How to Create Better Golf Habits

You Are What You Do

I recently read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear.  It’s an impressive distillation of the science of habit change that I would strongly recommend reading.  In this lesson, I’m going to apply some of the teachings of the book to making you a better golfer.

This Lesson Is For You If:

You want to create better practice habits

Practice a Little

We tend to want to make sweeping changes.  Our New Years Resolution is, “I’m going to go to the gym every day” instead of, “I’m going to take the stairs instead of the elevator.”  The problem is that sweeping changes are hard, so pick something small.

Decide that you will hit five putts on your carpet every evening.  Make three slow motion air swings.  Making the habit small gives you a better chance of doing it.

Create Cues & Helpful Environments

One of the keys to creating a good habit is setting up cues.  To be effective, the cues need to be specific, “I will ____ at (time) in (location).”  You can also set up your environment to provide additional cues and make practicing easier.

Here’s an example: set up a putting mat in your office with a putter and a golf ball.  Decide that your cue will be, “I will hit 3 putts before I check my email in my office.”  Now you have a clear cue and an environment set up to help you follow through on the good practice habit.

Use Habit Stacking

Stack a new, desired habit on top of an existing habit.

You can use any existing habit as the “base.”  It could be eating dinner.  After dinner, you practice your takeaway for two minutes.  After some repetition, the takeaways will become as ingrained as eating.

Personally, I’ve been inconsistent about swing speed training, so to make that habit easier, I stacked it on top of my existing habit of lifting weights.  Now, when I’m finished with my regular exercise, I jump right into swing speed training.

Reward Yourself Immediately

You will have a better chance of creating a habit if it’s associated with positive feelings, so give yourself a small reward.  After every time that you hit ten chips in your basement, put a quarter into a bucket marked, “New Driver Fund.”  When you’re done with your stretching routine, take a few minutes to watch Tiger highlights on YouTube.

Create Accountability

Accountability can be done solo or with friends.  If you’re going alone, create a practice log.  I discuss one type of practice log HERE, but you could opt for something more in-depth if you prefer.

If you have friends who are also trying to improve their habits, make an accountability bet.  Whoever falls off the practice wagon has to pay the green fees when you play next.  Whoever logs more hours in the gym gets a box of balls from the loser.  Keep it friendly, but make it something that will push you to stay on track.

Stick With It

The single most important thing in Atomic Habits is the graph above.  This shows clearly the thing that anyone who has gotten good at anything knows: it takes time.

You are not going to become a great putter after two sessions.  Your driver is not going to straighten itself out after one week on the range.  Six pack abs do not reveal themselves after three sets of sit-ups.

If you can stick it out and keep practicing, even though you aren’t seeing obvious results, you are setting yourself up for explosive improvement.  One day, you will be on the putting green, and you will see the results.  Others may think that you woke up a better putter, but you will know that it’s the payoff from days and weeks and months of positive habits.

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Matt Saternus

Co-Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is a golf instructor, club fitter, and writer living in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Matt's work has been published in Mulligan Magazine, Chicagoland Golf, South Florida Golf, and other golf media outlets. He's also been a featured speaker in the Online Golf Summit and is a member of Ultimate Golf Advantage's Faculty of Experts.

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