I saw a lot of eyes roll as I was gearing up to go on the road to play and teach disc golf full time. Funny enough the eyes weren’t rolling at my decision to tour, but at my clear lack of over the top excitement for what they said was “achieving my dream”. It might be my complete obsession with everything golf related or my years of getting my hopes up after living as if life was already scripted to have a happy ending, but I genuinely couldn’t get myself to even pretend like I was giddy with excitement. The idea of quitting my comfortable job and having the complete freedom to live my life how I’d like is not what brings me satisfaction.
The satisfaction is yet to come. It’s only the beginning.
I’m beginning my 2nd week as a touring player/teacher and the only way I can describe it at the moment is that it just “feels right”, nothing more nothing less. As a golfer I’ve learned that over-romanticizing outcomes or ideas is a cheap form of gratification and an easy way to distract yourself from the thing that matters most, which is executing your vision. Similar to a businessman/businesswoman starting a business with the sole intent of making a lot of money, there’s a level of quality and fulfillment that can be missed when the heart and soul isn’t put into the thing you’re most invested in. As much as making money can be nice, the mindset that countless successful entrepreneurs always preach is to keep your head down and in the present moment, working as hard as you can to focus on the process of honing your craft and bringing value to people while fully immersed in your element. The goal is to eventually be able to look down from the top of a theoretical mountain to see how far you’ve come as a human being and how many people you’ve been able to positively impact on the way. If you focus on that, true happiness and wealth will follow.
Romanticize the process of grinding, failing and improving upon it. Let the outcomes happen naturally as a result.
This mindset relates to golf so much in my eyes. I see so many players, even really talented ones, spending way too much energy dwelling on their failures or fearing negative outcomes. Embracing struggle and failure is a key component to growth in all facets of life and is stressed by so many successful people in so many different ways, yet many people still don’t align their beliefs with their actions. An analogy I recently read about that changed how I think about disc golf was one that relates struggle and embracing vulnerability to how hermit crabs have to survive.
Yes, I’m about to talk about shellfish and how living like them will make you a better golfer. Bear with me on this one.
Hermit crabs live in shells and carry them with everywhere they go. It keeps them safe and happy. With this said, when a hermit crab grows too large for the shell they live in, they need to leave their shell to find a larger one, putting themselves at risk of death in order to accommodate for their growth. This process continues until they die. You might already be catching on to what I’m getting at. Hermit crabs have no choice but to make themselves vulnerable in order to keep growing. It’s essential for their survival. Humans on the other hand, have almost gotten too smart for their own good and don’t have to live that way anymore. Some people can literally live in safety their entire lives, make money from the comfort of their own homes and never have to worry about where their next meal will come from. This type of mindless survival is where boredom, depression, and irrational worries (like missing a 10 foot putt) can come from. We can sometimes forget that struggle and vulnerability are NECESSARY components to self-improvement (especially in golf). The view from the top of the “mountain” I had mentioned earlier would not be as beautiful if we didn’t get to look back on how long and brutal the journey was to get up there. If you struggle with “blowing up” on the course or belittling yourself upon throwing an incompetent shot, the first step to fixing that is completely rewiring your emotional responses to “negative” situations. In golf, we need to learn to either enjoy “failure”, or train ourselves to have zero definitions of the word. Since golf can sometimes make us feel emotions that we sometimes would never feel in our everyday lives, it can be extremely challenging to change without immense attention to detail.
You can start by monitoring the way you speak to yourself on the course. Ask yourself this, how often do you label your shots or decisions as “good” or “bad”? Most people will likely answer that they label every single shot with one of those words (or some variation of them). Sport psychologist Dr. Joseph Parent of the Zen Golf series will say that this type of subjective labeling is precisely what causes the “emotional rollercoaster” to happen when playing golf. Calling a shot good or bad during competition does NOTHING positive; it only gets the mind in a habit of tying the player’s mood to their performance. Since a round of golf will NEVER consist of competent shots 100% of the time, you’re hindering yourself from reaching your full potential if you subjectively label every shot.
The solution? Speak FACTUALLY about your performance. Don’t lie to yourself. Missed a 10 footer? Don’t call it an “awful” putt, call it “too low” or “not what you envisioned”. Awful is a subjective and irrational word to use, “too low” is factual and has no emotion tied to it. This is how you can begin approaching each shot without baggage from previous incompetent throws, and how to rationally assess your shot selection without fear of experiencing a negative outcome.
Today is Thursday, April 26rd and I’m sitting in a coffee shop reminiscing on the past weekend in the Quad Cities. I placed 17th in a tough field at The Rumble, an A-Tier with a stacked pro field of 76 players at two of the Midwest’s most challenging courses. Despite shooting a higher number in my 2nd round, I couldn’t help but smile and feel very content after realizing that I legitimately had said nothing negative to myself and didn’t subjectively label any of my shots throughout the entire weekend. It’s taken a long time to get to this point, but my mind is at peace and I’ve never loved the game more. I’m confident that this will begin leading to bigger and better things.
If you’d ever like to talk with me about the mental side of disc golf, never hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve come a long way in this area and would love to offer up any more ideas that have worked for me.