Forget the title – this may be the most important LIFE article you will ever read.
If you are a player wishing to ‘make it’, or even if you are just determined to be the best golfer you can be, pay attention
Want to make it here one day? Listen up
Top professionals all strike the ball great and all hit it about the same. Likewise, there are a ton of players on the satellite tours which have a game which is easily comparable, if not better than some of the guys with their tour cards. So what is the difference?
Shooting the Breeze
I was out for a meal the other night and chatting to two great coaches – my colleague Laurence Brotheridge and Jon Wallett. They both have extensive experience working with elite players, especially with Jon being owner of Elite Coaching Golf Academies. We were discussing the idea of what makes the difference at the top? What makes one player break through and others disappear into the ether?
While it is important to mention that the answer is always multifactorial, one thing stood out;
Failure strengthens their resolve
So what does this mean?
During this scene, we see a young Bruce fall into a well. As he is lying there, hurt and waiting for help, a colony of bats flies out of a hole – something which would leave any child with a morbid phobia of bats for the rest of their life.
As his father finally rescues him, when he is carrying Bruce into the house, he says these words.
Why do we fall Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up”
You know the rest of the story. Bruce goes on to become an iconic superhero, and actually becomes Batman, representing the fact that he uses his fears and failures to make him a stronger person.
You will fall
There is one thing certain in this game – if you are trying to make it to the top of this game, at some point you will fail. And you will fail hard.
And that’s Good
In life, most of our greatest lessons come from failure. It was Shakespeare who once said that
There is nothing good nor bad, but thinking makes it so”. What he meant by this is that an experience is really simply that – an experience. But it is how we interpret it which makes it into what it is.
How do you interpret Failure?
When you fail, you have two choices. You can either use that failure to sabotage yourself, or you can use it to INSPIRE yourself. The path you choose could be the making or the breaking of you.
Do you use a negative experience as a lightbulb moment?
Or do you self-destruct?
Using an experience to sabotage yourself
You just played some of the best golf of your life and are in the lead of a two day tournament by 3 shots. In the final round, you are pretty nervous, this is a big amateur event. The first tee, you tentatively step up to the ball – your mind is all over the place. You can’t decide whether to play safe or aggressive. Bam – snap hook out of bounds.
You then continue the round striking the ball less than optimally. All your attempts to change the swing make it worse. You finish tied 10th after shooting an 80.
Afterwards, your parents talk about it with you. “What happened to your swing today? We need to do some hard work on the range tomorrow to improve it, it’s obviously not good enough”. You start thinking, “You know what, they’re right. My swing is not good enough”.
Is this really true? Is this swing which got you in the lead after one round really in need of a re-haul? What do you think is going to happen to this player?
How our brains work
If you tell yourself something over and over, you brain will believe it to be true. If you are to ruminate on an experience with the interpretation of “I failed”, or “I wasn’t good enough”, your brain will start to ingrain it. If you go over and over the fact that you weren’t good enough, your brain will actually start to wire itself for this belief.
What are you wiring up?
Our brains are malleable – it’s called neuroplasticity. Anything we say or do will have an effect on the physical structure of the brain. Even a thought pattern repeated enough will cause neurons in our brain to fire together and wire together, like a little electrical circuit. Repeated enough, this circuit can become insulated (called myelination) and become a belief system.
We create our world
This can then affect everything from our actions to our perceptions. Experiments show that a person’s belief system will have an effect on what they see and become aware of. The part of our brain which deals with attention (reticular activating system) can even start to filter out certain information in the world – leaving us looking at the world in very different ways.
Have a look at this short, one minute video.
Did you see it?
If you are like the vast majority (over 95% of people), you will not have seen it. Sure, the light particles from the computer screen hit your eyeballs, which then was focused onto your retina before being processed by the brain. But this is where it gets funky.
Our brains will take all of that information and only give ‘you’ (the conscious part of you) certain information. Magicians use this to their advantage by directing your attention towards something else (such as an elaborate shuffling of the cards) so that your brain never sees the fact they just took your watch off you.
This is your reticular activating system in action. Our belief systems affect what our brains and reticular activating system feeds to ‘us’.
Are you Lucky?
Richard Wiseman conducted a little study;
I gave both lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to look through it and tell me how many photographs were inside. On average, the unlucky people took about two minutes to count the photographs whereas the lucky people took just seconds. Why? Because the second page of the newspaper contained the message “Stop counting – There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was over two inches high.
This study has been repeated several times. Derren brown once did one where he placed a five pound note on the ground and asked people to walk past it (without knowing it was there). People who believed they were lucky were far more likely to notice the money on the floor.
If, after failure, you feed information to yourself telling you that you are a failure, or that you choked, how is your brain going to wire itself? What effect is that going to have on what you then filter from the world?
Who we are and our beliefs will influence our perceptions
demonstrated by this Rorschach Test
How to use pain to strengthen who you are
Those who know me know that I am a realist. I don’t ascribe to all this happy-clappy positive psychology bulls*%t. I don’t’ think that we should wipe away negativity and never tread in the darkest recesses of our minds.
My view is, if evolution equipped us with negative emotions, they serve a purpose. They must have had some bearing on our survival and ability to become the dominant species. In fact, all animals show similar emotions, so it must be essential to life, not just humans.
This is one of my favorite videos
In it, Arthur Miller talks about how wiping pain off the face of the earth is one of the worst things we can do. I quote
Possibly the greatest truths we know have come out of people suffering. The problem is not to undo suffering, but to make it inform our lives, instead of trying to cure ourselves of it and ignore it”
It’s not about the pain, it’s about the interpretation and the lesson you get from it. Rather than looking to simply fix the problem (which is obviously part of the solution), try to make it inform you and shape you in a positive way.
Stay with the pain
This is one of my favorite scenes from Fight Club
We watch The narrator’s (played by Edward Norton) mind try desperately to avoid the pain, run away from it, suppress and ignore it. But Tyler attempts to make him embrace it.
Tyler is trying to convey the lessons that pain produces
What you are experiencing is premature enlightenment. This is the greatest moment of your life, and you’re off somewhere missing it”
Pain is one of the worst emotions we can experience, as we are experiencing it. But it is also one of the greatest motivators and most informative emotions, should the right interpretation be attached to it. We instinctively want to run from it and not experience it – but it in inevitable.
This will hurt more than you have ever been hurt, and you will be left with a scar. Stay with the pain, don’t shut this out”
Or should you be encouraging it. Exploring your pain. Diving to the depths of your pain and seeing what lessons it offers. Pain is not fun by any means, but we have it for a reason. We wouldn’t be equipped with it from millions of years of evolution if it didn’t serve a purpose.
Maybe the problem with failure is not the failure itself, but the fact that our society deems failure as a mistake.
Pain is one of the most highly charged emotional states. Don’t run from it, don’t ignore it – FEEL IT. Then attach a positive interpretation to it. Get pis**d off – that emotion is good. Pis**d off is only bad if you interpret the experience negatively. If you use that emotion to Fuel you, it might be your greatest asset.
What did you learn today Tiger?
Tiger Woods’ father was a smart cookie. After each round of golf, he asked Tiger a very important question.
What did you learn today? “
Ask yourself the same question during the moments of failure.
Do you remember where you were during September the 11th 2000? No? What about September the 11th 2001? What is the difference?
It might be hard to ask yourself what you learned, and try to interpret the experience positively when you are feeling emotional. But that is the time when you need to ask this question the most. Our brains are wiring themselves at a much more rapid rate when we are highly emotional. This is why we remember where we were during 9/11/2001 – our brains have more emotion attached to it.
Program your brain with good things and good interpretations. Don’t go through how you choked or messed up, or how you are not good enough. And don’t listen to people who might be telling you that.
Life is just a training ground
Jonathan told me a story of one of his players who had messed up in the final round of an event. He made a score of 7 on the 17th hole to lose his pole position. The mistake – he got caught between playing safe and aggressive on one hole.
While the player walked off with a belief that he choked and that he needed to improve his swing (further fuelled by a parent), Jonathan quickly reprogrammed this belief while it was still fresh. Obviously his swing had got him into that pole position originally, so it didn’t need work.
Jonathan asked “What could you learn from this experience that might help you in the future?”. The player responded by saying he will “never make the mistake of getting caught between one or the other. I will pick one and commit to it at all costs”. “Isn’t that great”, replied Jonathan. “I’m so glad that you learned that lesson now, in an amateur tournament which ultimately doesn’t matter. Isn’t it great that you learned the lesson now, rather than on the final day of tour school when you need to par the last to earn your card?”.
That’s just great programming
And it’s not just regular tournaments which act as your training ground. Even some of the biggest failures you make can ultimately create a stronger you. Take Rory McIlroy.
During the 2011 masters, Rory had a meltdown on the back 9. He was leading the tournament, before hitting a shot out of bound and then crashing and burning out of contention. He finished with a score of 80 and tied 15th, after being only 1 over par on the front 9 and in the lead.
But rather than use this experience to ingrain a negative belief, such as “You are a choker”, or “you need to change your swing to make it at the top”, Rory took a different attitude. This is what he said on Twitter a day later
“Well that wasn’t the plan! Found it tough going today, but you have to lose before you can win. This day will make me stronger in the end.
“Oh and congratulations Charl Schwartzel!! Great player and even better guy! Very happy for him and his family!”
What a class act. Not only did he shrug it off, but he interpreted it in the best way possible. He used it as Fuel, motivation and learning. He demanded that the situation will make him stronger- and boy did it. He went on to win the US Open by a whopping 8 shots later that year.
No choking there.
He has since gone on to win another 3 majors and had a great year last year. Take a leaf out of McIlroy’s book – use negative experiences to fuel you to greater heights, not burn you to the ground. Interpret it as a life lesson which will grow you, not an experience which cuts you down.
Make Practice Harder
One of my favorite books – Man’s Search for meaning, by Viktor Frankl, talks about how
In encouraging what we fear the most, we take away all its power.”
In my book “The Practice Manual – The Ultimate Guide for Golfers”, I talk about the value of making practice more difficult and its effects on the expectation cycle. I explain a few games you can play both on and off-course which can really manage expectation levels. Making practice more difficult also serves a vital purpose in the long term. It helps us to learn to deal with failure.
Most people practice in a way which simply fuels their confidence. They hit balls in a block fashion, from the same place to the same target with the same club, and with no pressure. This does nothing for improving your ability to deal with adversity.
Get dirty – make practice more difficult than the game itself. Encourage failure – learn to deal with it. Make practice so hard that a game of golf on the course seems like a walk in the park by comparison. My favorite game for this is ‘Impossigolf’, a game I describe in “The Practice Manual”.
The Grit muscle
Grit, to me, is your ability to grind out your best possible performances when you are not playing your best, or when things are not going your way. Many of the greatest players were known as grinders, a never-give-up attitude. This attitude a lot can save you many shots per round, especially when things are going poorly.
Winston Churchill, with one of the most hisorically inspiring speeches
Think about a scenario where you might have hit a ball into a bunker. “No problem”, you say, as you think it will be an easy bunker shot. Yet, as you walk closer, you see it’s plugged up against the lip, deep in and impossible.
Starts whining, moaning and complaining about the poor luck they have had. Because, of course, this never happens to anyone else but them. They make sure that their playing partners know this shot is going to be difficult – “come and have a look at this awful situation I am in guys”.
They duff it out onto the fringe, then fail to get up and down, turning a 2 into a 4. Disheartened by their shoddy luck, they then give up. What is the point in trying if everything is against you.
They look, they see the horrid situation. They feel the internal anger of how the golfing gods have screwed them over. But they suck it up
They don’t say a word to their playing partners. They get in, get dirty and use this situation for the positive. They try their best to do what they can with the bad situation.
They also duff it out onto the fringe and fail to get up and down – but they tried. They didn’t whine about it, they didn’t look for sympathy. They felt the same emotions as player A, but they used it as fuel. They then continued the round with a ‘shake it off and grind it out’ attitude.
And, as they did all of the above, they developed their Grit muscle. The situation sucked for both parties, but player B used it to improve who they are, whereas player A used it to weaken their resolve.
Grit is one of the most difficult things to develop, but the more you practice developing it, like a muscle, it will get stronger. Player A, on the other hand, just used the situation to burn themselves to the ground, especially long term. They are developing a different belief system – and their brain and their perceptions will start to mould in a way which makes them weaker over time.
On your road to success, you will fail.
Failure is not failure. How you interpret it will ultimately determine whether it is classed as a failure or not.
Don’t ignore the pain. Get Pis**d off and emotional if it helps you. But use that fire inside to burn a path to success.
Find the lesson in every scenario. Always ask “what can I learn from this”. Even though that may be the question which is hardest to ask when you are emotional, this may be the most important time.
Encourage failure in your practice. Make it more difficult, not easier. Relish the pain and the chance to improve your ability to deal with adversity. Only the weak seek comfort all the time.
Use every opportunity possible to develop your Grit muscle. In those times where things are going wrong, absorb it. Put your chest up high, stare the experience in the eye and beat it to the ground with your mental strength. If you can walk off after one of the worst rounds of your life and say you attacked it with dogged determination and a ‘Winston Churchill’ mindset, you are a champion in the making.
And to our society who deems failure as a mistake – put your finger up and walk by them and their molly coddled ways. Failure is our greatest asset, and it will make you into a bulletproof version of yourself.
I leave you with this