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Information processing can challenge fragile golfers


There are times when we all get on mental “overload,” even in our weekly little games at our private little clubs with our regular little friends. We aren’t playing in the U.S. Open but we still can’t seem to keep tract of everything we need to do. It all has to do with “information processing,” specifically how we do it and how well we do it.

Think of your brain as a computer capable of processing and packaging huge amounts of data, sensory inputs and experiences – information – for potential use in you innumerable activities. For early hominids, processing information correctly meant survival. For the world’s top golfers, it may mean victory in a major, and possibly life-changing. But as for you and I becoming better at processing information, it may simply make us harder for our rivals to beat.

Next time you’re out on the golf course, try noticing the myriad inputs to your brain. You have people talking, wind blowing, clubs rattling, dogs barking, muscles tensing, feet hurting, bugs biting, distance numbers in your laser, money to change hands, putts to line up, grass grain to figure, thoughts to control, emotions going up and down, even cell phones going off. Fortunately, our relatively large brains are “hard wired” to filter, organize, prioritize and utilize the internal and external signals so that information processing for everyday chores will be routine, even mindless.
It’s when the demands of newness and situations involving pressure arise that we become especially challenged. Tour pros are lost in their method and just focused on target.

University of Michigan psychology professor Richard Nesbitt has made a lifetime study of cultural differences in how people process information. His research has shown, for instance, that Asians tend to notice the entirety of a visual scene, whereas Caucasians mostly focus on a single object. Variations exist, such as holistic vs. analytic; emphasis on collectivistic vs. individualistic.
It’s not that one style is better, Nesbitt says, but that there is such a variance in such fundamental human characteristic as sensory interpretation is amazing. We suspect there is also a huge range of tendencies and idiosyncratic styles of brainwork among individuals within the same cultural milieu. On the golf course, you and I will attend to different stimuli and certainly interpret the same things differently. There is really not one absolute best or right way.

Still, when it comes to finding ways to enhance your peak performance, there are some strategies you can use. Our first strategy concerns reducing the internal information you have to process by putting a check on your inner dialogue, so you don’t confuse yourself and talk yourself out of playing well. The idea is encapsulated in the classic book “They Played With A Quiet Mind” by Dr. Charles Kemp. “The most effective attitude for winning golf,” Kemp explains, “is a ‘quiet mind’ … (and) a freedom from tension and pressure, and a sense of calm and serenity.” Kemp adds, “It is what golfers say to themselves that determines how they feel and how they play.”

            Of course, complicating the whole matter is the business of having to process more than one or two inputs – sensory, cognitive, visual or otherwise – at the same time. Most of the available stimuli are either ignored by our brains, or dealt with on auto-pilot, meaning we don’t have to think too much about them. That’s good news for us and bad news for advertisers, who want to get our attention at every moment. As golfers, we’re wise to limit those stimuli to the fewest possible ones that are significant to our performance. For instance, you might have seen Tiger Woods cupping his hands around his hat brim as he reads a putt; he is simply blocking out extraneous visuals that may be an interference. More than one swing thought is interference. Too much conversation can be interference and difficult to process, especially when you’re trying to focus. Even Lee Trevino stopped jawing when it came time to swing.

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