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Get Out of Your Own Way – Chapter 2, Part 1.

Chapter 2 – Learn Something

The best thing for being sad, replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails.

You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds.

There is only one thing for it then – to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it.

That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.

Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.

T. H. White, The Once and Future King

You May Have Been There…

Walking down the 17th fairway frustrated and fed up.

You blew your handicap on the first eight holes. Since then, it has been damage limitation.

You just want to get back to the clubhouse with a shred of self-respect and the same number of clubs in the same number of pieces as when you left the locker room.

Your playing partners will ask you to stay for a drink. But what you really want to do is throw the bag in the car boot and get the hell out of there.

The most frustrating thing is that you were really looking forward to the round.

Practice on the range with that new swing thought had been going well.

The vibes suggested that today was going to be the day when it all fell into place.

But somehow you just couldn’t find the feeling you had.

The harder you tried to find it, the worse the shots became. The back-to-back double bogeys on 5 and 6 pretty much finished you off.

So here you are. Back at square one.

Fed up and confused.

It Isn’t in The Dirt

My response to an experience such as the one above (and there were many when I was playing tournaments) was always to work harder to try to figure it out.

Or to read a golf book or have a lesson.

Intellectually, I knew that to stop my suffering, something needed to change.

For something to change, I needed to learn something.

It looked like a golf problem. So, I was seeking a golf solution.

I would go down to the range or to the putting green. Hit some balls or work on my stroke. Maybe a new feeling or an insight would come along. I’d feel like I had worked something out, solved a problem. Made some progress.

A little spark of hope would flicker into a flame, and I’d look forward to the next round. And so, the pattern would continue.

Human beings are instinctively wired to learn and innovate. Learning is intrinsically satisfying. We get a good feeling from understanding something new. A feeling of accomplishment or closure if the learning has solved a particular problem.

This is a good thing in some ways, but it can be a well-disguised trap. You keep gaining knowledge. But you don’t move forward if what you are learning about isn’t really the thing that is getting in the way.

Being a fast runner is a mixed blessing if you have no sense of direction. Being a good learner is a mixed blessing if you don’t have a sense of what is important, and of what is interesting but irrelevant.

As many people have discovered, golf can be a source of endless fascination. There are so many different facets to the game. You can amuse yourself for a lifetime trying to figure them all out.

Some aspects of the game – such as driving the ball straight and far, holing out – are disproportionally important compared to aspects you aren’t faced with very often. Situations like, say, learning how to deal with a plugged lie in a bunker, or playing a flop shot.

To devote hours of practice to learning shots you will play rarely isn’t an efficient use of your valuable time. It would be far more helpful to maintain the areas of the game encountered every time you play.

Most golfers will be familiar with the scenario of driving the ball well but missing the greens with approach shots. Of hitting irons well but not holing enough putts. Of playing well for fifteen holes but then blowing up on the other three.

There always seems to be something getting in the way of playing to your full potential. If only you could just nail it all down at the same time. Cut out the silly mistakes.

You could say that my coaching career has been a quest to find out why some golfers (starting with me) don’t improve beyond a certain level. Why do we never reach our potential despite our hard work and best intentions?

Like many golfers, you probably take lessons, buy new equipment, read golf instruction magazines or books, watch how-to videos on the internet, and go to the driving range.

But since that initial surge of improvement from novice to actual golfer, I’ll bet your scores have stayed pretty in much the same range.

Why is this? I’m sure it has puzzled and frustrated other golfers too. It’s only recently that I have started to understand the key reasons why golfers fail to reach their potential.

And it isn’t a golf problem.

What I needed to learn most was never going to be found by digging in the dirt.

Asking A Different Question

When you have a problem that seems difficult or impossible to solve, it’s often because you’re asking the wrong question.

Often when you ask a different question, or frame the original one in a different way, the problem disappears, or the solution becomes obvious.

So, to help golfers improve, maybe we need to ask a different question. One that isn’t narrowly focused around getting better at hitting a ball with a stick.

How do people change?

What causes a smoker to suddenly quit?
What causes someone to walk out of a dysfunctional relationship after ten years?
What causes someone to lose six stone and start doing triathlons after years of a sedentary lifestyle?

That these things happen isn’t in doubt. My question is: what causes them to happen?

The answer is simple.

If I look at the way my life has unfolded over the past ten years, it’s clear to me that the greatest steps forward have come when I realised something was true after many years of believing it wasn’t.

Three significant realisations have led to where I am now.

The first was seeing that how I felt on the golf course had nothing to do with how the round was going, the importance of the tournament, or who I was playing with.

I realised that thought affected the way I was feeling far more that what was happening both on and off the fairways.

This had profound implications for my golf and other areas of my life, as I’ve described in my previous books.

The second big insight was seeing the truth that I have no choice in what I think or when I think it, and therefore I have limited control over either my behaviour or my state of mind.

I realised that I didn’t know what I was going to be thinking in the next moment, so I didn’t know how I was going to feel in the next moment either.

If I wasn’t feeling good now, that didn’t mean that would be the case in a minute’s time.

One fresh thought could change everything.

The combination of these two profound misunderstandings about how our minds really work is at the heart of why human beings find it so hard to do things we think we should.

And why we find it so hard to stop doing things we think we shouldn’t.



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