The Life Lessons of Golf: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger


compassion quoteAs I stared at the golf ball and stood in golf swing stance, I began mentally preparing myself for the probable failure of making contact with the ball. Three better golfers (one is a 10 handicap player – no pressure) stood patiently waiting as I took too long to run through the mantra: relax the arms, relax the shoulders, eyes on the ball, and initiate rotation from the core. And then came the back swing followed by contact with the ground creating a soaring divot the size of a Frisbee.

I look down (which means I had averted my eyes from the ball – dang it!) and the ball is still there. This realization elicits an internal litany of self-flagellation and negative self-talk (more like self-yelling) that I can’t print here. I look at my friends who awkwardly avert their eyes, except for the handicapper who has become my golf sensei, and he gently says: “You need to relax your body and you are thinking too much.” Well, no duh.

“Enough of this” I think to myself – “I quit.”

I mean I’ve had several lessons, a lot of range time practicing, even developed golf elbow (ahem, from hitting the ground too much no doubt). And by the way – what kind of sport allows the consumption of alcohol during play? “To keep primal rage in check” I thought to myself – as I began desperately scanning the golf course for the booze cart.

I’m frustrated because I feel like the time put in does not equal where I should be skill-wise. I mean I’ve been practicing inconsistently for at least 2 months. So, what gives?

My expectations need to give apparently.

I was expecting too much too soon and as someone who tends to pick up sports quickly, this was a humble pill to swallow. Learning how to play golf has felt like a mostly ebb experience in the ebb and flow process around practicing a new skill – 2 steps forward and 2 steps back (sometimes 5 steps back).

However, instead of quitting I have decided to take my own advice from what I teach at Green Mountain about the process of change, and work to shift my mental approach.

Cultivating Self-Compassion

I will focus on not comparing myself to the other players, cultivate patience and compassion for how I play today, and work to shift my negative self-talk to something kinder in the moment.

So, I first re-evaluated my expectations and proceeded to lower them to zero, and then reframed my negative self-talk from – “I suck at golf” and “I’ll never get this”, etc… to a more encouraging thought “I’m learning more every day.”

The statement “@*# golf” felt comforting as well, but I went with the first one.

Putting My Zen Approach To The Test

I was able to put my new Zen approach to the test recently with the same group of friends I played with for that last round of humiliation. This was the first time we had all played together since that game so instead of reliving the past, I proceeded to lower my expectations and focus on decreasing my negative self-talk.

My goal was to simply enjoy the company I was with and to enjoy the beautiful Vermont weather. Some may call it disassociating from the negative stimulus (golf) but really I was out of my head and enjoying the process of sucking at – oops, cancel that – of learning how to play golf.

A funny thing happened. I not only enjoyed myself, but I played a decent round (for me). Once I eased up on the self-criticism and focused on enjoying the moment, my stress eased up. For the first time playing 9 holes of golf flew by instead of feeling like precious hours and money were stolen from me.

I didn’t look for the booze cart once.

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About the Author

Erin Risius, MA, LPC

Erin Risius, MA, LPC, is a former program director of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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