Drive.  Push.  Get over it.  Move on.  Mobilise.  Action.  Strive.

These words and phrases are all associated with high achievement and success… They are inextricably linked with descriptions of the mindset required to get ahead in your golf game as well as your life.  They are uplifting and energizing.  They are the opposite of other words… Rest.  Chill.  Take it easy.  Carefree.  Let it be.

But… mental recovery is the ‘new black’ (remember the article I wrote for Ladies European Tour (LET) last year – Make Time for Psychological Recovery) – and research is suggesting that the key to going faster is understanding how to ‘slow down’.

So, with all of this new advice to slow down, where does that leave those who are goal-driven?  Somehow we need to find a balance between the desire to strive and the need relax.  To find this balance is to tune one’s self for peak performance.

Given I predominantly work with high achievers, I empathise with the confusion that caused by this seemingly conflicting advice to slow down… in order to achieve more.

I get asked all the questions you would expect: “How slow is ‘slow’?”, “Is less really more?”, “How much is enough?”, and  “Where did hard work go?”

When answering these questions, I tend to change up the concept of slowing down a little… and I promote the concept of  ‘slowing down to go faster’.

Again, I encourage you to refer back to another LET article on mindfulness (Be Present!) as it highlights the need for us to take time to slow the mind down to be in the moment.

Golf is widely accepted as a relatively demanding sport on the brain.  It’s considered to be a ‘mind’ sport, a game played predominantly between the ears.  There are multiple images and stories that make fun of the thought-ridden golfer, where rounds of golf are both ruled and ruined by one’s mind.

Recent addresses to sporting associations, academies, and clubs by prominent academics such as Professor Vincent Walsh from University College London, have presented sport as activities with high cognitive load, requiring further attention to how we look after and enhance the brain’s involvement in sport.  By high cognitive load, I mean golf requires the brain to take in a variety of information and make decisions in specific time frames, in addition to deal with the result before doing it all again.

Golf, and many sports requiring decisions and creativity, are invariably mentally tiring pursuits, so you need to make dedicated time to relax.

An important and valuable mindset shift that can assist with putting this knowledge into action is making recovery part of your practice schedule.  In fact, this was the final paragraph of the Make Time for Psychological Recovery article,

“Include time in your schedule for psychological recovery.  Plan it in your weekly training and competitive schedule.  Planning means proactively including it in your weekly schedule so that you consider it as another ‘training session’.”

What this means for golfers is that you view your recovery time as refueling the brain and body.

How can this be done?

We have come along way in golf in terms of looking after our bodies in golf.  Dietary advice has gradually been taken on board.  Golf is an easy sport to integrate appropriate food and drink to ensure body and brain are adequately fueled.  Massage and physiotherapy services are being utilised, as is stretching and strengthening becoming a part of the serious golfer’s preparation and maintenance.

Logically, the next movement that needs to be integrated is the process of getting the brain to recover, to take a break from the one obsessive theme of golf.

Given my role as an applied practitioner is to learn from scientific research and successful applied practice and to translate it into practical solutions for the golfers, I have several suggestions as to how to make this happen…

How do golfers switch off and rejuvenate their brain?

We have discussed the benefits of a good night’s sleep as well as breathing techniques, so I am going to look at two options golfers turn to in order to relax and recover the brain, in preparation for more golf!

The first option is alcohol, a proclivity that has been around for a long time… The second option is napping, a behaviour that is growing in momentum in high achievement settings.

Alcohol is often associated with winding down at the 19th hole.

It’s no surprise to read that people often reach for a drink because they want to change the way they feel.  Maybe people want to relax, to celebrate, or simply forget the day (on the course).  More concerning is that many people drink to try and mask anxiety or depression, or other mental health problems.

While alcohol can have a very temporary positive impact on mood, in the long term it can cause problems for mental health.  It is well known that excessive drinking is linked to a range of issues including depression, loss of concentration and memory loss.

Alcohol is a depressant, which alters your brain chemistry can disrupt the delicate balance of chemicals and processes affecting our thoughts, feelings and actions – and sometimes our long-term mental health. This is partly down to ‘neurotransmitters’, chemicals that help to transmit signals from one nerve (or neuron) in the brain to another.

The relaxed feeling you can get when you have that first drink is due to the chemical changes alcohol has caused in your brain.  For many people, a drink can helps them to feel more confident and less anxious.  That’s because it’s starting to depress the part of the brain associated with inhibition.  But, as you drink more, more of the brain starts to be affected.  It doesn’t matter what mood you’re in to start with, when high levels of alcohol are involved, instead of pleasurable effects increasing, it’s possible that a negative emotional response will take over, such as anger, aggression, anxiety, or depression.

Alcohol is not the answer to being able to relax – it is recommended that people try to find other ways to relax and wind down.

Dr. Sara Mednick, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, provides a superb summary on the benefits of taking breaks in our day and week to ensure our cognitive and motor functioning is optimised.  The science is backing up the advice of napping as a great way to wind down.

So, if you are looking for a way to relax, you could start to think about taking a nap.

We know sleep restores basic functions and a lack of sleep results in impaired cognitions, so it would seem that napping makes great sense as a way to take a break from the day’s activities as well as to consolidate the day’s learning so far.

Napping offers various benefits for healthy adults, including:

  • Relaxation
  • Reduced fatigue
  • Increased alertness
  • Improved mood
  • Improved performance, including quicker reaction time, better memory, less confusion, and fewer accidents and mistakes

Check out sites such as National Sleep Foundation to read in more detail about naps.

According to a letter published in the British Journal of Nutrition, the authors suggest that if an individual is planning to spend an afternoon on the couch, they are better off asleep than watching television because napping is particularly great for alertness, learning, memory, and performance — and we’ve known this now for several decades.

I know many golfers who enjoy chilling on the couch watching sport or movies on their televisions as a want to enjoy their ‘down time’.  A growing body of research suggests that television viewing and sleep have contrasting effects on energy balance and weight maintenance.  So maybe it’s worth turning the screen off, or at least reducing the ‘screen time’, and having a nap!

The main point here that complements the previous articles (written for LET) is that there are numerous ways to improve your golfing life by slowing down to go faster…

In short, drink less, watch less television, and nap more.

Andrea Furst PhD | Sport & Exercise Psychologist MAPS
Get in contact with Andrea – andrea@mentalnotesconsulting.com – to discuss your strategies to slow down to go faster.  Andrea is based in London and provides both face-to-face and virtual sport psychology services to athletes worldwide.