Getting distracted on the course is normal—you’re dealing with a lot! There are internal distractions like your thoughts or noticing that your heart is beating faster than normal, and there are external distractions like other players, weather, and bunkers.
To deal with distractions, you might tell yourself to focus, or say things like “eye on the ball” or “don’t worry about the bunkers,” and while these reminders are great, they’re not always enough to help you refocus. Sometimes, you don’t even notice you’re distracted, so you don’t realize you need to try and refocus!
To regain focus, you first need to notice that your focus has been lost in the first place. Visual cues and reminders can help you stay focused and remember to do so, even when there are challenging distractions around and especially within you.
Some distractions are obvious—bunkers, bad weather, chatty people—but others will sneak up on you or initially go unnoticed. For example, you might not immediately notice the tension in your grip, your negative thoughts, or your slightly raised shoulders that eventually will lead to a headache.
Take the time to reflect on the distractions you face—internal and external—by writing them down. Being aware is the first step to change. If you can, work to minimize any of the distractions. Can you nicely ask members of your foursome not to chat (not everyone knows golf etiquette!) or use Progressive Relaxation to deal with muscle relaxation. You might not be able to minimize every distraction, but it’s helpful to try.
A cue is a reminder, and a visual cue is something you see, that then reminds you to do something. Our goal is to remember to focus or refocus our attention back to what is presently happening in our games. For example, you can put a dot on your ball to remind you to focus on your mechanics, a strip of tape on your glove that says breathe and reminds you to refocus on that, or you can add looking at the horizon into your pre-shot routine to remind you to clear your head of distractions.
Adding something visually new, like the dot on the ball or tape on your glove, helps to remind you to bring your focus to what you want it to be on as opposed to being distracted. Once you see this reminder, you can then refocus on something helpful when you get stressed.
You can also create visual cues for life: sticky notes that encourage you to breathe or a brightly colored bracelet that reminds you to evaluate whether your thoughts are helpful or not. Remember that the cue is only your reminder: once it does its job, then you need to focus on something helpful for you to start better controlling the situation.
Once you’ve created your cues, use them anytime you golf: for example, keep and use the dot on the ball in your lessons and on the range; the distractions may be a bit different, but this visual cue will help you remember to be focused on the right things. You want to notice the cue and then refocus to something helpful for that particular moment. Over time, you’ll become more efficient at shifting from being distracted to being focused. Eventually, you may not need the visual cue; you will create a new habit where you more automatically notice the distraction and then refocus.
Getting distracted is normal, but you don’t have to stay that way! Work on building awareness, developing visual cues, and then using them. You’ll find that your focus (and possibly your game) improves!