A New Way of Keeping Score: Process Focus versus Outcome Focus
As I explained in an earlier article (Process Focus versus Outcome Focus: A Crucial Distinction in Sports) one of the most powerful ways of improving your performance involves letting go of any concerns about the outcome of any shot, and instead maintaining your focus solely on the process involved in preparing for, and executing, each shot.
Letting go of concerns about the outcome of any shot is difficult for a variety of reasons. After all, how well each shot is executed has an undeniable bearing on our final score. The more shots you have that produce a good outcome, the lower your total score will be. And of course, lower total scores are what every golfer strives to accomplish.
Here, in this article, I want to explain to you how you can utilize this powerful mental strategy each time you are out on the course. We’ll start by allowing ourselves to forget about shot outcomes and scores for a while. We’ll choose instead to focus exclusively on the process of preparing for, and executing, each individual shot. We’ll still maintain a scorecard, but what we’ll mark down on the card is simply whether or not the process involved in each shot was “pure.”
A process that is “pure” involves a number of elements, each of which should be a regular part of your preshot routine. And although the process of preparing for and executing each shot will vary from player to player, there are many common elements found in almost every good golfer’s routine. The process, therefore, involves tasks such as assessing the variables in the shot at hand, including distance, lie, wind, elevation, and so on. The process involves always selecting a small, precise target at which to aim. Developing an image of the exact shot you want to hit is part of the process. Making a final club selection and staying committed to that selection is a component of the process. Taking a rehearsal swing and feeling the exact swing you want to execute is part of the process. Believing 100% that you will properly execute the shot you’ve chosen is part of the process. Being fully comfortable with your stance, alignment and ball position are aspects of the process. Narrowing your attention down on the target and then onto the ball is part of the process. Having one final swing thought or swing cue, such as “tempo,” “perfect,” or “smooth,” is part of the process. And finally, the last part of the process is simply allowing yourself to swing, while at the same time having no concern at all about where the ball is going to end up!
If you have gone through each of the above steps with full commitment and meaning, including the final step of simply allowing yourself to swing without having any concern about where the ball is going, then you can consider your process to have been pure. However, if any part of the process was done halfheartedly or without full commitment, then the process was incomplete and cannot be considered to have been pure.
Incomplete processes can occur in many ways. For example, often a player will go through their preshot routine, yet right before they’re ready to hit the ball, they’ll sense that their stance isn’t quite comfortable. Maybe they are standing on an old tee imbedded under their foot, or perhaps the edge of one of their feet is touching an unfilled divot. The degree of discomfort or sense of imbalance may be minimal, yet it is still there. A part of the golfer’s brain is telling them they are not fully ready to hit, yet all too often the golfer will go ahead and swing anyway. The result is almost always a poor shot.
Another type of incomplete process occurs when the golfer has not let go of concerns about the outcome of the shot. A common example of this is when there is trouble of some sort that might come into play on the shot. Perhaps there is OB, or water or a large bunker that you want to avoid. You go through your preshot routine, and even make sure to select a small precise target at which to aim. You tell yourself you’re committed to swinging at the target, yet as you get ready to pull the trigger, you can’t help but think about how you don’t want to put the ball into the trouble. Whether you realize it or not, you are no longer committed to the shot you had planned, with the result being a tentative swing that either puts you in the trouble, or avoids the trouble by such a wide margin that you end up nowhere near your identified target. The incomplete process once again leads to a very poor outcome.
At this point you should have a clear idea of what I mean when I’m referring to a pure or complete process, and you should also be able to identify those types of things that indicate the process is incomplete. The pure process involves proper focus, unwavering commitment, and a total lack of worry or concern about what might happen. The incomplete or impure process almost always involves some degree of misdirected attention, a lack of total commitment, or allowing even the slightest of thoughts about what you don’t want to have happen.
So, how do you use these concepts as a new way to keep score?
First of all, you’re going to need an entire scorecard for yourself. On your scorecard, draw a diagonal line across each of the boxes where you would typically enter the score for yourself and your playing partners. Depending on the layout of the scorecard the course provides, you should end up with eight to twelve “half boxes” that you can use to record data for each hole.
The data you are going to record is simply one of three letters; a “Y”, an “N”, or an “X”. You won’t be putting down any numbers at all, which means that you will not be keeping score in the traditional sense. And of course this makes a great deal of sense, given that the purpose of this new way of keeping score is to help you focus on the process, not on the outcome.
Here’s what you do. On your first shot of the round, you go through your entire process as described in the early portion of this article. You assess the conditions, select a target, commit to the shot, and so on. And of course, as you are ready to execute the shot, you have absolutely no concern or worry about the outcome of the shot and you simply allow yourself to swing. Now, regardless of how the shot came out, you review and critique your process. Did you really go through each part of the process? Was there meaning and commitment in the process? Was the process complete and pure? Did you allow yourself to swing without concern or worry? If the answers are all “yes”, then regardless of how the shot turned out, in the first half box on your scorecard write down a “Y” to indicate the process was indeed pure. If, on the other hand, the process was not really pure (again, regardless of how the shot turned out) then you write down an “N” on the scorecard. A “Y” indicates that “yes” the process was pure, while an “N” indicates that “no” the process was not pure.
You continue to review and critique your process for each and every stroke, and you enter either a “Y” or an “N” for each stroke you took. Suppose you make it on the green in two shots and you’ve recorded two “Y’s” on your card. Your ball is only eight feet away from the cup and you think the putt will break about six inches from right to left. When you examine the putt from a different angle, however, you think there will only be about three inches of break. You’re not really sure what the putt will do, and you decide to go with your first read. When you actually strike the putt, you’re still not sure of the line, but you hope your initial read was correct. The ball rolls down toward the cup and drops right in the center. Was the process pure? Not really, because you weren’t fully committed to the line of your putt! You thought it would break six inches, but you weren’t fully convinced you had selected the correct line. So, even though the putt dropped into the heart of the cup, the process wasn’t actually pure. On the scorecard, then you would place an “N.” So, on the first hole, you’ve recorded three letters, two “Y’s” and one “N.” And the lone “N” came from a putt you actually sank!
Conversely, you can have shots where the outcome is not at all what you envisioned, yet the process was still pure. Perhaps you’re getting ready to hit an approach shot from 160 yards out. You assess the conditions, select a small precise target, envision the shot, have total confidence in your club selection, and so forth. You then allow yourself to swing without any concern about where the ball is going to end up. The ball sails toward the green, but ends up landing about ten yards short! What do you record for this shot? Is it a “Y” or an “N?” Obviously there was a problem somewhere. Perhaps you misjudged the wind, or maybe your contact wasn’t as good as you wanted. Nonetheless, and regardless of the outcome of the shot, if your review and critique of your process indicates the process was indeed pure, then you record a “Y.” On the other hand, if before you actually swung you thought you might have had too much club so you eased up on the swing at the last second, this doubt and lack of full commitment indicate the process was indeed flawed. Under these circumstances you would record an “N” on the card.
So when do you place an “X” on the card? The “X” is used for any penalty strokes that must be assessed. In the above example, let’s say that not only did your ball come up ten yards short, but it dropped into a water hazard fronting the green. Again, you review and critique the process you went through for the shot. You record either a “Y” or an “N.” Then, in the next space on your card you record an “X” for the penalty you just incurred. You take an appropriate drop and start a whole new process for the shot at hand. And after executing the shot, regardless of the outcome, you review and critique the process to decide whether to record an “N” or a “Y.”
You want to go through your entire round without ever writing down any numbers at all. The idea here is to be totally focused on the process, and have no concerns about outcomes or scores.
Once the round is over and you are no longer on the course, add up and record the total number of “Y’s” on your card. Then add together and record the total number of “other” letters (all of the “N’s” and “X’s).
To find out what your actual numeric score would have been, simply add up the total number of “Y’s” and “others” (the “N’s” and “X’s”). Because you recorded a letter after taking each shot, and recorded a letter for each penalty stroke, the total number of letters recorded is an accurate reflection of your score.
More important than your numeric score, however, is the percentage of “Y’s” on your card. This is what we are really interested in. Since our focus is on the process, and not on the score (the outcome), we want to strive to improve the frequency of fully and purely focusing on the process. One of the golfers with whom I had been working used this way of keeping score while we were out on the course for a nine hole playing consult. He found that more than at any time before, he realized the importance of staying focused on the process. At the end of the nine holes, he had recorded a total of 25 “Y’s” and ten “others” (consisting of nine “N’s” and one “X”). When he calculated his percentage of “Y’s” on his card (25 “Y’s” out of 35 total letters) he discovered he was only fully focused on the process a mere 71% of the time! This told him there was a lot of room for improvement.
What he didn’t immediately recognize, however, was that his 25 “Y’s” and ten “others” meant his numeric score was an honest-to-goodness 35, or one under for nine holes! He had never before shot under par for nine holes, and his score even included a penalty stroke for landing in a water hazard! Because he was striving to maintain his focus on the process, and letting go of concerns about the outcome, he had shot the best nine hole score of his life!
If you consistently utilize this new method of keeping score, several important things will begin to happen. First of all, you will become much more focused on the process, and much less focused on the outcome. You will have an accurate measure of how well you are maintaining your focus on the process, and you will find it easier to improve your process focus. The more times you use this method of keeping score, the more likely it is you’ll improve the percentage of shots you execute with proper process focus.
And most importantly, just like my client discovered, when you work hard to maintain a process focus, you scores will begin to immediately improve!
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