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What to do when Panic Mode sets in on the Golf Course

“When we are lost in the forest and start panicking, the instinct is to start moving faster. This, of course, often leads to us getting more lost.”

-The Craving Mind by Judson Brewer (1)

The Craving Mind has been one of the best books I’ve read recently. It has taught me so much about how habits are formed and how to use your brain as a helpful tool rather than feeling like you’re fighting against it all the time. Highly recommend you get yourself a copy. Here’s the link to get it on amazon.

The quote

This quote gets at the heart of what I’ve come to learn is one of the main mistakes that golfers make: habitually reacting to the first thing that pops in our heads.

We are going through a normal, ho-hum round of golf, and then seemingly out of nowhere the snap hook happens, or the yipped chip, or the shank, or the dumb 4 putt. These shock us, and understandably so. Things were going so normal and then like a slap in the face that happens.

Common mistake

Where we as golfers take the wrong road at the fork is when we see those events as bad and needing to be corrected immediately. So we furiously try to figure out what went wrong and try to fix it. Maybe we make just a few practice swings after the shot, or we spend the next 5 holes thinking about it and working on not doing it again. As Brewer says later in The Craving Mind, “…we habitually react to our circumstances based on our subjective biases, especially when we don’t get what we want.”

This tends to have the opposite effect of what we want. By seeing what we did just that one time as terrible and needing to be fixed immediately, we’re telling our brains to avoid doing that again at all costs. So our brain will go into overdrive making sure we don’t do that again. Which sounds helpful, but that overdrive mode is almost never free, confident swings. It’s just about guaranteed to be tense, scared, guidey swings to protect against an unwanted outcome. Just like in the quote, instead of slowing down when you’re lost, you instinctually move faster.

The better way

The correct road at the fork is seeing that bad shot as just one bad shot, and the ensuing negative emotions as just thoughts passing through your head. Just because you think “That was terrible” doesn’t mean you need to act on it and make the terrible thing go away. You can choose to let that one shot be terrible, and then move on. The Craving Mind again: “Dropping into a mindful awareness of our habitual reactivity helps us step out of the cycle of suffering—resting in awareness itself rather than being caught up in reactivity”.

That’s a fancy way of saying that simply noticing yourself knee-jerk reacting to something can help you stop the cycle of always knee-jerk reacting to things, and therefore stop that unnecessary suffering.

Here’s what I’ve learned to be helpful:

Having a non-judgemental awareness of the events that are happening and the thoughts that you’re having allows you to respond thoughtfully rather than habitually.

(1) Brewer, J. (2017) The Craving Mind: From Cigarettes to Smartphones to Love—Why We Get Hooked & How We Can Break Bad Habits (1st edition). Yale University Press.


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