By Josh Zander
I can always tell when a student has practiced well between lessons. The improvement is noticeable and that does not happen by chance. Golfers call mistakes in their golf swings "bad habits." These bad habits are just learned behaviors that have been ingrained through repetition. For better or for worse, the frequency of these behaviors encodes neural pathways forming habits.
Unfortunately, you cannot change a habit, but you can build a new one. Just think about how you tie your shoes. You have learned this behavior and although you may learn a better way to tie your shoes, your brain will not forget the old way. The key is how do we make the desired motion the dominant habit.
Practicing the new motion will eventually make it the dominant habit. Just make sure you are practicing correctly because you don't want to ingrain the wrong habit. There is a fabulous book entitled The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle that talks about "deep practice". Deep practice involves going slowly, understanding mistakes and overcoming them on your path to building expertise. It helps to have an instructor give you feedback as you perform the new motion in order to understand what the mistake is and how to make the proper adjustment.
So in the meantime, what can we do yo make the new motion appear on the golf course? Students often are frustrated because they can't take the swing they performed in the lesson or practice tee onto the golf course. This is because the old dominant habit takes over. The only way to get the new habit to appear is to rehearse the motion where you can see and feel what you are trying to do, and then hit the ball within a few seconds. In other words, as my mentor Jim Hardy says, "recency will trump frequency" if you hit the ball within 30 seconds of the rehearsal. It is also crucial that no extraneous thoughts enter your mind between the rehearsal and the execution of the shot. There are many distractions on the golf course and if your brain wanders, you will revert to the dominant habit.
Lastly, it is important to understand your game in order to know what to practice. This is why I co-founded www.mysmartgolf.com. It is a way for you to chart your golf statistics and receive feedback as to where you need help. Understanding your game will help you and your instructor make your lesson and practice time more efficient.