How IMG Academy Alumna Flora Zhang Practices Positive Self-Talk

Flora Zhang, a junior golf star and Princeton student, uses positive self-talk to overcome challenges on and off the course.

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Junior golf star, 2023 IMG Academy salutatorian, and current Princeton student-athlete Flora Zhang has emerged as a standout talent in the world of sport. Zhang posted eight top 10 finishes over 18 World Amateur Golf Ranking-counted events between 2021 and 2023. She also graduated at the top of her high school class and was accepted by an Ivy League university. It would be fair to say that Zhang knows what it feels like to experience pressure. She also knows what it feels like to have an off day, setback, or disappointment. But Zhang relies on a powerful tool to help her navigate adversity and achieve success both on and off the golf course: positive self-talk. Read on to hear how she employs the tactic on the golf course and how you can use it too.

Flora Zhang’s Mental Sand Trap

A sand trap on the golf course is a hazard, an obstacle, and a challenge. A mental trap is the same thing, except that it’s in your mind. Both impact performance, and both are surmountable. For Zhang, her mental trap (like many of us) is talking negatively to herself. “There are times when I’m nervous about short putts, and that’s the time those negative thoughts come at me. Practicing the skill of positive self-talk has helped me perform under pressure and in difficult situations,” she says.

“In August 2020, I was able to capture my first AJGA Open win. On the last shot approaching a par-5 green, the ball was a little below my feet, which was something I’d been struggling with. Trying to get good contact with the ball from this position was a huge challenge for me, and in order to win this tournament, I had to nail this shot. I calmed myself down by focusing on the process of hitting the shot instead of the consequence of what might happen. At that moment, I told myself: ‘I know who I am. I know how hard I practice. Step up to it and execute the shot just like you would do on a practice day. You’ve got this,’” she says.

“We’re all pretty good at trying our best when everything’s going our way, but I think what separates the good from the great is when things aren’t perfect. That’s when your ability to focus and lock in plays a huge role. Golf is 60% physical performance and 40% mental. The tool of positive self-talk is how I push my limits on the tough days.”

5 Ways You Can Practice Positive Self-Talk

  1. Affirmations: Start your day with positive affirmations tailored to your goals. Research has shown that regularly repeating affirmations, such as “I am prepared for this,” can help boost self-esteem and foster a positive mindset.
  2. Visualization: Take a page from the playbook of elite athletes, such as tennis great Billie Jean King and Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, and visualize yourself achieving your goals. Imagining success in vivid detail can enhance confidence, motivation, and performance. Vonn reportedly uses her hands to simulate the path of her skis.
  3. Gratitude Practice: Cultivate gratitude by reflecting on the things you’re thankful for each day. Studies have demonstrated that practicing gratitude can improve overall well-being and resilience, making it easier to maintain a positive outlook.
  4. Challenge Negative Thoughts: Actively challenge negative self-talk by questioning its validity and replacing it with more positive and empowering statements. This cognitive restructuring technique can help break the cycle of negativity and build resilience.
  5. Celebrate Progress: Recognize and celebrate your achievements, no matter how small. Acknowledging your progress, perhaps even in a journal that you can look back on when you feel stagnant, reinforces a growth mindset and encourages continued effort toward your goals.
  6. Want to learn how to improve your ability to handle pressure, focus better, and become more resilient? Explore IMG Academy+ mental performance coaching.

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