Goal-Free Golfing

October 13, 2006  

I recently went golfing with my dad. I’m not the greatest of golfers, but I always have a wonderful time with him. He ALWAYS wins (easily), even when he handicaps me one stroke a hole.

Golfing is a great metaphor for Goal-Free Living. Although you want to align your feet and body with the destination (the pin), once set, you must focus on the present (the ball). If you lift your head while swinging to look at where the ball is going, you are certain to miss the mark.

Golf is a great test of one’s ability to stay present. As a rookie I tend to over think my swing. I have this annoying monologue going on in my head every time I approach the ball. It goes something like this: “Are my legs planted properly? My knees are a bit achy from walking all day. I wish we took a cart instead of walking. Are my arms extended just right? I think my left arm is not straight enough. Tighten it up. Ok, now relax the right arm. No, that’s too relaxed. Come on Steve, pay attention. Look at the pin. Yup. I’ve got a long way to go. Oh shoot, there is a huge water hazard on the left. Please don’t go in the water. Ok, now look at the ball. Is the club head straight? I think so. A minor adjustment can’t hurt. Please keep your eye on the ball. You always lift your head. Ok, I think I’m ready. Please don’t go in the water!” Of course, the ball always goes in the water.

These conversations flow through my head every swing. That’s nearly 100 long, annoying conversations over the course of 18 holes.

The last time I was golfing with my dad, I decided to avoid trying so hard. I silenced the conversation. When I got to the tee, I would simply align my body (my compass), and then I would then close my eyes and totally relax for about 5 seconds. I did not worry about my swing. I just took a deep breath. Then, I would then open my eyes and swing, without thinking about what I was doing. That day, without a doubt, was my best round of golf. My swing was effortless. My balls went straight. And my distance was incredible. Tiger Woods would be jealous. And if you are wondering, no, I still did not beat my dad. Lost by one stroke.

I decided to try the same approach at a recent competition. I was speaking at a convention with about 1,000 people. On the convention floor was a very complicated miniature golf hole. Everyone was given a chance to putt. If you got a hole in one, you were entered into a raffle to win a trip. By the time it was my turn, several hundred people had already tried…and failed. I decided to use some goal-free golf. Instead of trying and thinking, I just relaxed and swung. You guessed it. I got a hole in one. The first one of the day. By the end of the event, only 3 people got a hole in one. And if you are wondering, no, I did not win the trip.

When you try too hard, you create stress. Imagine the last time you were driving down the highway in the middle of winter. The road seems clear. You are relaxed. Then, without warning, you hit a patch of ice. You immediately tense up to try and control the car. You grab the steering wheel with both hands, white knuckled. Unfortunately, in doing this, you inadvertently become a worse driver. Your muscles tighten up. If your car crashes, this rigidity is more likely to cause your body harm as you are not resilient.

When you find yourself trying too hard at any endeavor, relax. Take a deep breath. Close your eyes if necessary (unless you are driving, of course). And stop over analyzing everything. Although it is not always easy, the more you can be present and in the flow, the better your performance, whether it is at work, on the golf course, or in times of crisis.

You can find related articles on sports, school exams, falling down, and dating.

Do you have a story of a situation when you were more “successful” with less effort? A time when you were truly present without overthinking? If so, please share your story as a comment.

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4 Responses to “Goal-Free Golfing”

  1. Goal-Free Golfing « tuckerm.net on October 13th, 2006 11:14 am

    [...] A post entitled “Goal-Free Golfing” over at goalfree.com does a pretty good job describing the experiences I have had with the game of golf. The pre-shot mental chatter can be deafening at times and totally kills any chance I may have had at a decent golf game. This may also explain why I tend to play golf better after a few beers, I relax more and concentrate less on playing “well” and more on just “playing”. [...]

  2. JiGuofang on October 15th, 2006 10:06 am

    nice game ! and a nice blog. I really have few chance for golf. enjoy!

  3. robert whitney on October 18th, 2006 11:08 am

    Absolutely, in order to go low you need to let go. Very difficult to do but if you listen to post game commentary the words will resonate…free,easy,loose,tempo,relaxed,fun,enjoy…Same applies whether you are on the stump,in a meeting,connecting with a customer,meeting a potential customer,closing a multimillion dollar deal or having a great dinner and conversation with your wife or significant other!!!!

  4. Julia on November 20th, 2006 10:16 am

    There’s a book titled Golf in the Kingdom about the Zen and other life-enhancing qualities of life…I’ve never actually read it…:-)