The Power of Reference Points


The mental game, the mental game, the mental game. There is so much written about it yet there is so much confusion about it as well.
There are as many opinions as there are strategies and tips. As I present workshops or work with clients from any field whether it be sports or business, I notice an ongoing uncertainty when it comes to this thing we call a mental game. If youve read any of my earlier articles you may recall that I view the mental game as something that is not separate from performance. In fact, I view it as being 100% influential on all performances all the time.
One of the main frustrations people say to me is, I read books and listen to lectures and I always hear pretty much the same thing. I hear how important it is to be positive, stay focused, handle pressure better, etc. I always hear what Im supposed to do but they rarely tell me how to actually DO it!
My clients and presentation participants echo this sentiment quite often.
First of all, in 20 years as a Performance Coach I have NOT once told a client to be more positive. While this may sound surprising I dont say it for two reasons:
  1. Everyone I know already knows being positive is better than being negative

  2. If they could be more positive; theyd already be doing it!
This is another example of what I call; a surface tip that does not get to the root cause solution. Its a band-aid answer. If I suggested to be more positive tomorrow when you play you might think okIll do that! Now, what happens when you go out there; try to be more positive but wind up with old negative patterns kicking in? (which they will!!) What happens is; you wind up having an inner battle with yourself trying really hard to stay positive. When it doesnt work do you feel better or worse? The answer usually is the client feels worse. Why would I ever want to set up a client to go through that?
Vague Performance Traits
When you really look at them, the main performance traits you read about in every book on peak performance are very vague. Confidence, relaxation, present time focus, enjoyment, etc. So many people become frustrated with this mental game stuff because what we most commonly see are these traits written about over and over again. The real problem, as I see it, is that these traits are so vague, the mind doesnt really know what to do with them. We know that being confident is better than NOT being confident. We know that being relaxed is better than NOT being relaxed but those words have little impact on the mind in terms of doing something constructive with them.
Reference Points
Rather than remain confused and frustrated Ive found it to be very effective to give the mind what I call Reference Points. When the mind has a reference point it can more easily use that information and translate it to the body. How many times have you tried to say to yourself, Cmon, be more focused or I need to be more confident over this shot.? Of course, reminding ourselves is better than doing nothing but what kind of effect does this usually have?
Ive had countless clients report to me that they remind themselves of these things because they dont know what else to do. Its not usually all that effective but its better than doing nothing. What is being more confident like? What does it mean? What does relax more mean? Because the mind has no real reference point this command to relax, be positive, be confident, etc. doesnt get processed very well and the result is more confusion and frustration.
Confusion and frustration in relation to the mental game are the two most common things I hear. Think about it; why wouldnt it be confusing when we keep hearing vague words and descriptions? Its not that these traits are wrong, of course theyre not. When you focus better, are more relaxed, enjoy yourself more and are more confident you will perform better! The problem is these words create a real vague message to the mind. This is what causes the frustration. As an athlete, you know these are right. The confusion comes when you try to make them happen. Because they are vague; the message to the mind is vague and because the mind/body/performance connection is so real and interrelated; the communication between them is also vague. This leads to the confusion.
You can end the confusion by learning to adopt Reference Points.
Here is a simple way to get started. This example relates to swing rhythm.
  • At the driving range identify your best and most normal swing rhythm. Hit several balls until you feel like youve got it.This is the rhythm that works best for younot too fast, not too slow.

  • Once you identify that swing designate it with the number 5

  • Now swing a little faster and designate that with the number 7

  • Now swing a little slower and designate that with the number 3
You now have three distinctly different swing rhythms designated 3, 5 and 7.
  • Hit 5 balls with your #5 swing rhythm

  • Hit 5 balls with your #7 swing rhythm

  • Hit 5 balls with your #3 swing rhythm
Notice the difference between them and how they may throw you off balance, mess up your timing, etc.
Now, the real benefit is this. Youve now provided your mind with a reference point for 3 different swing rhythms. When your swing speeds up or slows down on the golf course you can get back to your best rhythm by saying to yourself swing #5. Your mind has a reference to #5 and knows what that is. So does your body! You will naturally return to it.
Practice hitting balls with the 3, 5, 7 swing rhythm to reinforce the mind / body / performance connection. The more you do it, the stronger the reference point.
The FlowZone program utilizes this concept to provide reference points for any of the key performance traits. This removes confusion and frustration!
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    Copyright 2005 David Breslow. David is the author of Wired To Win and offers the highly acclaimed FlowZone programs for athletes of all levels and business professionals. His unique approach is designed to affect real change from a root cause perspective helping people break ineffective patterns. David has appeared on The Golf Channel, ESPN radio, etc. For more programs/services/products or sign up for a free newsletter (write newsletter in subject box). Contact: David Breslow 847.681.1698 Email: or visit the web: For book orders call toll free: 1.888.280.7715.