By Robert Bicknell

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March 5, 2006

Sleep on it...

I used to tell golf students not to panic if what I’m teaching them now doesn’t make perfect sense because they’ll have a better understanding of it in the morning after a good night’s sleep. Well, according to a new scientific study published in "Science" magazine, what I was saying is correct.

Golf students are under tremendous pressure during lessons for many reasons. They want to fix problems, but are afraid to screw up the good parts of their game in the process.

A bigger problem is "information overload" which, in golf, leads to a syndrome known as "paralysis by analysis". The player focuses on too many little things to the point that he cannot perform a simple motion smoothly.

The cure is simple…stop thinking about it.

There’s a story about Albert Einstein taking a golf lesson and getting so frustrated he picked up 20 golf balls, tossed them at the pro and yelled "Catch!". The pro replied that he couldn’t catch so many coming at him at one time. Einstein smiled and said, "Correct, same in my case. Please teach me one thing at a time."

If the smartest man on the planet can’t grasp all the intricacies of a golf lesson at one sitting, what chance do the rest of us have?

The human mind, while a remarkable instrument, does have flaws because a person can only process a limited amount of information at one time, which can cause people to focus on just a few factors and lose the bigger picture. Scientists say the unconscious is better at integrating large amounts of information.

Another flaw is what is referred to as a ''weighing problem." The conscious mind can weigh some factors too heavily, and discount others that are just as important even if not readily apparent.

For example, how many people do you know who take lessons on a golf holiday and come back thrilled with their "new swing" but lose it a few weeks later?

They probably made a conscious decision to focus on the parts they liked and discounted the rest in their rush to put the lessons into action on the course. They would’ve been better off digesting all the information overnight.

Of course, there’s always the danger of over-analyzing what the teacher is telling you, but after a good night’s sleep, there will be no reason to do so, unless you force yourself by making a billion little idiotic "swing-thought" notes the day before.

In a series of studies with shoppers and students, researchers found that people who face a decision with many considerations, such as what house to buy, often do not choose wisely if they spend a lot of time consciously weighing the pros and cons. Instead, the scientists conclude, the best strategy is to gather all of the relevant information -- such as the price, the number of bathrooms, the age of the roof -- and then put the decision out of mind for a while.

Then, when the time comes to decide, scientists tell you to go with what feels right. ''It is much better to follow your gut," said Ap Dijksterhuis, a professor of psychology at the University of Amsterdam, who led the research.

For relatively simple decisions, he said, it is better to use the rational approach. But the conscious mind can consider only a few facts at a time. And so with complex decisions, he said, the unconscious appears to do a better job of weighing the factors and arriving at a sound conclusion.

There is no doubt that golf swing mechanics fall into the "complex" decision category, whereas choosing what club to hit or what shot to play is in the simple category.

The unconscious mind has the power to process information and to mull through possibilities without the person being aware of it. If you don’t believe me, try sleeping on it.

I’m sure this column will make perfect sense in the morning.

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