July 1

2 Mindsets for better decisions on the golf course

Decision Making, Entscheidungen, Entscheidungen


"Feel free to share, obliged to quote,
and appreciated for both!"

In today's post we take a look at a specific example for the ability to adapt mindsets to achieve the best possible results. In the last article I was refering to this skill as the crucial ability in decision-making processes. Let us use the case of a (professional) golf player to illustrate this point by asking a question. For two world-class players, what's the difference between a good score and a Masters win? ...

Underconfidence, Overconfidence or which Mindset?

In my view, the most unclear phenomena in decision making processes is the so called Overconfidence Bias.This is due to the fact that this bias is not clearly defined and as a consequence mostly misused.Confidence is first and foremost a positive quality of a person. Just as generosity and helpfulness are. And as with all qualities, they come in different forms.

A classic example of this type of bias is that 90% of drivers asked, consider themselves to be better than average drivers. 
And that is completely understandable, given that they have so far been able to move through road traffic without accidents.

If the question were how well we can balance on a slack line between two trees, the result would probably be that the majority would consider themselves to be worse than average. Simply because most of us have no experience in this. If a person who has never been on a slack line before makes a 100€ bet that he can cover 10 meters of distance  without falling, this is unreasonable confidence. To claim that most of us show this kind of arrogance is nonsense.

A golf Pros overconfidence Mindset

What driving a car is for the average person, it's Putting for a Golf Pro. The professional golf association (PGA) in the US once looked at all of the approximately 11,000 putts played in a year from a distance of about 6 feet. Most of the Pros assumed to sink at least 70% of these putts. However, the facts spoke a different language, as only about 55% of all putts were actually sunk. As in the frequently quoted experiment on people's driving skills, the Pros were more confident than the numbers justified.

A plea for more confidence

Rightly so. People with strong skills in their area of competence have more to gain than to lose through increased self-confidence. Thus, it's beneficial if confidence in one's own abilities exceeds the objective measure by a few percentage points. The chance of winning a prestigious tournament is very small, even for a professional. A high dose of self-confidence increases his chances. That lousy tee shot on the first hole... irrelevant and forgotten. The pressure of the cameras and the big prize money for the winner... irrelevant and forgotten. This kind of self-confidence is not to be confused with arrogance.

Mindset control: A quick guide

How does the Pro (and some novice players) manage to enter this mindset when putting?
The answer is: By actively focusing his attention on everything that's relevant to skin the ball in the hole. Not the last hole or the next one, but the current one.

What's the feeling of the club in my hands, how stable is my stance, how strong do I feel the wind at the moment. All relevant sensory input flow in sharply, all irrelevant input  (spectator noises, cameras, commentators...) are blocked from entering the mind. Getting into this mindset is a matter of practice. Which input do I want in and out of the mind is the question, focused attention the action. The player is right there when he is in a flow, just by himself without any thoughts interfering. Meanwhile this type of focusing has made its way into the broad population and is having a revival under the name of Mindfulness.

Neurologically speaking, the Direct Experience Network (DEN) is active. Our autopilot, the so-called Default Network (DN), which tends to evaluate and interpret, has a break.

After putting has been completed, a new hole is waiting and the Pro knows that he must now change his mindset. It's now not a matter of delivering a motoric skill in the present moment, but rather of analyzing what it takes to master the upcoming swing. 
What is the ideal flight curve of the ball, in which area should it land, what's the surface like in that area, what distance will need to be covered, how are the wind conditions, which club is most suitable, have I played this hole before, did I drink a sip of water yet?

These are some of the key decisions the Pro (and any other player) has to make before switching Mindsets again and focusing on the swing.

The mindset required for the analysis is a golf-specific Default Network, which the Pro has developed much further than the novice player thanks to his experience. It is the difference between 100 swings per week and 1,000 swings per week, between 5 hours of training a week and 50 hours a week.

If a hobby player wants to successfully improve his golf game, he practices putting with slightly increased confidence in his abilities (a small dose of overconfidence).

If the ball lands somewhere near the hole, he calls out the position of the ball loudly and without judgement (Analysis-Mindset). He then repeats putting from the original position (Action-Mindset) and calls out the new position of the ball, e.g. half a foot to the right and in front. Some people will be surprised how impressive their own progress with this simple method will be...

The difference between Winning and a good position

It is important to understand that overconfidence and self-criticism are both a disaster in the analysis mindset. The more the analysis looks at the objective reality of ones own game, the better it is. The golfer who verbally whitewashes the distance from ball to hole during the putting exercise will not improve his game. The same is true for the player whose self-dialogue fluctuates between "You idiot are playing like a beginner today" and "How awful was that again?" A certain amount of overconfidence outside the analysis mindset is a mental blessing, because it increases the chance of success. The golf Pro does not care about the overall probability of 55% when putting, his self-confidence is at 100%.

A hole in golf is not very big, but has always the same size. 

Just as the two brown circles in the Ebbinghaus illustration (Fig. 1.) are the same size. However, our modern brain tends to perceives the right brown circle as larger. If two player's abilities and the general conditions on the golf course are equal, then the player who is able to visualize the hole being larger will ultimately win.

3A Blog post Golf

Figure 1: Ebbinghaus-Illusion 

It's been said that Golf is a mental game.

And a mental game is usually won by the player who has the best grip on his nerves. With only two mindsets and active adaptation between these two, the game can be mastered. And not only on the golf course, but everywhere where mindset shifting increases overall performance.

  • Do you, unlike me, play golf? if so, do you recognize the situations?
  • If not, what is your sport and the mindset requirement behind it?
  •  What are other situations where you maneuver between action mindset and analysis mindset?

Feel free to write your thoughts in the comments.
By the way: The next article will deal with the subject of mindset in investment decisions.


Zur Fähigkeit den
Jessica K. Witt, Sally A. Linkenauger and Dennis R. Proffitt - “Visual Illusions improve sports performance”, in Association for Psychological Science 23 (4):397-9, March 2012

Zur Verbindung zwischen Ebbinghaus Illussion und Golflöcher Visalisierung beim Putten
Jessica K. Witt, Sally A. Linkenauger and Dennis R. Proffitt - “Visual Illusions improve sports performance”, in Association for Psychological Science 23 (4):397-9, March 2012


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