Many times when people are not playing well, they begin to stress over it, and in some cases, in an effort to fix the problem, they resort to practicing on the course. In some cases, the swing is only slightly off, maybe slight pull to the left or a gentle fade to the right, but they decide to try and fix the swing while they are playing the round. In other cases it can be a gigantic swing flaw, such as a severe slice or duck hook.
If it is just a minor problem the best advice is to play the swing you brought to the course. Make minor adjustments to compensate for the direction you are hitting the ball that day. If there are gigantic swing flaws, maybe it’s time to put the big sticks back into the bag and play with shorter irons or resort to whatever club you are hitting well. I’ve played an entire Par-5 whole just with my 7-iron because it was the only club I was hitting well that day (and I think it was a bet too, but whatever, you get the point)
While we are talking about golf the same can be said for many areas of performance in business and in life.
Sometimes you’re just not at your “A” game. So, play the swing you brought to the course that day, and play within those abilities. In fact, sometimes you will find that while you are playing within your abilities that day, your abilities will actually begin to expand, that day.
Practicing your skills is a huge component of getting into your flow state. Too often people read a golf book about how to play in the right mental state when their money would’ve been better invested on the range with a golf pro making sure they have a somewhat repeatable swing.
One purpose of practice is to develop a movement and pattern that repeats itself, simply by triggering the motion (Cohn 36). Make sure that whatever you’re doing, you separate whether you’re in practice mode or you’re actually playing. Whether you’re trying to land a new client or trying to make that first date impression, that moment is not the time to try out the new, unpracticed, technique or line (sidebar: if it’s a line, ask some of your friends what they think – particularly friends who are aligned with your sexual preference – many times a good, close lady friend would tell me exactly the outcome a certain approach, look or line would have, which allowed me to readjust before trying it out in real life).
Now that you have the fundamentals of the skills down, let’s look at the things that interfere with the flow state and your ability to perform at a peak state.
- The paradox of control. The way to screw up a golf swing is to try and consciously control the path of the swing, which is the opposite of trust (Cohn 42). I see this in industry a lot. I have seen and worked with people who try so hard to control every possible variable, right down to the audiences reaction, or their clients reaction, or any random third-party who they have no control over whatsoever, that they manage to sabotage their own performance.
- Fear. Fear of being embarrassed, fear of losing a tournament, missing a putt, making a bad shot (Cohn 43). This is a common thread throughout most brain science literature. The more you fear something the more your worst fears will come true. It is a paradox that you must let go of your fear in order to avoid the outcome that you fear. Whenever I am about to do something a little outside the box and I find myself second-guessing, I then shift focus and make a rational decision to see if there is some valid reason I should not do the thing – after a quick evaluation of possible outcomes if the only answer to why I should not do something is out of fear then I do it. Sometimes however, my brain does identify a very real threat. It is this moment of pause and the ability to step outside myself and determine what is actually going on, that helps me make a good decision.
- Doubt and Indecision. The opposite of doubt and indecision is self-confidence (Cohn 43). Trust the swing you brought to the course that day. Trust that you can handle any situation you encounter. I often like to say to myself that I have the ability to handle any situation or to admit that something is beyond my control or beyond my ability and ask for help. While that may sound a little like doubt and indecision or a lack of self-confidence, it refers to what we talked about previously about playing within your limitations.
- Anxiety or worry. This usually leads to excessive physical tension (Cohn 43) which hurts both your performance on the course and in life. Plus, anxiety and worry often then call their best friend, fear, to make it a trifecta of performance killers.
- Trying too hard. Trying to hard can also cause the feared outcome to happen (Cohn 44). Trying to hard increases your need to control the swing or the situation consciously, which is the opposite of trusting your self.
What I do for a living puts me in front of thousands of people a year doing training, teaching and speaking, and millions when I get on TV, many times defending something that I have written or my opinion on some situation. With the Internet, feedback can be both anonymous and brutal. When I am training or teaching, many times I am using material that I have written. Every day I am in front of a live audience (as opposed to my unremarkable speaking engagements at the cemetery – well, that’s the only “not” live audiences I guess) I feel like I am undergoing a peer review of my written works. This can cause a tremendous amount of stress because it’s like a never-ending defense of a doctoral thesis.
However, I must understand that I cannot control the outcome of the class or the audience. There are too many variables. What I can do is concentrate on each small segement of teaching, training or speaking. I can focus on the “shot,” that’s in front of me. The biggest error made by amateur golfers is that they don’t focus in the present on the immediate shot (Cohn 59). Like golf, I use a preshot routine to activate my “go” moment. For me it’s a slight forward press on my wrist before taking a golf shot and when I’m in front of people I usually use a “Alright, let’s fire it up,” or similar kick-start statement. This puts me into THAT moment – the outcome at the end will depend on my ability to make each moment count.
Focus on what you want to happen, not what you fear may happen (Cohn 62). Direct your attention to what you can control (Cohn 63). If I have a bad shot, or experience a flat moment in training, teaching or speaking, I don’t dwell on it – don’t concern yourself with bad breaks or what everyone else is doing (Cohn 64). In fact, that last bit of advice works particularly well if you’re in a job interview. You can’t control what everyone else brings to the table, only what you bring to the table – play the swing you came to the course with, that day, stay focused on the moment, and the outcome takes care of itself.
Cohn, Patrick. The Mental Game of Golf: A Guide to Peak Performance. Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing, 1994. Print.