I’m visiting my brother Dan in Pauma Valley, California, this weekend. About forty miles inland from San Diego, Pauma is located in a stunningly beautiful valley surrounded by two mountains, one of them Palomar, atop which sits one of the great observatories in the world.
It also has one of the best golf courses in California. With its mixture of natural beauty, great golf and remoteness, it’s no wonder that the likes of Bill Murray and Huey Lewis own homes here.
As I get ready to play a round with my brother, it seems like the right place and time to write about the direct correlations that playing golf have with doing well in our work. In other words, if you apply the following two necessities for playing good golf to your job, you’ll kick major butt.
What are those two things we need to be successful on the golf course?
1. Compete against the course, not other players.
In golf, the player that hits the fewest shots wins. Simple enough. So whether you’re playing with friends, your siblings, or in a tournament with 100 people, to win you need to hit fewer shots than the others.
And what’s the best way to do that? To not think one lick about what the other players are doing. Put another way, the best course of action in golf is to compete against the golf course, not those you’re competing against.
Why? The answer is so important that it gets special bold treatment.
You compete against the course because that is the only thing in your control.
If you’re out on the golf course playing against that obnoxious guy at the office that you desperately want to beat like a drum, your best chance of beating him comes if you ignore how he’s playing. Just do your best against the course. And if he plays out of his mind that day and beats you, that’s life. Short of cheating or poisoning his beer can (neither of which I endorse) there’s nothing you can do about it.
But I’ll tell you this: If you expend a lot of mental energy cringing every time he hits a good shot and silently celebrating every time he hits a crappy shot, your score will suffer and his odds of beating you increase. You maximize your chances of winning by placing 100 percent of your concentration on your game.
Focus on YOUR work, not your colleagues’
What’s the corollary to your work? Put all of your focus on your work. All of it. Don’t worry about what others in the office are doing. If you put everything into your work and wind up selling 52 cars this year and your coworker sells 65 and wins the trip to Hawaii, hats off to him or her. Snooping around on them and constantly wondering how their sales are going will only result in you selling fewer cars.
It’s also a major energy suck to be one of those gossipy looky-loos with the snide comment always at the ready. Not only does our work suffer when we do this, but our psychic well-being does as well.
Advice from my executive dad
My dad was a Fortune 500 CEO who made his way to the top of the corporate world by keeping his nose down and doing his work. He always told me in my early working years to focus on my work and not worry about what everybody else in the office was doing.
That’s the life lesson here. We can only do our best. In fact, by definition, we can’t do any better than our best.
So play against the golf course in your work. Then let the chips fall where they may.
2. Place ALL of your attention on the shot you’re hitting.
In golf, as in life, the tendency is for our minds to wander. So when the ten handicap golfer pars the first six holes he heads to the seventh tee and thinks, “Holy crap. I could shoot par (72) today. My best score ever!” Then he proceeds to dump his drive into the lake on his way to a triple bogey. Bye, bye 72…
Believe it or not, this comes into play at the highest levels of golf. A player who’s been on the PGA Tour for ten years but never won a tournament plays amazingly well and leads through the first three rounds. All night long he can’t stop thinking about how great it would be if he won his first tournament (btw, a HUGE accomplishment in golf). The next day, in the final round, he can’t shake that thought. The result? He shoots 78 and loses by ten shots.
Bottom line: In golf, the great ones focus on nothing but the shot at hand. Whether they’ve just hit the best shot of their life, or the worst shot of their life, their attention is focused on the next shot.
Tiger Woods doesn’t think
The quintessential example of this is, no surprise, the great Tiger Woods. I remember countless times when some golf commentator would interview Tiger on the 18th green after one of his innumerable, magical finishes and gush, “Wow, Tiger! You were two shots behind with two holes to go and you went birdie, birdie. How did you do that? What were you thinking?”
Each time Tiger gave some variation of this answer: “Honestly, I wasn’t thinking about anything. I was just trying to stay in the moment and focus on each shot.” Most important is what Tiger wasn’t doing — thinking about whether he was going to win or lose the tournament. Or thinking about how great, or terrible, his last shot was.
And do you know why Tiger focuses like a laser on the present moment? Because he’s the most competitive human being on this planet and he knows that staying present gives him the best chance of winning.
At work, focus on the present moment
How does this translate to the working world? Simple. Put all of your focus on doing only what’s in front of you. Don’t waste energy, like the golfer wondering if he’ll win his first tournament, thinking about past or future work items.
Going back to the car dealer example, if you’ve sold 25 cars and need to get to 30 by the end of the month to win the trip to Hawaii, DON’T THINK ABOUT THE TRIP TO HAWAII! That’s a distraction that will hurt your sales performance. Put every ounce of attention you can muster on selling as many cars as you can.
Bjorn Borg wins and doesn’t know it
One other sports story captures this beautifully. The phenomenal Swedish tennis player, Bjorn Borg, was once so fully focused in a tight match that when he won, he didn’t even know it. The guy came up to the net to shake hands and Borg was like, “Oh. It’s over. Great!” EVERY fiber of his being was so trained on each moment, each shot, each point, that he lost track of the score. THAT is concentration at its finest.
The point: We humans produce our best, in everything — golf, tennis, writing, selling cars, parenting, ‘spousing’ — when we approach such endeavors from a place of focused presence. Because that’s where our genius resides; not in our thinking, jabbering, egoic minds, but in the brilliant, still silence within that can only be accessed when we are in the moment.
You might be thinking, “Great. Be present at my job. I’d love to. But my mind wanders all the time! What the heck can I do to help myself be more present?”
Answer: You can meditate.
Meditation — it’s just practicing being present.
Meditating is just practicing being in the moment — by watching our breath or any number of things happening in the present moment. I started eight years ago and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. It takes a modicum of discipline and commitment, mostly just in the first few months, but boy is it worth it. If you’re looking for a place to start, check out my free, simple program at davidgerken.net.
And by the way, that Tiger Woods guy I wrote about earlier? His mother, Kultida, is a Buddhist from Thailand who had Tiger meditating from an early age, something he continues to this day. ‘Nuff said…