Using Golf Swing Thoughts to Improve Trading

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Using Golf Swing Thoughts to Improve Trading

When I first started golfing about 20 years ago I had to make a lot of improvements if I wanted to become good. I read loads of books and then would go to the driving range.

At first I became even worse as I tried to think about the hundreds of things I was supposed to be doing during my golf swing to hit the ball properly. This was part of the learning process, but there was too much information to process when I was actually making the swing.

I eventually narrowed golf to one thing – “swing thoughts.” Swing thoughts are 1 or 2, and only 1 or 2 things, you think about just before or during swing. My swing thoughts change all the time, based on how I am hitting the ball, but they always come from a core group of about 6 or 7 ideas that keep me focused on a solid golf swing (at this point I understood the basics of a good golf swing, just like a trader who has put in the time to develop or learn a good strategy).

One day I might need to keep reminding myself about getting a full turn if I am bit stiff, and another day I may remind myself to keep my “levels” (not dropping and rising during the swing).

The swing thoughts keep me focused on what I need to do when I am struggling, for whatever reason, to do it.

It definitely helped my golf game only focusing on one or two things (preferably one) each time I take a swing. So as a logical extension it makes sense to have some “trading thoughts.”

Basically we each know we have certain tendencies that get us into trouble. In forex I have a tendency to overtrade. So while I am monitoring my forex charts looking for trades I only think about one thing “Stick to the plan!”

By continually bringing my attention back to that simple thought I am constantly reminded that I can only take trades that match my strategy criteria. Any trade I take that I don’t have a pre-established strategy for is just a random gamble and to be avoided.

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Don’t ask me why, but when I trade futures I have a tendency to be a bit more timid, not always taking the trades I should (the opposite tendency I have when I trade forex). Maybe it’s because I haven’t traded futures for as long, or as much, as I have traded forex; whatever the reason, having a trading thought helps me take the trades I am supposed to.

Since my approach to trading futures is slightly more subjective than my forex approach, I have a couple of thoughts, used at different times, which have various meanings attached to them.

Before a trade, or while I am waiting/watching, I only think about “Environment.” That word tells me to focus on the market environment, for example what is the trend direction? Big or little movement? Are my normal stops and targets adequate for the current volatility?

Basically this helps me determine in which direction I should trade, and whether it is high probability or not.

Once I have decided, if the environment is favorable for trading I think “Favorably Environment” which gives me the confidence to pull the trigger if a trade setup occurs.

If I determine the environment is unfavorable for trading my strategy, then I continually remind myself “Unfavorable Environment.” This keeps me out of trades I shouldn’t be in. It is a constant process of reassessing whether the environment is favorable or unfavorable, but it is always one or the other; I constantly remind myself which it is.

Similar to the forex example, this method keeps me on track and helps me stick to my strategy.

Final Word

Isolate some of your general problems in trading, and then try to come up with a very short and concise statement which helps you focus on what you need to do to overcome that problem. Use affirmative statements which tell you what to you do, as opposed to telling you what not do to. For example, “Stick to the plan!” is much more affirmative and will likely produce better results than “Don’t deviate from the plan!” The latter has a negative connotation.

Work on bringing that statement/thought to the forefront of your mind when the pressure gets cranked up. This will help push away all the other conflicting voices in your head telling you to make a trade you shouldn’t, or to not take a trade you should.

Swing Thoughts That Really Work

Old-school golf instruction is full of imagery that was originally created to help players make what were perceived as the the proper moves in the swing. In those days, many of the technical aspects of the golf swing weren’t completely understood, largely due to the lack of video technology that exists today. Instead, players mostly relied on feel, natural talent and repetition to hone their technique and overall game. Not surprisingly, the average scores of recreational golfers barely ever improved significantly, other than what was delivered by technological advances in equipment and golf course conditioning.

Today, good golf instruction should combine an understanding of the proper mechanics of the swing with an emphasis on creating an athletic, natural motion. To help accomplish this task, I’ve come up with some simple but effective thoughts that can help your swing become more natural, athletic and repetitive. Give them a try both during practice and when you’re on the course. After a while, whatever mechanical swing thoughts you might have developed over the years should be replaced with these simpler, more effective ones. Once your mind is free from distraction, you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to make good swings.

Old School
Grip Like You Are Holding A Bird
Like most golfers, I’ve never held a small bird in my hands, so this advice doesn’t do much for me. I prefer thinking of the tension you’d apply when throwing a ball—it’s more athletic, and makes more sense. Think about it—when you throw a ball, you hold it tightly enough so it doesn’t fly out of your hand when you cock your arm, but loosely enough to create speed.

Hold The Tray
The “waiter position” is one to forget—you don’t want your palm facing directly skyward at the top of the backswing. Instead, your palm should be on a 45-degree angle to the ground, which puts the clubface in a square position and maintains the width of the backswing for maximum swing arc.

To create a more athletic setup, imagine your shoulders, hips and knees in a level position with your weight spread between your feet evenly.
The importance of a solid setup position cannot be denied—if you start out poorly you’ll have little chance of making a solid swing. Some key thoughts for a good setup are “stay level” and “be athletic.”

Many golfers handicap themselves at the outset by making mistakes like kicking in the right knee, dropping the right shoulder or flaring only one of their feet. In the photo at right, notice how my shoulders remain nearly level, with the right only slightly lower than the left. My knees are bowed a bit outward and both feet are flared. This is a key for creating an athletic swing—one that’s rotational rather than a lateral, sliding motion that stresses the back and leads to an ineffective impact position. Equally important is the feeling of being “bouncy” in the legs, with flexed knees and relaxed muscles.

At The Top
The golf swing is an athletic motion that must be made with a dynamic base. Rigid legs can’t provide the same athletic platform as those that are flexed.

The obvious differences in the pictures to the left are powerful evidence of what can happen if the wrong swing thought occupies the mind during the backswing. At the left, I’ve lost all the angles I set at address and any chance to create a leveraged, dynamic attack into impact. Notice how much more athletic I look in the picture on the right. Both knees are flexed, my core has dropped slightly lower and my body is poised to spring into action. This position creates a direct route for my arms and club to the ball from the inside, encouraging a more rotational move with my body all the way to the finish. The thought of squatting is key for creating this type of move.

I encourage my students to feel athletic and balanced at the top of the swing. An important point to remember is that the backswing is designed to set up a powerful and consistent attack into impact. When you think of squatting (butt toward the ground), allow your knees to pivot with your hips as you rotate your way to the top.

A telltale sign of a strong, squatted pivot away from the ball is the backside being close to the ground and pointing at the target (see photo at right). When tension (stiff legs, rigid muscles are evidence) is present, the body becomes weak, powerless and off-balance. Once the thoughts turn to squatting correctly in the backswing, the entire swing becomes significantly more powerful because you’re able to use the ground to push against for maximum leverage. Remember, the top of the swing should feel “heavy and ready,” not “light and tight.”

A proper transition occurs when the body drags the hands and club into the downswing. Casting and a loss of power occur when the club moves first.

In a body-driven downswing, the club drops to the inside and is powered by the turning of the body and soft, relaxed arms that lack tension.

The key thought for a good transition is “body leading arms,” and not vice versa. A common misconception is that the club should stay in front of the body during the swing. While this is true on the backswing, it’s totally incorrect on the way down. In the photo at left, the body is getting ahead of the arms and club on the downswing by moving first—it’s the engine that’s driving the entire move. This drops the arms, hands and club down without losing any angle between the clubshaft and left arm. If the sequence is incorrect and the club moves first, the body is taken out of its leadership role and the club is cast or thrown from the top.

This leads to a huge loss in power and control over the club’s path into impact. Remember, you want the club to be trailing the body up to and past impact. Leave it back in the transition and you’ll keep the proper sequence solidly intact. From this angle you can clearly see how the arms and club are left back in a somewhat passive manner as the pivot of the body forces them down from the top of the swing. The thought should be “turn and drag,” not “hit.” Notice how my body remains ahead of the arms and club late into the downswing. It’s unnecessary to help the club catch up with my wrists and hands, as that would only create scooping and flipping through impact. Instead, the rotation of my hips pulls the left leg straight, creating a “post” to hit against. Once the arms, hands and club can’t be dragged any farther, they will release through impact naturally and explosively, as none of the stored energy on the downswing was wasted by “hitting at” the ball.

Old School
Swing A Rubber Hose
This is a good thought for the start of the downswing because a steady acceleration of the club on the downswing produces a more consistent swing path and facilitates solid impact.

In contrast, grabbing or snatching the club from the top in an attempt to “hit at” the ball almost always leads to inconsistent ballstriking. Remember to “drag” the club from the top, and your tempo will improve as well.

The thought at impact should be to squeeze the ball on the clubface as long as possible. This is how good players create compression and power. The relationship between the hands, wrists and club should remain structured and constant through impact—drag the club, don’t flip at the ball.

Without a doubt, the worst swing thought recreational golfers have is to “hit at” the ball. The desire to “hit at” initiates the use of the hands during the downswing, breaking down the proper sequence of “body first, club and arms second.”

In fact, “hitting at” the ball effectively changes the focus from swinging through impact and into the finish to stopping or quitting at the ball. What many recreational players don’t realize is that accomplished players don’t think of the ball as the target, but often try to swing through a spot located several inches past the ball. With this as the goal, they actually get the feeling of the club speeding up through impact (though this isn’t really possible), instead of before impact. A great way to eliminate “hitting at” the ball is to focus on dragging your arms, hands and the club past the point of impact with the rotation of the body, all the way into the finish.

When it comes down to it, solid impact and quality ballstriking is what every golfer really wants. Crisp contact that compresses the golf ball on the face of the club leads to both power and accuracy, plus, this type of impact is what creates the great “whoosh” sound that everyone likes to hear as the ball shoots off the clubface. While it might sound strange, a good thought for creating solid contact is “squeeze the ball on the clubface for as long as possible.” This will give you the feeling of working the entire club, not just the clubhead, through impact and into the finish. If you struggle with flippy impact and glancing blows that produce little power, this is the right thought for you.

Simply put, thoughts like “through, not to, impact” can take your game to another level. Remember that you’re looking for a steady acceleration that keeps the ball compressed against the clubface as it’s propelled to the finish. Any attempt to overaccelerate or whip the club into the ball will produce a glancing blow. Conversely, steering or quitting through impact will never keep the ball against the clubface very long. To help facilitate this “squeezed” impact, your body must drive your arms, hands and club through the ball. When done correctly, the relationship between your torso and the club should remain constant, as should the structure of your arms and wrists. If you manage to keep these relationships solid throughout the swing, you won’t be able to flip the club. Instead, you’ll discover what quality ballstriking is all about, and your full shots and scores will improve dramatically.

Old School
Heave A Bucket Of Water
This is definitely a great thought for promoting a solid pivot. In order to heave a bucket of water past your body, you must first get the bucket behind your body (not above your head), which in turn promotes a more inside-out attack on the forwardswing. In addition, the imagery of heaving a bucket of water should help trigger your lead leg to post or straighten as the hips rotate, a critical and often improperly executed element of a powerful golf swing.

Skip A Stone
The sidearm feeling of skipping a stone is a good thought for the start of the downswing, but a bad one through impact. It’s true that this image can help get the right shoulder to drop down on plane while the lower body rotates out of the way, both of which are desirable movements in the golf swing. However, the sidearm delivery associated with skipping a stone can also keep the right side down too long after impact, inhibiting the release and overstressing the spine.

Take a close look at the two photos below. If the photo on the right looks like your finish, you don’t have the right sensation of a proper finish, and I’ll bet you’re probably not hitting the ball as well as you’d like. The reason the position on the bottom right looks so hung back and incomplete is that the body quit working the club too early in the downswing. Notice how far back my right shoulder is and how my left hip is closer to the target than my right. These are symptoms of a lateral, sliding type of swing that will produce nothing but glancing blows and generally poor impact.

In the photo on the bottom left, I’m comfortably balanced, with my hips fully rotated and my right shoulder much closer to the target than my left. This position indicates that I’ve worked all the way through impact and continued to power my swing into the finish. Golfers who swing the club “through” the ball generally have this type of complete finish position. In contrast, players who “hit at” the ball very often resemble the photo on the bottom right because they basically stop the swing at the point of impact.

To develop a solid, balanced finish position (it isn’t just for looks—the finish is often a reflection of the entire swing), your thought should be “get the right shoulder to the target.” This image will force you to keep working past the ball and will change your ultimate destination from the point of impact to well beyond it. This is how the pros do it; you should too.

The Best Swing Thoughts For Golf

The subject of what to focus on during your swing, or the best swing thoughts for golf is one which sparks some debate. Some sports psychologists will tell you that you can’t play your best while thinking about your swing and there are many coaches who recommend having technical swing thoughts. So what’s right?

Research shows that there’s no right or wrong answer. The best swing thoughts for golf have a lot to do with the learning style of the individual and where they are with their game. It’s true that most Tour players don’t have any technical swing thoughts during their swing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it should be the same for the weekend player.

Generally speaking, swing thoughts can help you:

  • Keep you focused on something productive during your swing instead of what you don’t want to happen
  • Keep your conscious mind occupied with something simple so that your athletic mind can swing the club
  • Help you maintain a good tempo

However, if a player starts to get overly technical and switch between swing thoughts throughout a round, it usually hinders performance.

In this article, I’d like to help you find out what the best swing thoughts for golf are for you, to give you the best opportunity to score well.

The Best Swing Thoughts For Golf:

The trick to finding effective swing thoughts is through self-discovery about how you best learn and communicate, and experimentation with different of types swing thoughts.

What Is Your Learning Style?

Your learning style is an important factor in your mental approach to golf. Knowing whether you are a visual, auditory, kinesthetic or verbal learner could make a difference in how you make swing changes and what swing thoughts will work best during your rounds.

A study by Dr. Noel Rousseau showed that someone more “left brained” (logical, analytical and verbal) can get better results when they have some sort verbal instruction or cues during the swing (some individuals are capable of a higher “cognitive load” and multiple swing thoughts). Bryson DeChambeau would be a good example of this. On the other hand, those who are more “right brained” (visual, artistic and non-verbal), typically swing better when there is less cognitive load or very little conscious awareness of their movement during the swing. Knowing this about yourself is a good place to start.

Where Are You In The Development Of Your game?

It’s one thing for a Tour player not to have any swing thoughts (even though many still do) as their swings are highly evolved. You don’t reach Tour player level without first having a highly efficient golf swing that is pretty much automatic. So it’s one thing for a Tour player to say that they “don’t think about anything” during their swing, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to work for you. If you’re undergoing swing changes, you might want to focus on a simple swing thought that is helping you correct an inefficiency in your swing. Overtime, and with practice, the more automated it will become and the less you’ll need the self-guidance.

Technical Cues

Technical cues are unique to the individual but should be kept as simple as possible, They are typically things that you are working on in your swing or tendencies you know you have when playing under pressure. Simplicity is key here – you don’t want to overload your “working memory” and interfere with the movement centers of your brain.

Examples are:

“controlled high finish”

“full shoulder turn”

“keep your height”

“swing to the target”

“get onto your left side”

“Low tension on the downswing”

Know Your Tendencies Under Pressure

Another good way to identify the best swing thoughts for golf (for you) is to know your tendencies under pressure. When you’re not playing well or feeling nervous, are you aware of what changes in your swing? Do you get quick and tense? Do you start to move from one swing thought to the next? Do you come out of your posture too early while putting? Whatever it might be, focusing on swing thoughts that ensure you avoid those tendencies can help you when you are feeling under pressure.

Auditory Swing Thoughts

When we feel pressure on the golf course or when we’re playing badly, one of the first things to be affected is tempo. Tempo is important as it controls the timing and sequencing of the several moving parts of the golf swing. When your timing is off, so will the direction of the club-face be at impact. Although tempo swing thoughts can benefit all players, because it’s about sound, it could be more effective for players who are more auditory or musical.

Examples of tempo swing thoughts are words or songs/music/beats that help you swing at your optimal tempo. John Novosel’s Tour Tempo app has been successful in helping many of my students maintain a good tempo on the golf course. Tempo swing thoughts can also help take any focus away from anything mechanical and keep the swing nice and fluid.

External vs Internal Focus

The concept of External and Internal Focus was coined by Dr. Gabrielle Wulf, a Professor of Motor Learning at the University of Nevada. She conducted research and experiments over many years which looked at the effect of where an athlete put their focus during movement.

External focus is when you keep your focus on what the effect of the movement will be, rather than the movement itself. For example when you throw a basketball you are probably just looking at the basket and throwing the ball. That is external focus. If I was to say to you to be aware of the angle of your wrists and how far your arms go back to throw the ball, that would be internal focus.

Dr. Wulf’s studies concluded that the performance of players was improved when golfers (all various ability levels) focused more on the effect of the swing and their movement, rather than the position of body parts, which creates tension and inhibits fluidity.

If you want to find out more about Dr. Wulf’s study of attentional focus on motor learning, check it out here.

Examples of External Swing Thoughts

  • Focusing on your connection with the ground
  • Noticing the pressure in your feet, your balance
  • Anticipating the feel of the strike at impact
  • Swinging out to the right

Don’t Get Overly Technical During Practice

Most golfers only practice with technical swing thoughts and then expect to go to the golf course and do something different. It’s important we don’t neglect developing our “playing skills” and treat the driving range more like the course, instead of a place where we only think about improving technique. Another trap that many golfers fall into is getting too technical when they start to play badly. Even some Tour players can start to look for technical fixes when they start missing their targets and start focusing more and more on body positions during the swing, instead of trusting themselves to hit the shots. They might start with a simple swing thought, and then as the round goes on that swing thought can change from shot to shot as the player becomes more and more internally focused and loses trust in their swing. It’s fine to make adjustments, but focus on them during your rehearsal swings, then go back to your original swing thought during the shot itself.

Whatever Your Swing Thought, Make It Flow

Whatever swing thought you choose, it’s important that your engagement with the target and the intention for the shot isn’t compromised. If you find yourself standing over the ball thinking about what you’re going to do with your swing, you’re losing connection with the intention for the shot and you are less athletic.


The studies show that the best swing thoughts for golf are those that divert attention away from the positions of the body, but the player needs to experiment to discover what works for them. It’s important not to go by what other players are doing as what works for one player, might not work for you, which is the same for any of the mental skills for golf.

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