I think it would be fair to say that most of us seek out the comfort of familiarity; it seems part of our natural evolution. It makes sense that we need to habituate or make routines, at its core it is probably part of our survival mechanism. I remember reading something that suggested the only way we can become successful was take away some of the familiarity and comfort and test ourselves in new environments. To come out of habit is the only real way of challenging ourselves. But does this always apply to our golf.
When it comes to performing well on the course being comfortable and familiar with our environment can help us perform to our best levels. There is plenty of evidence around golf and sports of a similar nature that having a good routine is a great tool to help consistency. In other words it helps to bring us back to that familiar place we know we can hit our best shots. So having routines or habits in this way is both positive and should be an outcome we strive for.
If you are playing practice rounds on different courses for upcoming competitions or team matches one of your main aims is to become familiar with your surroundings so you feel comfortable when you are competing, once again an unconscious routine can be positive. However I think there is a point where familiarity and habit can be damaging to our golf. Not so long ago I was playing a few holes of golf with a mid-range handicap golfer. After hitting his tee shot on the first, a par 4, he said he always hits his next shot with a 7 iron and although he knew it wasn’t nearly enough club he felt comfortable with it. I think this is a good example of someone going into automatic mode around their own course. He will never have the chance of reaching the green unless he steps out of his comfort zone at some point, he may need to do it a few times before he gets success but it will never happen unless he moves away from this habit.
We also see how habits can impact on our practice time. The next time you pass the putting green have a look to see how many golfers prior to playing are practicing with 3 balls, it is a very common occurrence, and yet when we play the game we only use one ball. I’m not suggesting there isn’t a time and a place for practicing with more than one ball but prior to playing perhaps it’s worth creating the same process that’s going to happen on the course. There is of course an ideal balance of conscious and unconscious thinking. We certainly don’t want to be analysing everything from shot selection to swing technique but it may help occasionally to examine whether we are using the right thought process at the right time in our games.