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Sunday, August 29, 2010

How Long Does a Swing Change Take?

To listen to some of the TV commentators, you would think Tiger is light-years from playing well... if he ever does play well again. Yes, on Saturday Tiger was still struggling some with his swing.

Really. Imagine that. Did anybody really think nearly a year of problems would go away just like that and never return? At least he's making progress.

But it got me thinking... just how long does it take to make any kind of lasting change? I told Dexter I thought it would take him a month to get fairly comfortable with his new takeaway, and Dex said he heard Tiger say (I heard it too) that his past swing rebuilds took between 18 and 24 months to "take." Is there any real guideline to tell us how long change takes?

Well, yes and no. I did some searching and here's what I came up with: Change takes longer for some people than others. The difficulty of the change matters also. Here's what some of the experts say:

One article in the Washington Business Journal from 2006 called Too busy? Trick is habit (re)forming said that experts put the time at 21 days and that the key was how you went about creating the new habit.

An early 2009 post at PsychCentral called How Long Does Change Take? At Least 6 Months said a new study put the time at -- you guessed it -- 6 months.

And a late 2009 blog post at the Psychology Today Magazine's website called Stop Expecting to Change Your Habit in 21 Days referred to a study which had concluded that the average time was actually 66 days. This post led me to two other blog posts at PsyBlog and, both with more details on the study (and they're short posts, so reading them is worth your time). One thought from the PsyBlog post really stood out here:
"Although the average was 66 days, there was marked variation in how long habits took to form, anywhere from 18 days up to 254 days in the habits examined in this study. As you'd imagine, drinking a daily glass of water became automatic very quickly but doing 50 sit-ups before breakfast required more dedication..."
Now that just makes sense, doesn't it? Complex or just difficult changes took longer than simple or easy changes. For example, it shouldn't take Dexter nearly as long to make a single takeaway change as it takes Tiger to rebuild his entire golf swing.

A second thought that's important comes from the Guardian's post. It concerns why we have trouble making changes in the first place:
"The way round this, says Newby-Clark and others, is to see that habits are responses to needs. This sounds obvious, but countless efforts at habit change ignore its implications. If you eat badly, you might resolve to start eating well, but if you're eating burgers and ice-cream to feel comforted, relaxed and happy, trying to replace them with broccoli and carrot juice is like dealing with a leaky bathroom tap by repainting the kitchen. What's required isn't a better diet, but an alternative way to feel comforted and relaxed."
I actually said this somewhat more simply in the post series I did for Dexter -- namely, we have trouble making changes because we attack the symptoms rather than the problems. The more complex the problem, the more likely it is that we aren't attacking the problem's source... and that makes it harder to make a lasting change.

Again, I'd recommend you read those short posts at PsyBlog and -- not just for swing changes, but to help you make any kind of change in your life. It might save you some frustration.

So I guess Dexter's swing change is more likely to take 66 days than 30. Sorry if I misled you there, Dex.

Still, 2 months ain't bad... ;-)


  1. As I was practicing yesterday, I was beginning to think that it was going to take a little longer than a month. That's okay though. Like I said I like to practice.

    The reason I began to think this way is because it is going to take at least month to get rid of all the other garbage that is in my head. I like to watch a lot of Golf Channel and read read the golf magazines and all the different tips "somehow" seep into my subconscious.

    I think I should go cold turkey. No reading or watching any tips for a month accept what I have learned from you. That may be the only way to get the habit ingrained into my swing. But that would be crazy talk.

  2. It took Tiger Woods almost 2 years to get his swing changes down in '98 and '99...but once they clicked.....that 2000 season will be remembered for a long time.

  3. Dex, I came across a quote that may help you:

    The secret of discipline is motivation.
    When a man is sufficiently motivated,
    discipline will take care of itself.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~ Sir Alexander Paterson

    Just decide that you are going to work on only one swing change. Write that swing change down on an index card and carry it around with you if you need to. Hang a sticky note of it on your mirror. It's just a matter of focus. If you're convinced that this change is worthwhile, I think you'll find a way to stick with it.

  4. Great quote Mike. I had to put it on my "quotes" blog. I will remember it as I practice. About to head out now as a matter of fact.

    My motivation is breaking 80 and getting to a 12 handicap by the end of the year. That definitely gets me to the practice course.

    1. “Ben Hogan was absolutely clear in his expression of the primary concept and it needs no reinterpretation or additional understanding. It is utterly impossible for any golfer to play well with a swing that will not repeat. For those of us wired up with short attention spans, or the necessity for consistent tweaking our technique, or a creative temperament that compels us continually to make modifications, this idea must be viewed as “the first and greatest commandment.” We need to build a swing and then play and stay with it -- using it to learn how to score in the game of golf.
      These are the fundamentals on which Ben built his lessons. ”

      Excerpt From: Mike Stair. “Ben Hogan's Five Lessons.” iBooks.

    2. Mike, I agree in principle -- I've played with the same basic swing for the last 25 years or so, and I always recommend that players stay with the same basic swing that has worked for them in the past (that's a side-effect of having a filter) -- but it's a fact that, no matter how old we are and how much we have learned, we do learn to use and be effective with new moves in all areas of life.

      While massive overhauls are not something I would recommend except in drastic cases -- bear in mind that the swing Hogan became famous with was a rebuilt swing that was drastically different from the original swing he came to the Tour with -- our bodies do change as we get older and we have to allow for that. A swing that doesn't evolve with our changing bodies will eventually cease to be effective.