We all have in mind what we want to shoot on a given day. Maybe you average 85 and you want to shoot something in the low-80s or high-70s. Or you're going into Sunday at a tour event and you feel like if you shoot 5 under on the day it will give you a good opportunity to catch the leaders.
But is this the right mentality to have? Should we be gunning for a specific number? Or is there a better mentality that we can have that will more likely result in a good number?
Is there a better mentality?
I recently spoke with Aaron Goldman, a mental performance coach with a Masters in Applied Human Development, about this exact subject. Among lots of other things, we talked about his process for working through goal-setting with his athletes.
He starts by naming the goal with his athletes. They get the goal out on paper (or at least verbalize the goal). They make the score goal or the goal of playing for a college golf program not a secret. Getting your goal out there is super important, and you'll see why in a second. But first...
Here's the thing about setting hard, results-based goals like that. Most of what constitutes your total score are things that are not in your control. You can't control the course conditions. You can't control how you feel when you wake up. You can't control the weather. You can't control the traffic on your way to the course. And then there's all the small things that contribute to the variance in golf, like swing mechanics, ball position, club face, how much you've prepared, how well you've prepared, etc etc.
And then for your even bigger goal of playing for your dream school, there are numerous things that you'll have to do, and a lot of which you can't control. You're going to need to develop physically, mentally, emotionally. You're going to have to get smarter. You're going to have to play a ton of golf between now and then. You're going to have to get a lot better in so many ways. The list of things you'll have to do and the list of uncontrollables goes on and on. So there is a danger in setting results goals, but that's only if you live and die by them on a daily basis.
And here's how to not do that:
Once you've got your big goal out there (say it's to play for your dream university), now what do you do? You break it down. You break it WAY down. You lay out all of the stuff that is between where you are now, and where you want to be. And you create smaller goals to work toward. One thing you’ll need to improve in order to play for your dream university is the type of scores you'll need to be shooting. You can't magically lower your scoring average in a week. It's going to take time. So you break that still-large goal down into even smaller goals. What is between where you are and lowering your scoring average. Things like strength training, swing changes, hours and hours of practice, reading and developing your mental game. You can start to see a list emerging of real things to work on.
You create smaller goals to work toward.
Where most people go wrong at this point is they either get overwhelmed by the volume of work that needs to be done so they say it can't happen. Or people try to tackle everything in one day and get burnt out. So you have to set what are called "Process Goals". You need to be able to say "These are the things I will do over the next month. And these are things I will do over the next week. And these are the things I will do just tomorrow." Process Goals lead to Results Goals. So you set yourself on a process that will naturally bring about results.
You may have heard me say this before: You set a goal. You create a plan to reach that goal. You forget about your goal. And you work your plan. It's something my dad told me a long time ago that I have learned is a very wise way to look at progress and improvement.
So the process goes like this:
1. What I do today will help me reach my weekly goal.
2. What I do this week will help me reach my monthly goal.
3. What I do this month will help me reach my yearly goal.
4. And what I do this year will help me reach my ultimate goal.
So you shatter the inconceivably large goal down into much more bite-sized pieces. It takes the pressure off of you trying to achieve this ginormous thing. It's one of our biggest mistakes as athletes, and it's what leads to a lot of burnout and players that would've been great never reaching their potential.
Avoid burnout by breaking down your goals.
And eventually, after going through this process long enough, you get good enough to make it into your dream university. Or you lower your scoring average. Or you check off whatever goal you wanted to accomplish.
We're not going to just end up on the top of the mountain. We have to climb. And you climb by taking just the next step, and then the step after that, and then the step after that.