Training the Mind

young people on park bench looking at river

I want to become a better putter when I play golf. I have a 6.5 handicap, and my putting is what holds me back from going lower. While my life won’t necessarily be any better when I achieve a scratch handicap, what motivates me about this goal is overcoming the resistance to it.

As most golfers can attest, putting is largely mental. In other words, the more active your mind becomes, the less likely the ball will go into the hole. And if those thoughts have even the hint of doubt in them, you have no chance.

Overcoming this matters because this kind of resistance creeps into other areas of life. The mind works this way. The golf round may end, but does the mind quit thinking negatively when you leave the course? Most likely, the humbling answer is no. Otherwise, all the positive self-energy that one brought to the course would have more of an impact on the course than it actually does.

Here is where my editor will probably remind me that golf is just a game (and you are right, Sarah), but the reason I get so frustrated is because the game has implications to life.

So how do you overcome this? Much has been written by people way more accomplished than me on the topics of concentration, mental attitudes, etc. (note: One of my favorites is “The Inner Game of Tennis.” So I can hardly add anything to what’s already been written or said. Instead, I am going to share how I am training my mind for the upcoming golf season in hopes that it will not only improve my game, but also my thinking outside the game (I’ll report back in October as to how the season went).

Stating the obvious, in order to get better at something, one needs to practice. Not just any practice will do, either; it needs to be “deliberate.” (One last note: “deliberate practice” is another topic that has been largely written about the last few years.  Angela Duckworth’s “Grit” is my favorite). So in terms of my putting practice, I am honing in on a simple 3-step process that I am going to utilize all of 2018 (I apologize for the golf-nerdiness that follows).

The Routine:

  1. I am gong to line putts up BEFORE taking my stance.
  2. I am going to maintain a grip pressure light enough that one could pull the club out of my hands
  3. I am going to slightly press the handle forward – just past my zipper – before beginning the stroke.
  4. I am repeating this over and over (and over and over) in my home office this winter.

The routine, however, is only the start:

The eyes have to focus on the ball. I like focusing on ONE of the 328 dimples on the ProV1 golf ball I am using. Without focusing on the TARGET, the mind is left to wonder about the RESULT. And as I mentioned above, this is the sure way to MISS.**

The point of all this is not golf.

The point is that we – you and I – need to train our mind if we are going to achieve anything difficult.

And most things worth doing are difficult.

**My editor asked me the following question when editing this post: {**IN TERMS OF TRAINING THE MIND, WHAT DO YOU THINK OR TELL YOURSELF AT THIS POINT?**}  This is a great question.  The goal, and I should have made this a little clearer above, is to think of nothing.  In other words, you want to create a routine that FREES your body to perform the task at hand, rather than thinking more.

The implications to leadership are twofold.  First, we need to –at some point –stop analyzing data and act.  This often means getting “outside of our head” and doing something that feels uncomfortable in the moment.  Secondly, we need to allow our team the freedom to do the same, without obsessing over potential outcomes (i.e. focusing on the result or the “what ifs”).

PGA golfer, Ben Crane, talked a little about quieting his mind in an interview on Donald Miller’s podcast a few years ago.  You can find the link here.