Golf and the Reticular Activating System

Golf and the Reticular Activating System

I like red velvet cake; it’s tasty and satisfies my sweet tooth. But until a month ago, I had never heard of it. I had never seen it in magazines, TV or heard about people talk about it – or had I?

Low carb diet ? Get out of my house!

Recently, a family member of my girlfriend made her own red velvet cake for thanksgiving (I wasn’t there), but I heard through the grapevine that it didn’t turn out too well; apparently, the cream cheese frosting tasted ‘wrong’. “Cream cheese frosting?” I thought, “What on earth is that”. I imagined some kind of mix between Brie and icing sugar – yuck.

This vivid imagery must have been what sparked the proceeding events in my mind to occur. But for next few weeks, I saw/heard of nothing but red velvet cake. Every magazine I picked up, every TV commercial, random conversations on the street amongst strangers – Red velvet cake was everywhere. My girlfriend and I took a trip to Charleston and Savannah, and each tour guide we took told us about their favourite cupcake shop – and of course they had Red Velvet cupcakes.

Why does this happen to us? Did Red Velvet cake not exist before this point? It certainly didn’t in my world up until that day.


Information overload

Your brain is bombarded with billions of bits of information each second. Noises and images are going on all around you all of the time. If you were to be aware of them all it would literally drive you insane; you certainly wouldn’t be able to function as a human being in society.

So our brain has developed ways to filter out that information, so that only a certain amount of those billions of bits (around about 2,000 bit per second) make it through to your conscious awareness (the pre-frontal cortex), the rest goes to the reactive brain. What determines which bits of information come through? Although the mechanisms for attention are very deeply complex and are not fully understood, it is clear that the reticular activating system (RAS) has a big role to play.

The Reticular Activating System (RAS) acts as a filter for all the information,

only letting through what’s important to us.

Think about it – the last time you wanted something new (car, stereo, smartphone, slimmer body), the moment you made it your intention to consider it, you were bombarded with advertisements about that item. If it was a car you were interested in, all of a sudden you noticed others driving the same car everywhere; If it was a slimmer body, your RAS will filter information relating to the latest diets. It’s not that you have attracted this information (via the law of attraction) – it was always there, you are just now filtering through more information about it. I am sure we have all experienced other examples of this to some extent – a new word or phrase enters our consciousness in a way that makes us take notice, then for the next few weeks we see/hear it everywhere.


And Golf?

How does this relate to our golf game?

By creating the intention of a goal, your reticular activating system will help you achieve that goal by filtering through the relevant information and will present it to your conscious mind, helping you in decision making. Your brain will also collect more information which is relevant to your goal achievement.


Are you telling yourself you are going to miss this?

If you are feeding your brain negative images, such as

  • “Don’t go in the water”
  • “Don’t go left”
  • “Don’t chunk it”

then you will be asking your brain to filter information relating to doing exactly that. It would be better to create a clear image of what you want before you make your shot; this will allow your RAS to filter in information increasing your likelihood of goal achievement.

“don’t fat it…. don’t fat it”

Also, long term, if you consistently ruminate on your bad shots after a round of golf, you may start building a whole new belief system which can negatively affect how you play in the future. That bad shot on 13, which you have replayed in your mind over and over, starts to feed into your future performances. Next time you stand on that tee, your RAS filters in the rough and the out of bounds you hit last time.

This works in reverse too – if you have played a hole well and have ruminated on it, next time you step on that tee, you don’t even see the trouble. Your RAS filters it out.


Take home message for Golf

Choose carefully what you say to yourself and visualize on a daily basis. If you tell yourself you are a great chipper consistently and visualize the good shots you have hit in the past on a regular basis, your brain is more likely to filter out irrelevant information and focus on the bits of info which will lead to the realization of this. You brain will be able to work out the bounce, roll, break, spin rates etc much more effectively if attention is directed properly by the RAS. Tell yourself you are a bad putter, and your brain will help you in your self-fulfilling prophesy.

But all that is almost pretty obvious, right? Focus on something and you will take in more information on it. However, it goes much deeper than this; studies have shown that belief has a major role to play in what information the RAS focuses on outside of your control. Telling yourself you are a great chipper is one thing, truly believing it on a subconscious level is another.

Just like inception, we need to go to deeper levels in the brain to plant the correct seeds of belief.


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