August 27, 2020

Focus: The Most Important Factor In Your Performance

Your ability to focus on what you choose – when you want to – is the single most important factor in your performance and your progress. Improving focus for golf is something that you take seriously if you plan to become as good as you can be.

Too many of us are under-performing, losing time, productivity and dealing with more stress and anxiety because we are losing the ability to focus every day. Buddhists call it not being able to control the wandering “monkey mind”.

Recent studies suggest that our reliance on digital technology is the main reason the monkey is wandering more today than it ever has. In today’s world, we are rarely in the present moment – focused on just one task for long enough to get the best out of ourselves. Instead, we are constantly distracted by our phones, messages and social media feeds.

Scientists are hired by companies such as Facebook specifically to develop algorithms to keep us clicking, watching and swiping for as long as possible. How many times do you start a task, see a notification, and then spend 5 minutes away from the task before you realize it?

We are spending more and more time being impulsive and less time being intentional. The effect of it is weakening our ability to focus with every minute we spend doing so, and it’s even worse for our kids’ developing brains.

Every time our brains are pulled out of one task into another requires re-focus and costs us time and long-term focus. Studies suggest that we are losing up to 40% of our productivity due to the time lost switching in and out of tasks throughout the day.

Time is precious. To live a productive and successful life requires being focused. If you are spending time practicing golf, then that’s what you are doing. If you are spending time with your partner or family, that’s what you are doing. If you are playing golf, your mind is right there in the moment, not speculating what might happen next and what the cost/benefit of that could be.

The higher the stakes, the more your ability to focus will factor in your success. If you are going to find out how good you can be, you’ll have to be able to focus under pressure, when it’s hardest to focus. Without that ability, you will struggle to access your best skills in tournaments.

Improving Focus For Golf Can Be Trained

Improving focus for golf can be trained like any other skill. The brain is like a muscle and every day you have the opportunity to make it stronger. My students have a daily practice for improving focus for golf.

In this week’s article, I’d like to share some ways that you can improve your performance by improving your focus.

“The successful warrior is the average man with laser-like focus.” – Bruce Lee

Better focus is a skill we can get better at every day. Here are some ways that you can train focus daily so you take energy away from your distractions, and put it into your process and what’s going to maximize your performance and your progress.

Plan what you are going to do

If you don’t have a plan and a measure of success for executing that plan, it will be harder to focus. What are your goals and what is the purpose of those goals? What are the milestones? Everyday is a big opportunity to be productive which is made easier with clear goals and tasks. Plan the next day, the evening before. On the golf course, your performance process provides you with an anchor to what’s most important and a plan for any situation. During practice, having a clear intention for what you are going to work on and what drills you will do, will give you more purpose and greater focus. Research indicates that 90-120 minute uninterupted chunks are optimal, but you can start with smaller time periods and build it up. Focus on just one task during chunks – there is no such thing as “multi-tasking”.

Awareness meditation and breathing exercises

Perhaps the best way to train focus is through awareness of what you are focusing on. This is what you’ll develop through Awareness Meditation, which most of my students do daily. How to meditate and be more mindful of your attention is covered in Module 4 of the Mental Game Training Program. Practicing controlled breathing while you meditate or as separate breathing exercises, such as the Wim Hof method or Breath of Fire, is an effectice way to reset when you are feeling distracted and quiet the mind so you can focus better.

Nutrition/hydration

Being hydrated and putting the right foods in your body are key to improving focus for golf and cognitive performance. On a daily basis, you should be mindful of it – drink plenty of water and eat plenty of brain foods such as fish, blueberries, broccoli and nuts.

Sleep and relaxation

Sleep experts say that most people need between 7-8 hours each night to fully recharge the brain. Most of us are sleep deprived, which limits our focus and cognitive performance. Take sleep seriously, especially the nights before your tournament rounds. Better recovery from sleep is one of the reasons that Rory, Justin Thomas and many LPGA Tour players use the Whoop strap

Allocate time to social media each day

Reduce your social media usage to set times each day. Don’t allow the app engineers to pull you down the rabbit hole at any time of day. There are now apps which help curb social media usage by disabling your apps after a certain amount of time spent on them. If you don’t think you need this level of self-regulation, create a time in your calendar when you check social media feeds each day and stick to it. Resist the urge to look at that notification that just appeared on your phone, while you are doing something else. Reading messages or looking at social media feeds can trigger emotional reactions, which takes energy away from your focus.

Create an environment which is more conducive to focus

Attempting to do anything with distractions at your finger-tips will likely result in loss of focus. As I write this article, my phone is in another room and I have only this document open on my computer. When I need to use a web browser, I limit it to one tab only. Make it easier to focus by reducing the number of potential distractions, so you get deeper into your task. Certain types of music can facilite focus such as brain.fm. Juniors: deep practice doesn’t involve you looking at Instagram in between shots. Get used to just “being” without needing the constant distraction of the phone to see how many likes your last post has got. Use your phone as a reward for a sustained period of high focus. 

Put yourself in uncomfortable situations

Being on the edge of success and failure is where focus is hardest, so that’s a great place to train it. When you are uncomfortable and playing under pressure, that is when you are most likely to be distracted by negative thoughts and self-doubt. Being able to quiet the mind and focus on the activity makes playing golf in the zone, more of a possibility. As Steven Kotler of the Flow Research Collective says, “Flow follows Focus”. Without being able to focus on the present moment in the “big” moments, you are unlikely to get into the Flow State and play golf in the zone, where the “self” disappears and all that exists is the task. Welcome those times where you feel uncomfortable and think of them as training for your focus. Creating a practice environment which simulates these scenarios and challenges focus under pressure should be a part of your practice regimen. 

Improving Focus For Golf During Routine Activities

Simply being more mindful of your attention as you do daily activities such as eating, brushing your teeth or washing the dishes – stay immersed in those tasks as you would want to be immersed in the process of hitting a shot. Be present and aware of the sensations in that moment, instead of being somewhere else in your mind. 

By doing focus training exercises such as these throughout each week, you’ll notice that you’ll be able to get more control over your attention, stay in tasks longer so you increase your productivity and you’ll be able to stay focused on your process and have more success under pressure. 

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