Tiger Woods, the most successful golfer of all time, is up to his fourth swing change.
When Woods stormed onto the scene to win his first Masters title at Augusta in 1997, his violent, free flowing hit off the tee instantly won him fans across the world. But what did Tiger do after collecting the green jacket? He immediately went back to work on his swing.
The casual observer of golf must be left wondering how slight changes in the tightness of Tiger’s grip, distance from the tee, the shape of shoulder and hip rotation, the width of the feet, the position of the head, the angle of the back, length of the swing, and the height of the club can really have on Woods’ earning capacity and dominance on the green.
Whatever the wisdom of his changes – and the golf coaching world is divided – Tiger’s swing changes provide an insight into the role of our bodies in improving performance.
The body is too often overlooked when it comes to changing our mindset, but a closer look reveals a few truths that were in front of us all this time. Mindset change don’t just take place in the mind.
You’ve only had to be cold, hungry or tired to see how our major body organs shape our behaviour. Yes, being ‘hangry’ (angry because you are hungry) is a thing. But while our bodies were born to regulate our basic needs, we learned to do things with them.
Our bodies are a kind of sophisticated conversation between the mechanics (movement), chemicals (neuro) and electricity (nerves) to help us be in the world. We learned to walk, dance, lift, draw. We learned to be in tune with our bodies. Some people pushed the barriers further than others; like Federer moving liquid-like across the backline, Jordan shooting a 3 point from mid-court with ease or Bannister breaking the four-minute mile.
Take Woods driving a golf ball down the fairway with terrifying power and accuracy. None of us know what it feels like to hit a ball like Tiger, but you don’t need to be an elite athlete to know how the body moulds to the rhythms of repetition so that action becomes automatic.
At other times, people report that ‘trusting their gut’ has served them well. In one large scale psychological experiment, participants had to turn over 80 playing cards and ‘work out’ how the rules of the game were working against them. It took on average 55 cards for the players to realise that turn over the black cards was a bad move.
But something much more interesting happened. When tiny receptors were put on the skin to measure how the skin was reacting to the game, little sweat glands activating indicated that the skin had figured it out by the tenth card in the game.
The body knew what was going on a long time before the mind.
Traditionally, the brain has usurped the role as the intelligent organ and we excluded the body from the mindset conversation. We valued abstract reasoning over feeling, and maths over dance. We trusted logic above the gut. Cognitive neuroscientist Guy Claxton suggests we need to think of the brain less as the command centre and more as the chat room in our bodies where we can stage a conversation.
Because the truth is our bodies feel things long before we think them, or in Claxton’s words, “your mind often arrives rather late, puffing and panting behind the action.”
Learn more about effective mindset change in our Foundations of Change course at The Change Chef.