Yesterday Darren Clarke won the Masters. Interestingly he worked with a psychologist who said he had taught him to putt ‘unconsciously’. Interestingly 20 years ago a study was published showing why this would have worked.
A psychologist called Prof Masters taught two groups of people how to putt. One group he gave a set of explicit rules to learn, and the other he told to just putt and also got them to generate random letters whilst learning.
He then tested both groups by making them putt under pressure, i.e. said they would get paid if they made the putt. The group that had explicitly learned performed poorly whereas the group who had to generate random letters while learning to putt did considerably better. Why was this? Masters thought that, as with many things, our implicit mind is better at learning these tasks than the explicit mind. As such teaching people explicitly will force people, in times of stress, to go back to what they are aware of and try and ‘over-ride’ their more effective implicit system. The group who had learned explicitly were prompted to ‘over think’ and try and adopt all they had been taught, hence their explicit learning actually led to worse performance. However the other group who generated random letters while learning to putt had nothing to go back and consciously recall how they learned and just letting their implicit minds do the work lead to a far better performance.
Clearly Darren Clarke’s psychologist taught him not to over-think and instead trust his implicit feelings, hence his implicit mind helped him win more than his explicit mind.