“Your comfort zone is a cage.” You may have heard this phrase. It originates from the book Raise Your Game by performance coach Alan Stein Jr. Someone quoted this phrase to me recently and it struck a chord. After rolling it around in my head I thought that this concept is precisely what holds thousands of players back from improving. Fortunately, this phrase wasn’t referring to me at the time, but there was a stretch of years and years where I was in that cage.
The dominating thoughts in my head were “fix my technique”, “work harder than everyone else”, “stop mis-hitting the ball”, “I wish I hit it as far as everyone else”, “I just want to play well in a tournament.”
The most deceiving thing about it was that I thought I was thinking and doing the right things because I was working so hard. But what I didn’t realize was that cage wasn’t a physical one. It was a cage around my mind.
You’ve heard another phrase which sounds like “you are the average of the five people you’re around the most.“ Well I would like to change it for this scenario to say “your mind is the average of the five thoughts that you think the most.“ These five thoughts are what construct the bars of the cage that is around your mind.
Self reflect for just a sec. When you think of yourself at the golf course, you are about to hit a golf shot, or you are over the golf shot, or you just hit a golf shot. What are some of the thoughts that are going through your head? Are they positive? Are they negative? Do they reflect freedom? Do they reflect fear? Do they reflect high expectations? Do they reflect acceptance? How about when you’re walking or riding between the last shot and the next one. What are those thoughts like? Chances are throughout a round of golf the same five thoughts go through your head more than the rest.
If you are thinking thoughts that reinforce things like the importance of the result, thinking about the past or the future, self judgment, technical thinking, then you are going to keep yourself in a small cage. You don’t realize it, but over time you made it very comfortable to think these kind of things throughout your life. If all of the sudden you couldn’t think about the results, or you had memory problems and you couldn’t remember anything about what’s already happened in the round, or you had no idea what your score was so far, you would suddenly feel very uncomfortable. You would probably feel naked without your go-to thoughts. Because the same thoughts that you’ve been thinking for so long are no longer there.
But have you ever tried pushing on the walls of your mental cage? Once you push, the door opens right up. It was unlocked the whole time! Once you step out of your comfort zone and start thinking the right thoughts, even if it’s difficult or uncomfortable at first, it opens you up to such a larger area to grow.
Now because you aren’t perfect, there will always be some kind of comfort zone cage around your mind. But just like any physical skill or muscle, thinking the right thoughts can be trained and practiced.
Next time you go play, give this a try. Try hitting a shot and completely accepting the result. Like, you couldn’t care less where the heck it goes. See how it feels. If it’s uncomfortable then you’re probably on the right track. Now push harder on that door and step outside the cage.