“Focus on the process, and not the outcome”
It’s a phrase you encounter as soon as you start to learn the mental game of golf; it’s something sports psychologists will often utter, regardless of the discipline in question.
But what does it actually mean?
And how can you use it to improve at golf?
Process is the opposite of outcome. The outcome is the eventual goal, the desired result from a round, from a hole, from an individual shot.
Most of us set this sort of focus as a matter of course. It can seem strange, even alien, to consider setting any other sort of goal at first. After all, isn’t the entire point of the game to shoot lower scores?
Why You Might Not Want to Focus on the Outcome
If you’re focused on the outcome, your mind is no longer grounded in the present. It’s skipped off into the future, either hoping for a good result or fearing catastrophe.
Sometimes we’re doing both things at the same time.
And when our attention has been hijacked by the future, it cannot attend to what is happening at this time. Or it may be stuck in the past, endlessly replaying the three putt on the last hole.
If your attention is displaced in time, you’re neglecting the only opportunity you have to create the future.
When we set foot on a golf course, you’re entering an arena where many things are out with your control. And so it is with your golf shots. Whatever control you’ve had of the shot is over as soon as the ball leaves the club face. The ball isn’t going to listen, no matter how loudly you shout.
Worrying about things in the future, such as hazards and out-of-bounds, decreases the chance of hitting a good shot. Getting caught up in the outcome of a hole by focusing on achieving a specific score can often harm your score.
If you’re aiming for par, it’s all-too-tempting to go for the type of recovery shot which would cause Phil Mickelson to look askance…with predictable results.
“Nothing has happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now.”
While you might get away with having an outcome focus for some shots, it becomes far harder to execute a shot under pressure if you’re caught up in the outcome. Your attention will be drawn to whatever is concerning you, be it hazards, playing conditions or your match…and this leads to even less attention being paid to the task in hand…ironically making the outcome you fear ever more likely.
So what’s the alternative?
The alternative is to pay attention to every little step in the sequence as you prepare to make your golf shot, ensuring you execute each step to the best of your ability. This doesn’t mean giving yourself a lesson as you swing; our conscious mind is great at handling complex thought processes but isn’t so good at controlling movement.
Instead, it’s more to do with ingraining a smooth routine, a flow from one movement to the next so that each swing happens automatically.
Research has shown that focusing on the process rather than outcome in training leads to the development of more effective motor skills…and what is the golf swing but a complex motor skill?
People who visualise the process required to perform a given task then go on to perform the task more successfully than those who focus on outcome.
Advertisers also find illustrating a process is more persuasive than simply telling you an outcome when writing print advertisements.
In golf, as in other sports, focusing on the process means you’re attending to the elements which are under your control. It doesn’t mean you forget about the outcome; selecting an appropriate target is an important part of the shot. But it does mean the process should receive the lion’s share of your attention.
A process focus means playing “one shot at a time”. This means you’re more likely to pick the shot with the best possible outcome, taking into account the limitations of your current position and skill set.
Once you get there, you’ll know
This isn’t a quick fix; it took me some time to figure out what this meant for me…but when I did, I felt the difference right away. I allowed myself to become wholly absorbed in hitting the shot, so much so I’d feel myself becoming aware of the world around me with a jolt as I flowed into the follow through.
It reminded me of being out on the boat with my Dad and my Uncle as a kid – “I think I’ve got a fish!” “If you think you might have one, you haven’t…when you’ve got one you’ll know“. There’s no mistaking the feeling, so if you only think you’ve got there, you haven’t…yet.
What about you?
Have you read about process focus and wondered what it meant? Did you have an idea of what it was, and how to implement it? Has this post helped you with that? Or have you interpreted it differently and find it works for you?
Would you like to discuss how to implement a process focus?
If you have any questions on this or if you think you know how to incorporate it in your practice and play but you aren’t a hundred per cent sure, let me know!