by Dr. Lauren Tashman
What does it take to achieve an epic comeback like the one we witnessed from Tiger Woods at the Masters? After over 10 years of ups and downs both in his golf game and personal life, he achieved not just a win, but a BIG win.
There are likely many factors that contributed to his recent success, but we can point to four mental game areas that are essential for coming back after adversity: mental toughness, resilience, grit, and confidence.
Mental toughness is about having the mindset and coping strategies (for example, effective self-talk, focus techniques, and routines) that enable you to persist during adversity. If you’re going through a tough stretch out on course or, as Tiger did over a couple years, you are able to continue to push yourself forward despite the obstacles, setbacks, failures, pressure, stress, etc. that you are experiencing. This doesn’t mean you don’t get negative or doubtful, you just don’t let yourself get stuck there or defeated. Mentally tough golfers stay focused on what they can control and leverage their mental game during these moments in order to persist through any difficulties that threaten to get in the way of their goals.
Tiger has always been referred to as a mentally tough golfer. It’s been a characteristic that many have incorrectly assumed he was naturally gifted with. However, looking into his early life and career, it is clear that he worked to achieve this important quality. There are many stories of the obstacles and challenges his father used in his training to push Tiger out of his comfort zone and force him to do hard things in order to learn how to perform no matter what he was facing.
Mental Game Tip: To build your mental toughness, make things challenging! You don’t have to do this every day or every practice, but it’s important to remember that you can’t protect yourself from challenges and expect to be mentally tough on course when you confront some. The more you challenge yourself and at the same time use and develop your mental game strategies to help you get through those challenges, the more mentally tough you will be when it matters most.
Resilience refers to your ability to bounce forward after adversity. It’s not just about getting through it, it’s about becoming better for it. This has become a hot topic both in and out of sport because being mentally tough, persisting through tough times, is only part of the equation. Once adversity hits - whether it’s a “bad” shot, an injury, a double bogey on a hole you were aiming to birdie, or a loss at an important competition – there’s no rewinding the clock, no do-overs. The only way you can go is forward. Thus, a resilient golfer looks at challenges as opportunities to improve her game.
Obstacles are an inevitable part of golf and the path towards achieving your goals; thus, how you come back from them affects your next shot, round, practice, competition, years of playing.
There are four ways you can come back after adversity:
Fall apart - essentially you don’t come back, you let the adversity get the best of you and aren’t able to recover from it either in the short-term or long-term
Come back but with a loss – you are able to get back to performing, but you’ve lost something important in the process such as your composure, motivation, focus, or confidence
Rebound – you get past it and are able to leave the adversity behind you, getting back to your previous level of performance; this is good, but not the best option
Resilient – being truly resilient means that you use whatever challenges you encounter to your advantage; you don’t just get back to your previous level of play, you elevate your level of play
Tiger’s story shows evidence of each one of these outcomes at times as he was pursuing this great come back. Ultimately though, his epic win at The Masters, on one of the toughest courses in golf demonstrates that he was able to be resilient in spite of it all.
Mental Game Tip: Keep a journal. Each day do a bit of reflection: what did you do well, what could you have done better or different, what did you learn (golf game, mental game), and what are the key takeaways to remember for next time.
Pursuing long-term goals is not easy. There are many ups and downs, as Tiger’s whole career as well as these last few years attests to. Whether long-term refers to winning a 3-round tournament, lowering your handicap, getting recruited onto a college team, or playing on the LPGA tour, being gritty (persistence in the pursuit of a goal you are passionate about) is going to be necessary.
No matter how much you want a goal or how passionate you are about it, the journey will be both enjoyable and challenging, and there may be times when it seems like you’re having more downs than ups. Staying focused or refocusing on the “right” things, using your passion as motivation, and having effective mental game plans and strategies will help you persevere in pursuit of your goals and dreams. Tiger’s gritty pursuit of this come back goal demonstrated a commitment to persevere no matter what.
Mental Game Tip: Get clear on your why. Being gritty is not just about perseverance, but also about passion and commitment. Do the 5 why’s exercise: start by answering…why do you play golf? Whatever your answer, ask yourself why again. After the 5th time, you should have a pretty clear idea of what this really means to you that you can then leverage along your journey to pursuing your goals.
No doubt that Tiger’s Masters win will be a huge contributor to his confidence moving forward. However, he also had to have a strong foundation of confidence in order to achieve this comeback feat. You may want to feel confident, especially in a moment when you really need it such as sinking a putt for birdie to win the tournament, but feeling confident comes from believing in yourself. Confidence is a set of beliefs that enable you to know what you are capable of.
Being a confident golfer is in your hands; building your confidence is like filling a fuel tank with “evidence” of your capabilities. Filling your confidence fuel tank is essential so that you have clear reasons to believe in yourself. Tiger may not have had any recent wins to feed his confidence leading up to the Masters, but he had a large body of evidence from over the length of his career. And he likely used other sources, such as his preparation, gritty pursuit of his goals, and resilience after setbacks to know that this was possible and worth going after.
Mental Game Tip: Fill your confidence fuel tank consistently. In your journal, keep track of evidence of why you should believe in yourself, such as the following: your accomplishments (no matter whether your “wins” are big or small, make sure you are using them to feed your belief); examples of times you were mentally tough, resilient, or gritty when facing obstacles; your strengths and parts of your game you have or are learning and mastering; your preparation; feedback you’ve gotten from others about your capabilities; characteristics of your role models that you are aspiring to emulate; your keys to success; what you have to be grateful for.
Lauren Tashman is the Director of Mental Training for The G2 Academy.