If you can’t always get what you want, you might find you’re getting what you believe

Two adolescent boys are walking in their neighbourhood at night. One looks at his phone and exclaims, “Oh my God, I promised Dad I’d be home by 9. I’m dead.”

His friend says, “No problem. We can take the shortcut by running through the cemetery.”

“Are you kidding? Zero chance.”

Yes, I made up this story. Maybe you relate. The story is meant to illustrate how our beliefs affect the actions we take. Or don’t.

You can have all kinds of good thoughts, intentions, and strategies, but how you show up in the world—on the golf course, work, in your relationships, everywhere—is based on your actions.

Examining what we believe helps us better understanding how we act.

Last week, I wrote about how one of my students at The Golf House has been struggling to improve his game for years. As we worked together, it turned out he believed he had to focus on the ball to ensure he hit it. Inadvertently, he was making the ball the target, which caused his swing to stall.

As he discovered, his belief dictated his actions. Once he became open to the possibility that he could swing to the target—to the real target on the course—he not only hit the ball, but he also created more speed. It was liberating and mystifying for him.

Consider the golfer who considers the golf course a dangerous place that punishes his mistakes, reveals his shortcomings, and dictates his self-worth.

(You may think this is an exaggeration, but I’ve lived it and I’ve coached many people who think this way. It also explains why so many club golfers self-immolate in their club championship.)

Obviously, a golfer with such a mindset will be emotionally volatile and as tight as a rusty faucet. It’s a recipe for awful golf.

Imagine if the golfer’s mindset was more like, “I can’t wait to play. This is my house. This is what I love to do. Let’s tee it up and see what happens.”

You don’t need to be Freud to deduce this player has a greater chance of swinging freely, riding out bad breaks, and having fun. There’s no guarantee he’s going to shoot lights out—it’s golf after all—but he’s giving himself an opportunity to play well and enjoy himself.

What’s the difference between the two mindsets? What they believe about the world and their place in it.

For 20 years, I’ve been fascinated by how our beliefs affect our lives, but legendary golf coach Fred Shoemaker helped me better understand how our beliefs affect our lives and our golf.

For about 20 years, Fred focused on awareness in his coaching, inviting golfers to do things such as feel the clubhead throughout their swing. But very few people could do it. At contact, they’d immediately judge the shot, and wonder what they did right or wrong. It was almost universal.

When Fred learned more about the role of perception in performance and began coaching players on it, he saw changes in their ability to use their awareness, their language, and eventually how they swung a golf club.

As an example, he said that a golfer can practice “freeing it up” all she wants on the range, but if she believes the course is a threatening place, she’ll tighten up. “It’s impossible to let go,” he said.

“But if she can say, ‘This is my home, let me play,’ in that moment of consciousness, the fear dissipates. She can feel at home. Fear is replaced with curiosity. Then letting go can happen.”

If you feel stuck in your zeal to improve, why not start with looking at how the world occurs to you and your beliefs.

Maybe you’ll discover that the stuff that scares you isn’t so scary after all.

If you are interested in golf lessons, mental game coaching, or my Commit to Freedom workshops on improving execution and accountability in organizations, please send an email to tim@oconnorgolf.ca.

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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