FEAR IS A POWERFUL BEAST, BUT WE CAN LEARN TO RIDE IT.
“Success is on the far side of failure”
Thomas Watson’s well-known quotation is one of many that speak to the necessity and inevitability of failure. And while we may apply these lessons to our work life, we are often unwilling to apply them to our golf. In this post, we discuss how fear keeps us from improving and how we can get into a more productive mindset.
What Does Fear Look Like?
When I say that many golfers are afraid to fail, I’m describing a wide range of common behaviours.
It’s the golfer who spends all his practice time working on his strengths – hitting 7I, never 3I. I’m talking about the golfer who won’t accept responsibility for his own results (“I’m working on something new” is their favourite refrain). Fear is refusing to take a lesson because you might struggle with the change.
There’s also the basic anxiety that many golfers have all the time: “What if I play badly and people think I’m a hack?”
The Root Cause of Fear
In my view, two things drive this fearful mindset. The first is our ego. We all want to be perceived as capable, even by people we don’t even know.
The other factor is that, for most of us, golf is a rare treat. If we play once a week that’s a win, and a mid-week range session is a special bonus. With so few opportunities to do what we enjoy, we try to ensure that every time out is a “success.”
Getting Over Your Fear
I have two recommendations for getting over your fear of failure.
First, understand the Spotlight Effect. The Spotlight Effect describes people’s tendency to think that they are being noticed far more than they really are. You are the centre of your own world, so it’s natural to think you’re the centre of other people’s world…but you’re not. In short: relax, no one cares about your game.
“You’ll worry less about what people think of you when you realise how seldom they do.”
The other thing you can do is accept the results of playing badly in advance. Think about what’s actually going to happen if you shoot ten strokes worse than normal, hit all your tee shots into the woods, etc. The answer: nothing significant. Depending on your group, you may be the butt of some jokes, but nothing catastrophic is going to happen. When you understand that there are no real stakes, you realize that failure isn’t worth being afraid of.
The Benefits of Being Fearless
When you put the fear of failure in your rear view mirror, there are nothing but positive consequences.
First, you’ll enjoy the game more. When you remove tension, fear, and anxiety, there’s more room for gratitude, camaraderie, and fun.
Second, you’ll give yourself a chance to improve. On the range, you’ll work on the things that need attention. If you’re not concerned about how you look, you can focus on improvement and actually make progress. You can take a few lessons, accept that you may play badly for a bit, but come out the other side a better player.
Finally, you’ll play with more freedom and hit better shots. I would wager that there isn’t a single instructor anywhere who thinks that tension is a positive in the golf swing. When you stop worrying about other people, you can step up with confidence, focus on the shot, and play to your full potential.