts, your emotions, your body sensations and the unfolding environment around you. If you practiced mindfulness and you stopped there, you’d be a better performer.”

“The second pillar of mindfulness is wisdom. You can’t buy wisdom. You can’t read a book of wisdom. You have to earn it. You have to earn it by looking deeply within to understand the true nature of things.”

Gervais argues his simple tips should provide significant improvement in the mental makeup of your game. By understanding yourself, you’ll learn not only how to talk to yourself during your round, but also how to manage your game.

“Thoughts and emotions are this bang-bang experience. They work hand and hand with each other,” he says. “Without awareness with both of those, you will limit your potential.”

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