Are you tired of trying to play perfect golf?
In general, when people like something, they strive to do it well. So, for those of us who love golf, it is pretty normal to try to do our very best. In fact, being a perfectionist works… except when it doesn’t. A degree of perfectionism helps in getting ahead in your career, your studies, your personal life, and even your golf game. The need for ‘perfection’ becomes a problem when you start creating expectations about your game that are very difficult or impossible to attain. Why? Because when you get stuck in a cycle of expectations that are impossible to meet you open the door to anxiety, frustration, failure, low confidence, and lack of trust on your ability.
I once overheard a golf coach saying ‘When you focus solely on perfection, you are usually guaranteed failure’. Her comment made sense to me because perfection is related to outcome, and –as you know- playing for the outcome (or a future-oriented golf) doesn’t help you being in the moment, in the process.
How can you know if you your desire to be a great golfer has crossed into the realm of perfection- seeking outcomes?
1. You tend to focus on results and you are afraid of making mistakes, failing others, or failing yourself. This fear results in high levels of anxiety, which in turn produces a lack of enjoyment, probably a lack of good results, and a loss of confidence and trust.
2. You have high expectations for yourself. Either you make a par, or you have failed. Either you win the tournament, or you are a failure. Either you play better than your friend, or you are good for nothing. Even though you have wanted to break 100, the day you achieve your goal it doesn’t feel that you have improved enough. You could have done much better!
3. You compare yourself to others. ‘She hits far longer than me and we are the same handicap’. By looking at your playing companion, you end up focusing more on the other golfer’s game than your own. Where does that leave you? It takes you either to the past (‘She always hits longer than me’) or to the future (‘I hope I can hit longer than her in the next hole’). There is nothing you can do to control other golfers’ game. The only thing you can do is to focus on the present, on what you need to do right now to hit a good shot.
4. You want approval from others. Human beings are social animals, and we need validation from others. People who have perfectionist tendencies have difficulty seeing their own abilities. Therefore, they look for positive feedback from others. Pro-golfers might look for it in the media or Twitter, while we look forward to hearing ‘Good shot!’ comments on the course.
5. You are self-critical. When a golfer who is a perfectionist misses a 40-footer by two inches, he will promptly come up with a negative comment. They never feel they can measure up, and find it difficult to give themselves credit for such putt. If they win, or shoot their handicap or lower, they will find something negative to say.
Tips to stay away from perfectionism:
1. Be aware of the times when you are afraid of making mistakes, or have high expectations. Check yourself: Is this search for perfection getting in the way of your game? How? What do you need to do to avoid crossing the line into perfection-seeking outcomes?
2. Always play golf with a goal in mind. It should be a small goal. For example: ‘Today I will always do my pre-shot routine’, ‘I will focus on tempo’, ‘I will line up all my putts no matter what’, ‘I will decide on the club and commit to the shot’. Write down your goal in your scorecard, and give yourself a ‘tick’ every time you achieve it.
3. When you hit the shot, take a few seconds to reflect on your goal. Did you meet your goal of lining up the putt? If so, consider it a win even if you didn’t make the putt.
4. You can always choose between ‘going to your ego’ (perfectionism) or focusing on your goal. This is something that is under your control, and will help you deal with your emotions on the course. When you miss a shot, you have two choices: you can look at it as a failure (it hasn’t met your expectations) or you can reflect and check if you achieved your goal. When you look at shots in terms of meeting goals (instead of demands on your ability) you will feel good about yourself, it will raise your confidence and trust, and you will probably swing freely and without fear.