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Fear of failure can paralyze a recreational golfer


For years there has been a theory in psychology known as “fear of success.” I have always found that idea suspicious at best. When it comes to golfers, I have predominantly noticed “fear of failure.”

Some recreational golfers are horribly afraid of playing badly and looking bad among friends and onlookers. What they fail to grasp is that almost no one truly remembers or cares how you perform or look. So, let’s try to understand fear and failure and its roots in terms of golf.

We’re talking each shot, play by play, where you collapse on your swing, look up even before you strike the golf ball and top it or shank it.

Most humans learn how to avoid something, like touching a hot stove, through experience, especially when there was a bad consequence, like pain. Often as golfers, we tend to let mistakes completely derail us, and rather trying to learn from our failure, we get angry, throw clubs and complain.

It has been said that the fear of a shot going wrong and costing you a price you don’t want to pay truly is fear of failure. More than that, if you are afraid of the outcome of a shot or a putt, then you are inventing a “negative future,” one that actually has not happened yet, but is probable because you’re thinking it.

It’s kind of like the golfer who has a pre-shot swing thought of, “Don’t hit it in the water.” We know what’s likely to happen. Would you ever worry about a golf shot if you had never hit a bad one? This is where learning and discipline comes in.

In order to play great golf, we need to be in the present. Golfers are rarely playing in the present if any thought of outcome is in the equation. Please do not confuse a thought of outcome with the technique of visualization. Outcome fear is anchored in the past; visualizing the desired shot result with a quick mental image is far different, and comforting, while remaining in the present.

Make no mistake, it takes practice and discipline to create a habit and strict routine of being present. And that’s partly because fear, in any of its aspects in golf, often exists below one’s threshold of awareness. One of the sure ways to realize when that is the case is to become acutely aware of your thought patterns and be sensitive to your emotions when you practice your shots. If you rid your brain of the fear of outcome, you will swing better.

If we experience our play on the golf course as a process rather than an outcome, we are much more likely to play better. We can reach “the zone,” where mental and emotional states shift to auto-pilot, thereby erasing anything negative from our awareness.

Mark Wright of the parexcellencemagazine.com blog asserts: “If you can fully fixate your attention on the ball, with no concern for outcomes, and just let your swing happen instinctively, you are getting into the zone and playing in the present, so it’s well worth developing the skill to focus on the present and remain there while your mind swings your body.”

Remember: “Failure is a success, if we learn from it.” -- Malcom Forbes.

Dr. Charlie Blanchard is a licensed psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact him at docblanchard71@gmail.com.

Charlie Blanchrd