The Mental Game


Mental Insights from Jayne Johnson


April 2009


Q: What recommendations do you have for athletes to assist in overcoming an injury?


A: To overcome an injury would first, of course, require physical treatment – that’s #1. But from a mental aspect, I recommend a somewhat unorthodox approach, and that is to track what happened, when did it happen, who was around, and in general being as cognizant as possible of how the injury occurred. This kind of thorough inspection of an injury can sometimes expedite the healing process. Along these lines, it’s been suggested that memories of earlier injuries can influence the mental attitude and emotions of the athlete in terms of the current injury, so being aware of any similar injuries from the past and tracking them, inspecting them, being as aware as possible of what transpired and making sure that those memories don’t creep in and influence the current situation can also help overcome an injury. So in addition to the common approaches to treatment and healing, it’s my experience that a mental awareness can be very powerful. The term “mind over matter” has come into common usage for a reason!


Q: How important is a golfer’s state of mind and its impact on their ability to perform at their best?


A: Any sport is a combination of mental stability and physical ability. Stable means that you can hold a position in your mind, which would help you to hold the proper positions physically too. Of course any athlete starts with an innate talent and other prerequisites… for example best-selling author Blair Singer talks about the question of what would happen if Shaquille O’Neal wanted to be horse jockey? From an athletic perspective, there are just certain things that are not going to work! But within those reasonable parameters of physical ability, then the mental aspect of any game or sport is equal to, if not greater than, the physical aspect. You see this in any sport. There have been several baseball players over the years who were quite short but played in the major leagues; there was left-handed pitcher Jim Abbott who was born without a right hand - he threw a no-hitter in 1993! In any sport you have those extraordinary people who overcome limitations through sheer determination. Bottom line, the most successful athletes have a state of mind of mental toughness that sees them through any adversity. Much of the time they will prevail, they will win.


Q: What is the most important thing you talk to athletes about to help them improve their results?


A: The ability to present, rather than get caught in thoughts of the past or the future, or become in any way distracted. The past can be 10 seconds ago or 10 years ago, and the future can be 10 seconds ahead or 10 years ahead. With distractions, such as someone in the crowd making a noise or a plane overhead, if the golfer’s mind goes to that, whatever it is, then to that degree they’re not there, i.e., they’re absent. It’s all a matter of degree. To the degree that an athlete has some part of his or her mind elsewhere, to that degree he or she is not present, and it’s going to diminish their success rate. So to be present in the moment...not thinking about the last shot or the next hole, but just right there, in the moment, with full awareness in the now, is the most important thing I talk to athletes about to help them improve their results.


Q: What’s the best way to handle erratic emotions on the golf course?


A: A common approach to handling any unwanted emotions is to corral them, stuff them down, repress them, bury them, etc. The down side to that approach is that the person can become an unfeeling robot or solid, like a block of concrete. Another common technique is to “re-frame” unwanted emotion by seeing them in a more positive light. In my view, the best way to handle any erratic emotion is to notice it, acknowledge it, and not resist it. There’s a saying, “What you resist persists.” The more you resist something, the more it remains right where it is. And sometimes what you resist actually gets stronger. So as strange as it may sound, the way out is to notice an unwanted emotion, acknowledge it and let it be. It’s also helpful to be aware of earlier times on the golf course when there was an upset, mistake or failure and being aware of those times and neutralize those memories so they’d have no influence and any emotions one might feel in the current moment would come from the current situation and not compounded by past incidents.


Q: What process (or method) would you recommend to assist golfers in performing their best?


A: From a practical standpoint, physical training, commitment to a routine, having daily rituals, setting goals that are measurable, clearing out/neutralizing any memories of past losses that are still upsetting, staying away from negative people and negative things like violent movies, etc. Avoid anyone or anything that offers a steady stream of negativity and instead associate with positive, supportive people, read or watch that which is uplifting and mood-raising, and in general not only gravitate toward the positive but see oneself in the most positive light. Self-esteem has immeasurable value!


Q: What is the importance of the pre-shot routine in golf and what type of pre-shot routine would you recommend?


A: An ideal pre-shot routine would be envisioning the result you wanted, seeing it in your mind in full detail, seeing it happening exactly as you want it to happen. The pre-shot routine sets up the ideal scene. Because it’s a ritual, because it’s a routine, it’s familiar and leads the physical, mental and emotional aspects of the game all down the same path, the path to greater success.


Q: What type of mental exercise can be practiced off the course to improve scores on the course?


A: In my opinion, the best thing a person could do is the exercise known as “presence.” Presence is the practice of sitting across from another person without talking and just being there, allowing oneself to experience whatever comes up, without resisting it or judging it as good/bad, right/wrong, etc. Just observing what happens, without trying to “fix” anything. Though I understand that it may well sound very strange, I’ve found that doing this exercise over time is incredibly empowering. The Presence exercise is not about staring or meditation either. It’s just merely sitting about 2-3 feet across from another person and looking into their eyes. This exercise increases a person’s ability to be present in the moment. The Presence exercise is a very effective mental exercise that produces powerful results in a short period of time.


Q: What type of goals should be set to achieve optimum performance (statistical, financial, scoring, etc.)  What method of goal-setting would you recommend?


A: My general outlook on goals is that they’re best when they’re short, concise, specific, and state clearly the desired outcome; additionally, the best goals contain a date and/or time by which the goal should be reached, and they’re measurable. Also, goals that are in alignment with one’s purpose(s) in life make it easy for the goal-setter to be enthusiastic and passionate about them and about attaining them.


General Note: Regardless of the question, my underlying belief is that every person is an individual and what works for one person will not necessarily work for another. So each person would do best to experiment, paying attention to the results they get from any particular action. It’s data-gathering of the highest sort and will give an athlete invaluable feedback with which they can make corrections and keep refining until they hit on a winning formula. The trick is to notice the feedback quickly; the challenge is to be flexible enough to change what does not work and to be committed enough to continue doing what does work.


Jayne Johnson

About Jayne Johnson: Jayne Johnson began her studies and quest forknowledge about Life in 1971. Her interest in Self-improvement, philosophy, religion, spirituality, communication, goals, relationships, business and finance, among many other topics, has led her on a unique journey of discovery. To read more about Jayne Johnson visit