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How Perfectionism Hurts Your Golf Game

“The prize goes to those who can get over being completely prepared before they begin.”

- Activate Your Brain by Scott G. Halford (1)

This quote addresses perfectionism, something that I’ve found a lot of golfers tend to struggle with. We of course want things to go well, but often we take that too far and we need things to go well.

  • We need our swings to be in a good place before playing that tournament so we grind extra hard right before it starts

  • We hit it bad during the round so we wear ourselves out at the range after the round

  • We’re anxious about hitting this shot exactly perfect

There’s a couple realities in play here that perfectionism disregards and blinds us to:

  1. The future is always uncertain

  2. We can never be perfect

1. Uncertain future

I think the purpose perfectionism is trying to serve is to help us feel better about an uncertain future. We all want to know that this shot or this putt will go where we want, or we will for sure play well, or we definitely won’t make the same mistake again, and being perfectionistic is us trying to make that future come true.

But the reality is that the future always has some amount of uncertainty. As Dr. Raymond Prior said when he was on The Mental Golf Show (00:34:38):

“The bottom line is the future’s always uncertain. Sometimes we get feelings of certainty, but those are fleeting. And if you need those [feelings of certainty] for 4 days to win a major, your confidence is not going to be stable.”

2. We can never be perfect

I think we all know this, yet we try to deny it. There is no scenario ever where perfection is attainable. One shot could seem perfect and go in the hole, but even within that shot there are probably some imperfections.

You may be asking, “What’s wrong with striving for perfection?” When perfection is your standard, then you tend to have a very hard time with accepting bad results. And if you have a hard time accepting bad results, then your confidence will always be a roller coaster based on how good your results are.

Research shows that robust confidence comes from believing in your ability to handle struggles, not for everything to for sure go perfectly. As Dr. Prior said in that same Mental Golf Show episode, “stable confidence is built on space and acceptance.”

I think perfectionism is the opposite of acceptance, and therefore needing to feel perfectly prepared or certain about the future will make acceptance really difficult, which will undermine your confidence in your own ability.

Here’s what I’ve learned to be helpful

When you notice that tendency to be perfectionistic, challenge yourself to intentionally accept the results. Whether that’s a bad shot you just hit, or a round coming up that you don’t feel prepared for. Stretch your ability to play despite feeling unprepared. You can handle it, I promise. You just have to show yourself.

(1) Halford, S. G. (2015). Activate your brain: How understanding your brain can improve your work-- and your life. Greenleaf Book Group Press.

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