Murphy Peak Performance is the natural culmination of my 30 years of training and experience as a clinical psychologist, educator and golfer. My study of athletic peak performance led me to train in the area of mental game coaching with Dr. Joseph Parent, founder of Zen Golf. Joe showed me how the practice of mindfulness, long an element in my life and work, facilitates peak performance in golfers. It can be said that the inverse is true as well, as Hall of Fame golf instructor and author Harvey Penick famously stated: “Playing golf you learn a form of meditation.”
So what exactly is Peak Performance? Peak performance is defined as the optimal or maximum execution of a physical skill or behavior that exceeds your expected level of achievement. It is very personal in nature in that it stands out in your memory and might even define your career as an athlete or performer. Achieving peak performance does not require that you win a competition or break a course record. Instead, it can be achieved when you simply execute one golf shot to your maximum ability. All of us can identify situations where we executed a skill or set of skills in such a way that lead us to feel a heightened sense of competence, accomplishment, and satisfaction.
Peak performance is the manifestation of an experience referred to as “flow.” This concept was introduced by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his 1990 book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. He explains that “flow” is a state of mind that where you are relaxed, confident, and completely immersed and focused on the task at hand, executing skills without conscious thought.
Here’s an example of Arnold Palmer describing a “flow” experience that led to peak performance: “on a day I will never forget, I chose just about all the right clubs, made nearly all the right swings, and made every putt I looked at — or so it seemed — when I shot a career-low 60 at Latrobe Country Club…I knew from the moment I teed off that I could be in for a special day.”
Performing to the limit of one’s capabilities is the goal of every athlete. As parents, coaches, and instructors, we are all in a position to help young athletes cultivate the psychological skills that are foundational to flow and peak performance.