How I learned to stop trying and became a better podcaster

Watch Howard and I present what we’re calling Swing Thoughts Live at the Toronto Golf Show on Friday at 5:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2:30 p.m. It will be fun! Click here for details

Newsletter #3, February 23, 2017—I have been doing a podcast called Swing Thoughts for more than a year now with Howard Glassman—aka Humble Howard—but it’s only in the last few months that I finally feel like I can play without choking my guts out.

We’ve done 38 episodes of our podcast—which focuses mostly on what goes on between golfers’ ears—and I have often felt like the struggling middle-handicapper matched with the what-me-worry scratch player.

Drawing on our experiences as over-the-top golf geeks—Howard is a scratch golfer, comic and radio host, and I’m a writer and performance coach—we have shared revealing stories, interviewed guests such as Sean Foley and Fred Shoemaker, and dispensed some nuggets of learning that our listeners say have helped them play better and have more fun.

In doing the podcast, I also learned something about myself—namely, the same behaviours that made me struggle as a golfer also hampered me behind the microphone.

Howard and I connected early in 2015, became friends as fellow “golf nerds” and I started to coach him. We tossed around the idea for a podcast and Swing Thoughts made its debut in December 2015.

Although I did some radio in the ‘90s as a freelancer for CBC Radio, hosted a golf show on Talk Radio AM640 in Toronto and Telemedia (later hosted by Bob Weeks), I was very much the amateur in comparison to Howard who has been broadcasting for nearly 40 years, most of them in tandem with Fred Patterson as Humble and Fred.

When we initially started recording Swing Thoughts, Howard and I prattled on easily about tournaments, our own stories and golf news.

But a few times every show, Howard would ask me a question or two about mental performance techniques to help our listeners.

My brain interpreted these moments as ‘Don’t f*** this up. You’re the supposed coach. You have to say something really smart now to show everyone that actually know what you’re talking about.’

In those moments, I could feel myself tighten up. I tried to force something brilliant out of my mouth to pass the test. I chose my words consciously and carefully. I stammered and strained, my voice was reedy and pinched, and my bon mot of golf wisdom sounded—to me—unconvincing, like I hoped you might believe it.

I was choking in those moments. I cared so much about the results that my emotions, namely fear, prevented me from accessing the skills and experience that I had.

The same unconscious compulsions that have dogged me throughout my life—make sure I-do-everything-right, don’t mess up, and try hard—caused me to get in my own way.

As we did more shows, I grasped that I wasn’t putting my own coaching advice in practice; as my clients will attest, I’m constantly yammering on about awareness and being present to yourself. Instead, I was thoroughly in my head, hijacked by fear.

During one particular show, I became aware that my right heel was reflexively pounding out a fast beat through the entire show. Another time, I felt my stomach tighten. And I eventually discovered that I constantly pressed my tongue into the bottom of my mouth.

When I became aware of what my body was doing, my right foot seemed to stop on its own, my stomach relaxed and my jaw felt free. As Fred Shoemaker told us, “awareness is curative.”

The real test was in dealing with those ‘time-to-be-brilliant’ moments. Over time, rather than tense up, I would place my attention on the feeling of my chest and stomach moving with each breath. When it came time for me to talk, I would breath and just wait… wait for something to come up and spill out of my mouth.

Invariably, it was appropriate and fit in naturally just like when Howard and I are chatting on the phone. I no longer cared if it was brilliant or proved anything about me. Giving up that concern over how I would be judged allowed me to freewheel. (And, of course, the harshest judge was me.)

Rather than forcing, I allowed. I surrendered.

In doing so, my intuition flows and I can access many of the interesting experiences and learnings that I’ve gathered over 30 years writing about golf, learning about human behaviour and coaching men and golfers. I certainly have more fun.

There’s tonnes more for me to learn to be a better podcaster, and Howard has been immensely patient and kind. I believe Swing Thoughts will continue to get better and keep growing its audience—in part because I have stopped trying so damn hard.

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a performance coach, an award-winning writer, Head Coach of the University of Guelph golf team and Mental Performance Coach at the ClubLink Academy at Glen Abbey. He is co-host of the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and a leader in training in the ManKind Project. He gets all excited when he helps people tap into their brilliance.

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