So my last post turned out to be a very interesting lesson (at least for me) in the power of the internet. I started getting advice from mental coaches on at least two continents and from several different countries. The response was very gratifying. It was like having freakin’ NATO airdrop on to my driving range. I guess people didn’t want to see another failed golf mental state. I got a lot of advice and although none of it was really new just getting it was helpful. And the really exciting thing is that it set off a process that may lead me out of the wilderness.
As a bit of background here is what I was finding particularly discouraging about my game. I actually have, for my age, a fairly athletic and effective swing. And although it could always be better and deserves to be more a focus of my practice time, my short game certainly has its moments. But what was happening was that some of the simplest shots around the green were putting me into this freakish palsy-like state where I became this twitching nervous wreck who would try about a half dozen practice swings, address the ball, hover over it, back away from the ball, twitch a little more, go back to addressing the ball, and then hover over it some more feeling completely locked up and then finally, blessedly, I would somehow allow the moment of impact to actually take place and the shot would finally happen.
And how do we think that all worked out?
I have sufficient insight into myself to know that the formula behind this time consuming spectacle is this: knowing that I should be good at this = feeling that therefore I shouldn’t screw it up = really not wanting to screw it up = getting nervous that I will screw it up. And being the cerebral type that I am I acted on the premise that I could think my way out of this mess and find just the right opening in the fog of my anxiety and that would be the instant when I could do something as inherently bold and daring as chipping the ball to a pin 40 feet away, because after all, a shot like that is some serious shit, right?
And then a light bulb went off. Having been told by people throughout the English speaking world that I had to get my thinking mind out of the way, I hit upon a solution. I thought back to how I got over my fear of flying about 25 years ago. I wasn’t always nervous about strapping myself into a chair that’s attached to a thin fuselage that hurdles through the air at speeds in excess of 400 miles an hour at an altitude of 30,000 feet. I was really okay with it. Then I became a dad. Whereas before I could be rational and dispassionate about the odds of crashing, I now had a new cost to factor in. Going down with the plane meant that I wouldn’t see my sons grow up. All of a sudden dying while en route to ingratiate myself to some money manager in Los Angeles, although still as improbable, carried a whole new risk.
But one day I accidentally stumbled upon a solution. This was back in the 80’s when airports were not the nexus of paranoia and security that they are today and I thought the boys would have a great time just hanging out watching the planes taxi around and take off and land and all the rest. And they did have a great time. But the real beneficiary was me. I spent a few hours watching the planes myself and my fear of flying began to disappear. I saw that planes took off and that planes landed. Over and over again in fact. No big deal. It’s just what planes do.
I believe this is called extinction training in the world of psychology. My fears evaporated as I stripped airline travel of all the emotional baggage I had layered on to it.
So, my epiphany was to do the same thing with golf shots, and in particular chip shots. So I’ve set up a little extinction training spot in my attic which is the man cave at the Staley residence. It’s where I write, meditate, work out and keep all the books, old cd’s and other stuff that my wife would be happy to see thrown out. I laid out a rectangular bath mat and took a large painting that a college roommate had given us 25 years ago and rested it against a bookshelf as a backstop. I folded blankets over the paintings to give it a little protection and voila, I had a spot to rehearse a whole new way of hitting chips. I simply rehearse the swing I want to use, address the ball and then repeat the swing almost instantly. And it works!! The vast majority are what I would call Budweiser chips: clean, crisp and refreshing.
Now I know for some of you this must seem like one of the bigger anticlimaxes you’ve ever had reading something. Like you just read 950 words and the punchline is this guy telling you how he’s learned to wash his hands or drink from a cup. Well, I’ll admit it: it’s a big deal for me. And here’s the kicker: I went out Wednesday evening with my buddies and hit my shots around the green in exactly that way: rehearsal, address, execution without hesitation and IT WORKED!!!! I think it proves that I’m no dodo. Extinction works for me!