Einstein and the theory of self-sabotage

Einstein 2

A coaster on my desk that quotes Albert Einstein sums up my relationship with golf perfectly. It says: “Insanity. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

For the past two decades, I have followed the same pattern even though it nearly always guarantees that I’m going to be frustrated after a round of golf. It’s like Tim’s Golf Groundhog Day, and it isn’t a bit funny.


And I know that many golfers do the same thing.

Here’s how it goes: Last Wednesday night, I developed a new feeling that my lead wrist was leading my putting stroke and popping through the ball. On the practice green, I was rolling the ball better with crisp pace.

On Saturday morning, I set off the first tee confident that my putting stroke would lead to a banner day. You know the ending to this story. I left medium and long putts laughably short, and missed all kinds of short ones. The dreaded “de-cel” was killing me. I couldn’t summon the left-wrist feeling, and I got tighter as the game went on until I was incapable of making a smooth swing or stroke. I was completely deflated. Again.

At home afterwards, I realized that I have done this countless times over the years: during a practice session, I will find some feeling or thought that has me striping the ball, filling me with hope and confidence. But during my next round, the magic invariably goes poof and I slash and slump off the course feeling that yet again I’ve sabotaged myself.

Yup, that’s insane.

But this is also how I operate in the world. I work hard, which sounds very noble, because it’s important to me that I do things correctly. If I really care about something, I will think about it a lot before attempting it. Often, I will seek more information and determine I need more preparation. Once started, I will methodically push myself and sharply judge the quality of my  work.

I’ve learned that in these moments my conscious mind is controlling the show like an annoying busybody. It took me a long time to learn how to write from my sub-conscious—trust the process and let it rip. And the results are usually OK.

I haven’t learned how to play golf from my subconscious yet. I have read over and over and listened to my co-author and golf professional Todd Graves tell me that once on the course, I need to trust my swing, focus on the target and let it rip.* Leave the mechanics for the range. Every so often, I do and the game seems easier. These are the days that I can go low, or at least get through without a couple blow-ups.

But those days are rare. Over and over, I put myself under the stress of trying to score while consciously putting a new feeling or swing thought to work. The busybody and judge are my wingmen.

The stress comes from trying to execute the feeling—in my recent case, the firm left wrist—to achieve a desired result, which was making putts. In the moment, I am anxious, in my head and detached from what my body is doing.

As I was thinking about this on Saturday afternoon, I thought back to a George Knudson gem: “Give up control to gain control.” Instead of being conscious of what I was trying to do during my game Sunday, I decided to focus simply on the feelings in my body, particularly in my hands, and focus on the target. I figured that’s the best I could do.

I went out Sunday and played well in a two-person team event, swinging with a sense of freedom, striking the ball fairly solid for the most part, rolling long putts close and making most of my short putts.

I will no doubt fall prey to my pattern again, but at least I’m more aware of it. Perhaps now I can end the insanity. Temporarily, anyways.

*Our forthcoming coming book, The Single Plane Golf Swing: Play Better Golf the Moe Norman Way is in production. We’ll keep you posted on the release date. Scroll down four blogs to read more about it.






About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!