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Sergio and Showing Emotion

If you’ve been tuned into golf lately (or anytime over Sergio’s career), you’ve seen how emotional Sergio can be during a round of golf.

While playing Matt Kuchar in the Dell Technologies WGC Match Play, Sergio had a putt to win the hole. He missed it, then quickly swiped at the tap-in and missed that too. Kuchar never had a chance to give him the tap-in, so Sergio lost the hole. Sergio proceeded to talk about it with Kuchar and Kuchar’s caddy throughout the rest of the round and was noticeably agitated the entire time. Sergio went on to lose the match to Kuchar, and also said he realized the situation was his fault, but that didn’t erase how Sergio got in his own way, just as he has many times before.

You’ve heard me preach about acceptance. And being totally indifferent to the result or the outcome. I might have even said something that sounded like any emotion is wrong.

But here’s how I feel about emotions on the course. There is nothing wrong with emotion. Humans are emotional creatures. And golf is a game that has an uncanny ability to pull those emotions out of us. But there’s a common misconception about emotions. In his book High Performance Habits, Brendon Burchard says it well, “Emotions are generally instinctive. Triggering events generate an emotional response like fear, amusement, sadness, anger, relief, or love. Often the emotional response happens without our conscious will. Something happened and our brain attached a meaning or an emotion to it. Feelings, however, are meant to be used for a mental portrayal of an emotion. An emotion is a reaction, and a feeling is an interpretation.”

Your emotions are an automatic physical response that for the most part can’t be controlled. Your feelings are your response to your emotions. Because feelings are a conscious thought, you can choose how you feel about your emotions.

So back to Sergio. Let’s break down the situation. Keeping in mind Burchard’s thoughts on the difference between emotions and feelings, how does Sergio’s situation play out? So Sergio hits a putt, and because he missed it, he probably had a rush of emotions. Involuntary physical responses to the missed putt of surprise, anger, annoyance, and disgust. But just because these emotions were pumping through his body didn’t mean he had to feel the way he did about it. Remember, feelings are a conscious (meaning you are awake and aware) interpretation of your emotions. Sergio could’ve chosen to respond to his negative emotions in a different way. He could’ve interpreted his surprise at missing the putt as just the variance that happens in golf and an area to improve. He could’ve interpreted his anger at losing the hole as something that can be made up for on the next hole. He could’ve interpreted his annoyance with the rules or with Kuchar as the same rules that every player has to abide by.

This is how two people can be going through the exact same circumstances yet be reacting totally differently.

So how does this practically affect you? Well let’s take a common emotion that we definitely all feel. Nervous. No one is immune to nerves. You could have played in the same tournament and been in the exact same situation dozens of times, yet your mind still experiences nervousness. But how we differ as individuals is our interpretation of that nervousness. How we feel in response to the physical emotion. A mentally weak player experiences nerves and feels unprepared, anxious, scared, afraid of failure, and wants out of the situation. A mentally strong player, however, experiences nerves but feels ready, alert, prepared, adrenaline, heightened senses, and access to their best skills. The mentally weaker player has chosen to interpret nervousness to their detriment. The mentally stronger player has chosen (after much practice and many, many trials and errors) to interpret their emotions to their advantage.

This starts with an awareness, as almost all improvement does. Taking a hard, introspective look at yourself when you least want to. In the toughest circumstances where your mind is racing and your heart is thumping, watch how you interpret those emotions. You’ve probably been reacting the same way for a long time, so it’ll be a tough habit to break. But you can choose how you respond to your circumstances. Journal this process. Write down what your body was experiencing and then how you naturally wanted to feel.

Start with awareness. Then set a goal of how you want to feel when your body experiences a given emotion. Then develop a practice to go from where you are to where you want to be.


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