Do you sell yourself short? Investing in your own experience provides great ROI

As Oscar Wilde said: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

As a golf coach, I usually start a session with: “What do you want from our time together?”

If it’s a first-time golf client, the person will often say something along the lines of, ‘I want you to look at my swing and tell me what I’m doing wrong and how to fix it.’

I also do a lot of mental game and life coaching. Years ago, a new client was torn between staying with his wife or going with a woman with whom he was having an affair. After a few sessions, I asked which way he was leaning.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I was hoping you’d tell me.”

Nope.

It’s the way most of us roll: we want information that we can apply in hopes we play better golf or feel better or both. And we usually want someone to tell us what to do.

But as a coach, I believe my primary role is to empower you to coach yourself. Everyone has gold within them. A coach’s job is to draw it out.

But our culture constantly feeds us persuasive messages that we are not enough. We need more and better information, we need to do more, do the right things, match a model …

In our efforts to ‘get better,’ it’s natural that we seek external direction. As golfers, we’re attracted to swing tips like addicts. On our Swing Thoughts podcast, Humble Howard has often joked that a guest has disclosed some kind of transformative secret to us. ‘You mean, if I just __________________ (insert swing tip here), I’ll never miss another fairway?’

Unfortunately, we rarely get much better at whatever we want to get better at. We just get anxious.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking information or direction. With the right inputs and with a great coach, you can shorten the cycle of improvement.

(I recommend to most of my clients that they read Fred Shoemaker’s Extraordinary Golf and Timothy Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Tennis. Readers of Up & Down will know that Shoemaker is my greatest coaching influence, and I’ve drawn on much of his coaching in this article.)

But I invite you to ask yourself:

‘Am I overly reliant on information from experts?’

‘Is it possible that I’m selling myself short?’

‘How much do I rely on my own direct experience?’

You didn’t learn to walk because of your parent’s expert advice. You learned from falling, and trying over and over again until you nailed walking.

Golf is no different. Yes, there are fundamentals to learn, some of which are counter intuitive at first, and a golf professional can speed your learning process. But ultimately you improve because you learn from your direct experience.

Improvement comes when you own what you are taught; when it becomes your swing. The quality of your life is based on how your words, thoughts and actions align with your core being; not what other people are doing or saying.

Most of our greatest and enduring experiences are ineffable. You can’t describe them in words, concepts, or thoughts. When you learn how to ride a bike, you can’t tell anyone how you did it, other than you just kept getting back on. You just got it—from your direct experience.

Using chipping as an example, here’s a demonstration of the difference between relying on external information and relying on your own experience.

At some point, most experienced golfers have heard or read that to chip properly you should keep your hands ahead of the ball, accelerate the club, and brush the grass underneath the ball. These are tips. They are also concepts.

If a chip shot comes off poorly, most golfers believe they did something wrong. On the next chip, they’ll focus on applying a tip and hope they do it correctly. It’s a natural impulse.

The challenge with this approach is that it puts you in a constant state of judgment. You are forever judging yourself on your ability to apply a concept correctly.

But a concept is not an experience. A concept is an intellectual depiction. It’s the difference between a map that shows the way to a destination and driving to the destination. It’s the difference between reading about what something tastes like and actually tasting it.

To make this more tangible, here’s something to try next time you practice your chipping. At the practice green, choose a wedge and a variety of targets to chip to.

Here’s where it gets a little different: As you chip, your No. 1 job is to maintain your focus on the clubhead from start to finish—stay connected to the feeling of the clubhead for the entire chip. It helps that wedges are our heaviest clubs.

Don’t worry about the results. Don’t judge the quality of the shots. Just focus on staying connected to the clubhead for the entirety of the shot.

When many people do this exercise, they are blown away by all the feelings they experience. Many say they’ve never felt what their hands, wrist, and arms do during a chip shot. As a bonus, this exercise also reveals what it’s like to be in the present moment during a golf shot.

One person told me it felt like he chipped for the first time without wearing oven mitts.

This is the difference between direct experience, and thinking about applying concepts.

So how does this help someone striving to improve their chipping?

When you have a direct experience of what you are doing, you begin to notice what happens when you hit a solid chip and when you hit a poor one. When you notice something that makes a difference, Fred Shoemaker calls that a distinction. That’s when learning happens. That’s when you got riding a bike.

However, improvement is not instantaneous. It takes commitment and energy to witness and stay focused on the clubhead without judgment. It’s easier to apply concepts. Our craving for results is like addiction, and often leads us back to seeking more secrets and tips.

During Quiet Mind Golf clinics that professional Nate Robinson and I run, participants are amazed by what they experience when they do these simple exercises in all facets of their game. (I’ll share information on our 2023 clinics shortly.)

Give this chipping exercise a shot. I’m quite sure that you’ll be surprised by the richness of your experience.

Please don’t consider this exercise is like a tip that you apply to get better. Rather, it’s an invitation to trust yourself and experience your gold—the innate talent and capability that you possess as a consequence of being a human. You may just discover how brilliant you already are.

If you would like to explore what coaching can do for your game—or your life—send an email to tim@oconnorgolf.ca for a complimentary 30-minute coaching session.

To read more articles by Tim O’Connor or subscribe to his blog, click HERE.

Tim O'Connor
Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID — a Guelph punk band!

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