How could I not take the opportunity to talk about goal setting and reaching as a golf mental coach on January 1st? It's basically mandatory.
The thing is, this isn't going to be about what goals you should set. Or even more generally what kinds of goals are good and what are bad. What you want to accomplish is extremely personal and custom to you, so whether your goals are ambitious or mild, exorbitant or tame, basically unachievable or way too easy, whatever goals you set are great.
Maybe you want to lower your scoring average. Maybe you want to finally beat that person in your regular group. Maybe you want to be on the traveling squad of your D1 college golf team. Maybe you want to make it onto the Korn Ferry Tour. Or maybe you just want to play 10 rounds this year instead of 5.
So whatever your goal is from big to small doesn't matter. However, there are principles that in my mind all goals and the achievement of them must follow.
The principle goes like this:
Set your goal.
Create a plan to reach your goal.
Forget about your goal.
Work your plan.
If you've been following me for any amount of time, you've heard me talk about this. This thinking was told to me by my dad. I honestly don't remember the context for why he told me this, or how he learned it for himself. But I'm sure it was in relation to reaching one of my many golf goals.
So, why is this principle important and how can it help you? Why would I tell you to forget about your goal in order to reach your goal? Won't you get lost on the way to the finish line if you forget where the finish line is?
Let's work through the goal-reaching principle step-by-step.
Step 1: Set your goal.
This was what we talked about at the beginning. Whatever goal you choose to set is like a snowflake. Complete unique to you and perfect in its own way. So set that goal. Make it ambitious! Make it really really achievable! This doesn't matter. But you have to set a goal.
Step 2: Create a plan to reach your goal.
Most people actually don't even make it this far. In general life, people might set a goal to workout more, or eat better food, or play more golf, or shoot in the 70s for the first time. But that's as far as most people get. They don't do the most important thing in goal-reaching, which is creating a plan to actually reach that destination. But luckily you're here and you've got a mental coach on your side. So let's create a plan:
How specifically do you plan on reaching that goal? What are the individual steps it would take to reach your unique goal? If your goal is to shot in the 70s for the first time, what is holding you back and keeping you in the 80s? This is where it explodes open a whole new world of things to work on. It could be driving distance, driving accuracy, ball striking, short game, club choice around the greens, lag putting, club fitting, fitness, how you handle adversity, how you handle good stretches, how you handle slow play, how you handle uncontrollables, how you handle being on pace to break 80 with 3 holes to go. Etc. etc. etc. and on and on and on.
What stands between you and your goal could be literally hundreds of things. But that's why most people don't do this step. Because they don't really know what a plan to actually reaching their goal would look like because they don't do the tough legwork of seeing what they're deficient at. But this is completely necessary. If your goal was to workout more, what would a plan of action look like? You first would have to see what stands between you and working out more. Maybe you let certain things keep you on the couch. Maybe you don't know what your workout would actually be so you never even start it. It could be anything. But you must identify this roadblock, because your plan will be tailored to overcome this roadblock.
For golf, this is going to require some statistics. You need to take some detailed stats to see where your strengths and deficiencies are. You can't work on things if you don't know what to work on. Your time will be spent aimlessly flailing at golf balls until you're tired.
Here's some good detailed stats to get you started:
- did you hit the fairway?
- if you missed the fairway, what side of the fairway did you miss it on?
- if you missed the fairway, was the lie good, bad, no shot at the green, OB/lost ball/penalty
- how far was your approach shot?
- did you hit or miss the green?
- if you missed the green was your short game shot from sand or grass?
- did you hit or miss the green on your short game shot?
- how long was your first putt, whether it was after your approach shot or your short game shot?
- how many putts did you take from there?
- your score for the hole
Yes, this is a lot of detail. But the purpose is to diagnose your deficiencies and build a plan to make your game better based on those deficiencies.
So maybe you're starting to see why most people don't get this far. It's a lot of work, and it's not necessarily easy work. And it's definitely not quick work. But you'll see soon why this kind of detail will help you actually see your goal to fruition.
Step 3: Forget about your goal.
Step 4: Work your plan.
These are probably the most counterintuitive steps in the process. How could setting a finish line and then forgetting where the finish line is help you reach the finish line better or at all? How do you work a plan if you don't know where you're going?
This is best explained with an analogy. You've probably heard this one before too. But it can't hurt to hear it again.
Let's say there's a huge tree you want to chop down. You don't have a chainsaw, but you do have an axe. So you go out one day, your mind set on chopping it down. You're super motivated because you're fresh and just starting, so you start thrashing away at the tree. You work so hard that after 45 minutes you're exhausted. But you think "wow I worked really hard, surely the tree will fall down now." So you push at the tree, but to no avail. The tree doesn't budge. So you try thrashing some more, exhaust yourself, and try to push down the tree. Nothing. You're doubly discouraged because the tree didn't come down, and you see how little you have to show for your exhausting work. So you go home dejected, and decide chopping down the tree isn't worth it. You may pick it back up a week or two later, but the same thing happens. The tree doesn't come down, so why try?
Now imagine an alternate scenario. Still the same huge tree. Still only an axe to use. But this time, you take one good look at the tree and say "ok this is exactly where I'm going to chop at it, and this is exactly how long I will chop today, and then I will stop for the day." So you chop at the tree with precision, taking breaks throughout the day when you're tired, until you've hit your time for the day. You go home satisfied with your work, even though the tree didn't come down. You show up the next day with your plan of attack still in effect, and you go at it with quality. You do this every day for weeks and weeks. In fact you get so involved in the process of chopping with precision and quality that you even forgot about the tree as a whole. You're too focused on your job for the day. And then one day you're chopping away at it, and it comes down! You've done it! You didn't even realize that today was going to be the day that it comes down. You have an ultimate amount of satisfaction because you did what you could control every single day, and let the results take care of themselves.
Maybe you can see how focusing too much on the end goal can negatively affect your ability to reach that goal.
So in summary, your process is this: Set your goal. Whatever it is, you have to have a goal. Figure out what stands between you and your goal. Create your plan based on those obstacles. Now, and possibly the most important parts, forget about your goal and work your plan. Put on your blinders and get so involved with the daily process of working your plan that you forget about your goal entirely.
And as a cherry on top of all of this, find more satisfaction in the pursuit than the accomplishment. As my mentor Robert Linville says, find joy in the journey.