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Using Attention to Speed Learning

The 23rd Secret

It has been found that to speed learning it is vital to practice and play with attention. Practice by itself is not enough. If a golf professional has two students of equal ability, the attentive one will develop into a better golfer.
Lackadaisical practice is very inefficient, and can be harmful. If you practice carelessly, an attitude of carelessness may be transferred to actual play. Then, too, unnecessary or incorrect movements may find their way into the swing and, almost without our being aware of it, we have added destructive variables.
You may ask, "But how do I become attentive? Can 1 make myself pay attention to what I'm doing even though my mind tends to wander?" You can in ways that make use of the principle of tension.
If you think for a moment, you will recall that the eyes of a person who is very anxious to learn—say a flier being briefed on the target of the day and knowing that his life may depend on how well he learns—are under strain; he leans forward in his chair; the muscles in his jaws and other parts of the body tighten. He is under both mental and physical tension. The right kind of tension produces concentration, just as concentration produces tension. A smile can produce better feelings merely by association.
Another method which inspires attention is to set up an artificial competitive situation. This competition can be against others or directed against yourself by making a game out of solitary play or practice. By such means, it is possible to develop the habit of carefulness so that you can go for years without hitting a careless shot.
An incidental but highly important result of setting up artiĀ¬ficial forms of competition is that it will tend to immunize you against pressure. At one time I coached a high school basketball team. I realized that many games were decided by slim margins—very often by the opposition's relative ability to make foul shots. I had my players practice such shots at great length and, as a result, we had a nice competitive advantage. However, when the game was very close, players who could shoot well in practice would fail miserably. I then changed the practice sessions so that each day the boys would compete by attempting to break their own record for successive shots. As they approached their previous records, tension was quite apparent and they were forced to learn how to handle it. In both basketball and golf situations where I created artificial tension, I found the best antidote was attention combined with a muscular relaxation that prevented the activation of muscles unnecessary to the stroke, an activation known to golfers as "tightening up." This matter of "taking off the pressure" is treated more fully in a later chapter.
One of the good results of being perennially careful is that eventually you can combine this with being relaxed. If you are always careful, the habit of carefulness becomes a part of you, requiring no effort when a crisis comes along. On the other hand, carelessness breeds carelessness.
As William James points out:"The drunken Rip Van Winkle", in Jefferson's play, excuses himself for every fresh dereliction by saying, 'I won't count this time!' Well! he may not count it, and a kind Heaven may not count it; but it is being counted none the less. Down among his nerve cells and fibres the molecules are counting it, registering and storing it up to be used against him when the next temptation comes."
So it is with the careless golf shot.

James, William: Psychology, page 150, World Publishing Company, Cleveland, Ohio.