Golfers know about the swing thought. It’s that pithy, focused nugget that helps you achieve a positive outcome. A proper golf swing is one of the most difficult accomplishments in sport. There are so many things that can go wrong. And if you start thinking about them at the wrong time, like in the middle of your swing, you’ll miss the ball completely. By focusing on just one major success factor during the swing, you can avoid many troubles. For instance, my tendency has always been to look up to see where the ball is going. This causes me to lift up just enough so that my club hits the ball high, and sometimes misses it altogether, rather than keeping my posture and head aligned to follow through and finish the swing appropriately. I need to keep my head down and my butt out to maintain the proper angle of my spine, or I’ll have a frustrating and embarrassing experience on the tee. But I’ve found that if I consciously think “head down, butt out” during the swing, I can hit the ball. Sometimes even reasonably well. I don’t always remember it, but the more I can make it my mantra, or “swing thought”, the better I’ll play.
The swing thought is also useful beyond the golf course. For instance, my “head down, butt out” example was a great way to avoid trouble during the months leading up to my daughter’s recent wedding.
Joking aside, the swing thought is a way to keep people attuned to the basics that will help them be successful over time. In coaching, we often counsel leaders not to try to do everything at once. If they can focus on just one behavior that needs to change or one thing that needs to happen, their chances for success will be increased. If one is overly introverted, the swing thought “louder” during an important meeting may help him to speak up rather than take a back seat to the more vocal and gregarious extraverts in the room. And someone who usually jumps in with a solution too quickly, shutting off discussion, may keep the swing thought “listen” in mind during that same meeting.
The swing thought is a practical application of the Buddhist meditation concept of mindfulness. This has to do with focusing intently on the present and paying attention to a specific thought or purpose. But there’s nothing mystical about it. It’s a manifestation of how we’re wired. There is an increasing body of scientific research showing the value of mindfulness in the management of stress, pain, depression and anxiety, and many athletic coaches use it to help athletes focus on the present and consequently perform at their best. If we change the way we think, we can change the way we feel and consequently the way we behave. So it behooves us to choose the thoughts, and swing thoughts, that will help us improve.
Now about that slice…