How setting an intention could give you the courage to do a polar bear swim—and play better golf

Jan. 9, 2018 Ezine—I have never understood the polar bear swimmers who run screaming into the icy water on New Year’s Day.

Jeez, are you kidding? I couldn’t imagine myself willingly exposing my nearly bare naked body to that.

Until I did. Well, sorta.

For New Year’s, my wife Sandy and I set out to spend the weekend with some friends in Muskoka, the lovely cottage area north of Toronto.

Besides plenty of drinking and eating, there was lots of outdoor stuff to do such as tobogganing and snowshoeing. But the forecast was for biting cold. I despise cold. It’s not ideal for a Canadian but there you go.

Nevertheless, I set an intention that I was going to literally and figuratively move out of my comfort zone on the weekend.

On the first night, it was -25 C (-13 F for my American friends) and I found myself stepping into the snow wearing only a bathing suit, a bathrobe and some rubber bootie things. It was like an out-of-body experience.

I peeled off the robe, felt the cold slam against my skin, and hopped into a hot tub.

Basking in the warm, roiling water was, of course, fantastic. After a while, my friend Kathleen jumped out and rolled around in the snow, shrieking, and hopped back in. In an instant, I followed, rolled and howled. Back in the tub, we laughed our fool heads off. My feet and hands felt like they were pulsating with heat. It was amazing.

The wonderful feeling was accentuated by realizing that I had made good on my intention to take some risks that weekend.

OK, risking getting into a hot tub doesn’t remotely compare with saving people from a burning building, or even a Polar Bear swim, but it was a small step in the snow, as it were.

As a coach, I was taking some of my own advice about setting an intention, which boiled down for me to stop being such a careful analytical bore.

On the weekend, rather than bail out, I wanted to go all in. I wanted to say yes to invitations that I would normally decline.

Setting an intention for a getaway weekend seems over the top, and well, over-thinking. But it makes sense to me that we should ask ourselves some questions before we do most anything we care about.

How many of you have asked yourself why you play golf? Namely, ‘What do I want from this?’ ‘What is my purpose?’

I ask all my new clients to do a writing exercise that starts with the question,  ‘Why do I play golf?’

The process connects them with the real reasons that they play golf. Rarely do their key reasons have anything to do with lowering their handicap or shooting particular scores. Their reasons are as varied as they are. Some people learn that they play to escape, or enjoy competition or time with friends, or to feel a sense of freedom, and many others.

But when they play, most serious golfers are focused on results—on how they are doing. Rather than connecting with what hooked them on the game in the first place, or their purpose in playing, they constant judge themselves based on their results. The critic in our heads is usually insufferable and brutal. Mine sure is. He wants great results now.

Setting an intention connects you to your ‘why’. Setting an intention based on your purpose resembles zooming out with a camera lense. Rather than being tightly focused on, say, results, it’s like taking a wider shot that provides a greater perspective on what you’re doing.

Intention allows us to mindfully do what we want, rather than getting stuck in old patterns that keep us spinning our wheels, such as fixating on ourselves, our scores, our shortcomings or mistakes.

Ironically, when we play connected to intention, we usually play much better. (More about this in my next blog.)

OK, what does a ridiculous white middle-class risk of going into a hot tub on a cold night have to do with golf or anything?

In recent years, I have come to realize that for most of my life, I have been one careful dude in everything I do, and it showed up glaringly in golf.

It stemmed from the belief—which is, sadly, all too common for many folks—that I wasn’t good enough or smart enough.

At a core level, my survival depended on doing things right. Therefore, for whatever I’ve been invested in, I’ve tried hard. I consciously directed myself to execute correctly, and to stay away from situations that I have not prepared for. Avoid discomfort.

In essence, your classic paralysis-by-analysis basket case.

It took a long time to realize this.

And it’s not how I want to be.

I want to live—play golf, write, do everything—with more vitality, fun and freedom.

But actually living that way requires taking risks. And it doesn’t happen just by wishing for it.

On my New Year’s weekend, it was my intention to get an early start having more fun and living in accordance to my purpose in 2018. My silly pseudo-polar bear moment was a chill way to do it.

What are your intentions for 2018? I don’t mean resolutions.

Rather, I invite you to look more broadly at what you intend for yourself, your golf game, your family, your career or your hobbies in 2018.

I’m interested in what you come up with, and I’m be willing to provide some feedback. Please send them to (I’ll keep them confidential.)

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!


  1. Thank you for “…setting an intention…” and help to make one more step forward.
    We all would be happier if we would allways try to live the present time to fullest and not think about the past and future. It is importamt not only in golf.
    from Hamilton, Ontario
    PS: I am happier and healthier with single plane since last april. It would be nice to watch you once coaching the University of Guelph golf team.