Reflections on “Training the Mind.”

golfer teeing off

Back in January, I wrote a post about training the mind, and used the example of my putting routine in golf to demonstrate one area in which I was working on doing so.  I said that I would report back in October to how the golf season went, so that is what I am doing here.  What follows is not so much a commentary on my golf game, but a few reflections on routines and plans in general.

Mike Tyson supposedly said that everyone has a plan until they are punched in the face.  As I wrote back in January, I had a putting routine plan that I was going to focus on this year.  By mid-April, however, that plan began to evolve because I had been punched in the face!

What’s interesting isn’t how it evolved, but that it evolved in the first place.  This should be obvious to me by now.  After all, every post that I write evolves from the first draft to the second.  That’s how the creative process works.  What’s interesting is that I still have this expectation that I can plan something, like a routine, and stick to it throughout the project or task.  This never happens in reality; thus, I need to start planning for more contingencies at the outset of projects.  As I have been reminded this year, very few things in life are linear. ERP systems, new projects, even my golf short-game, have twists and turns that cannot be predicted in advance.  Therefore, any plan has to have room, even freedom, for flexibility and adaptability.  The benefit in understanding this reality is that I don’t freak out when I need to change, or slightly alter, the plan.  I just simply remind myself that this is part of the planning process!

As a quick aside, Daniel Coyle details some great examples of contingency planning in his must-read book, The Culture Code.  My personal favorite, and one that I have briefly mentioned on this blog, is that of the raid of Osama Bin Laden’s compound.  It succeeded because the leader anticipated things going wrong.  We all could learn something from such anticipation.

Next, and back to golf, having a concrete goal (improving putting) was detrimental to my short-term progress, but helpful to the long-term process.  That probably does not make sense, so let me explain.  In the short-term (early in the season) I was laser focused on my putting.  As most golfers can probably relate to, the laser focus led to me “pressing” and trying to make putts.  This was a disaster and led to many “3 putts,” which is something that repulses me.  I lectured myself, literally, that I need to relax, and some time in May or June, I changed my putting grip, which also helped me finally relax.

Simplifying my approach and has helped me have a very good putting season – it has also led me to simplifying other parts of my “short-game” that also need improvement for me to reach my golf goals.  What I learned here is that too much focus is not healthy.  This lesson, like the one above, applies directly to leadership at the office as well.  For the leader needs to have the wisdom to determine how much focus to put on a situation.  Read any book about performance (I mentioned The Inner Game of Tennis in my January post) and you will discover that performance requires freedom.  This applies to individual performance, and team performance.  In both circumstances, we have to stop thinking at some point, and let our natural abilities take control.  Admittedly, this is counterintuitive to every fiber in our being –and another reason why golf is a good primer for leadership.

(I feel like a disclaimer is needed here.  I write often about the need for reflection and planning.  Both are still vitally important.  The point is that at some point the game begins, and the planning must end prior to teeing up the first shot).

This year’s golf season could tempt me to keep sharing lessons I have learned.  For example, caring about what others think of my game, talking to myself in positive phrases rather than telling myself what not to do, and humbling myself by going to the doctor when my shoulder is hurt (rather than playing through it for two months), but I’ll stop here for now.

One last question to ponder before I end.  What lessons are you learning from your hobbies?  As hopefully I have demonstrated above, whatever you are doing can be filled with applicable lessons that help you in improve in your life and career.

Golf continues to drive me crazy, but the lessons make me better.

At least that’s what I have to make Sarah –and often myself –believe.