Attractor States and the Backwards Bicycle – why you can’t change your golf swing

Attractor States and the Backwards Bicycle – why you can’t change your golf swing

Ever wonder why it’s so hard to change your golf swing?

I have taught thousands of golfers, and one of the biggest reasons I see for golfers not improving (or having improvements stick) is a lack of understanding of one of the most basic principles of learning.

 

Lock it down

When we are beginners, our brains and bodies work with what they have to create a movement pattern. At first, that movement pattern is very variable – this helps you to test different patterns and see their effects.

Over time, through feedback, you start to veer towards movement patterns which give you the most desirable feedback – a good shot. This variability gets closed down over time (but never fully relinquishes) through;

 

  • Myelination (insulation of neuronal connections in the brain
  • Increased neuronal connections in the brain improves signal efficiency
  • Reduced neuroplasticity as we age (decreased ability to change)
  • Reticular activating system changes – how our minds filter the information in the environment varies
  • Perceptual adaptation – changes in our perceptions occur over time – feel and real are constantly evolving and trying to get closer to one another.
  • Perception-action coupling – how our movements (action) happen as a result of our perception of the environment are largely unconsciously controlled – even if we believe they are controlled by us.
  • Both conscious and unconscious understanding of concepts deepen (which is why people resist information that challenges their beliefs)
  • Strength increases for very specific motor programs
  • Fascia in the muscle conditions for specific movements
  • Flexibility reduces for unused motions
  • Neuromuscular changes occur (Rate coding and motor recruitment patterns etc)

 

The above all help movement patterns to become more stable/ingrained; in fact, this above list is only a tiny portion of what actually changes. It is safe to say that, as we repeat something more often, we become more ingrained into a ‘path of least resistance’.

This is an attractor state

 

Designed for stability

We are effectively designed for stability – we close down on patterns over time through the above mechanisms and more. Whilst we always have an element of variability, this reduces over time, and we become more reluctant to change. Even our personalities are highly resistance as we get older.

In order to make a change, we are effectively fighting all the above mechanisms and more – and you have to be strong to win the fight, because billions of years of evolution have gone into making you lose the battle.

While most people want to be consistent, what they don’t understand is that they already are. Biological consistency (the above stuff) is normally very high in people, especially players who have played for a year or more. The problem is often not that they are inconsistent regarding the technique, but that they are making a consistently poor technique.

You are not inconsistent, you are just consistently poor

 

For example, a player comes to me complaining of inconsistent strikes. When I look at them, I see they are striking the clubface between within a tight circle, as shown below.

 

1A typical professional will also strike within the same sized circle – as shown below. 

2

The movement variance for both players is both players is the same – they are both as consistent as each other. The difference is that the poor player is doing the wrong thing consistently. And with the incredible forgiveness of modern day clubs, if they strike the sweet spot side of their strike circle, it is a decent shot. But when they cross over into the heel side – BAM, shank city!

They don’t need more consistency, they need to change – and change is often very difficult, as we have seen.

 

 

Elastic band learning

Think of yourself standing at your current movement pattern. You can see your desired movement pattern off in the distance – all you have to do is walk right over and get it, right?

 

pic 1

Kinda

Unfortunately (due to the things that your body and brain have set in place) there is a massive bungee rope tied around your waist.

 

almost there

Every time you try to get to your new desired movement, the bungee rope pulls you right back to where you started.

 

pulled back

 

 

Progress is made

The more you try to get to your new movement pattern a few things happen;

  • You get stronger and are able to pull harder on the bungee rope – (you get more comfortable with the change and understand how much you need to push yourself mentally to get there)
  • The bungee chord starts to weaken – (all the mechanisms we are fighting which prevent us from changing start to dissipate).
  • We throw a new bungee chord around the new movement pattern – (the movement pattern we are trying to get to starts to become a new attractor state

 

progress

 

 

What this means for You

When you are trying to make a change, understand that it may be difficult. But if you stay in comfort mode all your golfing life, you will always get what you always had.  If you want to play better, you have to change (make sure to see a good teacher to be directed towards ‘what’ to change). However, you have to understand that you will be pulled back to your attractor state (current motion).

3

Lots can be done in a lesson, for sure. The teacher can help you experience the new motion quicker than you could on your own; they can grab your hand and pull you towards the new motion. But the biggest mistake people make is that they walk away from a lesson feeling they have learned it in one hour (or less).

Experiencing something once is not learning it

 

You will often find that the next day you are right back where you started again – groundhog day; this is your old attractor state pulling you back again. You can’t simply think that you have learned something after one hour – you still have to put the time and the effort in to make the new movement your dominant attractor state.

 

 

Patience is needed

Learning anything takes time. Babies don’t go from crawling to walking (an example of switching attractor states) in a day. The whole biological system has to change a bunch of variables in synergy with each other. Skipping this developmental process and ‘teleporting’ to our desired actions can often be damaging – so it’s ok that learning takes time.

Just understand that one day, the old bungee chord weakens enough that it feels like it is no longer there. Just be patient

4

 

 

Cliff notes

In my book, I discuss these ideas much more in depth, as well as offering more solutions to speed up the process of learning so we can get to our goal of better golf much more effectively. To find out more about the book, click HERE

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In The Strike Plan, I show you exercises and techniques to break free of any poor strike patterns you have (for example, if you suffer with shanks/toe shanks/fats/thin shots). If you want to learn more about the video series, click the link below.

Strike plan enter 

 

  • An attractor state for golf is a movement pattern which you are magnetized towards
  • Your entire body and brain are set up to create this movement pattern  – this is biological consistency
  • Change is difficult and takes time and patience. You are fighting a whole load of mechanisms designed to keep you from changing.
  • Just because you experienced a better performance in a lesson doesn’t mean you have mastered it, yet. It still requires work to make the new pattern an attractor state.

If you want to see a hilarious example of an attractor state and how difficult it is to change, as well as the process of creating a new attractor state, I strongly recommend watching this.

 

3 Comments

  • Sean

    Great article again Adam I do see my buddies get a lesson but a round or two later they naturally go back to the old swing because the other is too difficult.
    I played a lot of tennis growing up (right handed) switching to golf my right side tends to take over causing fat shots and steep Ott moves. My coach gave me a water bottle drill just using my left arm. Its been 5 years now and I still need to do this drill 100 times a day. If I don’t the old move comes back. It might me a hesitation at the top if the back swing and straight away my right side kicks in and results in a terrible swing. The more nervous over a shot I am the worse it gets.

  • Mike Divot

    Ha! I’ve seen a bike like this at carnivals. Ride it 10 feet and you get a prize. Never seen anyone do it but the carney barker. But I am still convinced that I could do it (within a few minutes) if I only gave it a try. Even after watching the clip above, one part of my brain says, “Nup. You’ll need to practise it” and another part says “I know that, but WHAT IF I could do it in 5 minutes???? I bet I could!!”

    The human mind is its own worst enemy.

  • Mike Divot

    And ….. great web site!

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