In your zeal to improve, don’t forget the objective

Last week, I finally discovered the brilliance of Canadian comic Norm Macdonald.

(In my defense, my kids were babies during his mid-90s stint on Saturday Night Live when he became a phenom. And I don’t stay up much past 9:30.)
In watching a YouTube clip of Macdonald talking about Tiger Woods, I thought it was cool that he was a golf fan. Then, I became aware that he was saying ‘you know’ over and over. 
Of course, no one in the audience gave a damn. They were too busy laughing. 
Why the hell would I be thinking about Macdonald saying ‘you know’?
Because I’m trying to stop saying it! 
In the world of public speaking, that’s known as a ‘filler word’. (I know—you know is a phrase.) We use filler words and phrases such as um, ah, so, like, and you know habitually, usuallly to give us a second to think, or to find a word. We do this unconsciously. Fillers words are in our blindspots.
We don’t normally notice them unless someone uses them repeatedly, such as Justin Trudeau when he’s answering questions in English. He “ums” repeatedly. Hey, I’ve heard other people complain about this too, OK?
According to speaking experts, filler words are unprofessional, and must be eradicated like, well, a virus. At Toastmasters clubs, where people learn public speaking, filler words are treated with disdain—much like a teenager greets a fresh crop of zits on a Friday night. 
At each Toastmasters meeting, one person counts how many filler words each person uses. Most people are shocked—and embarrassed—to learn how often they habitually use a filler word.
It’s the same with pet phrases. In my vain imaginary world, I fantasize there’s a drinking game in which every time I say “100%” on our Swing Thoughts podcast, someone is taking a swig.
(For the record, when you feel a filler word coming on, you’re taught in Toastmasters to pause, and let it pass. It’s enormously difficult, not unlike when you feel compelled to savagely scratch a mosquito bite.)
I agree with some critics of Toastmasters that making people hyper-vigilant about eradicating filler words ties people up in knots, and it can kill the natural way people talk.
It’s the same thing as a golfer trying to swing correctly by focusing, for example, on turning her left hip to initiate the downswing when she’s on the golf course. When we’re trying, we are self-interfering. 
Does this mean we shouldn’t make an effort to improve? Nope.
The invitation is this: rather than try to do something correctly, can you simply observe—or more precisely—become aware of what you’re doing?
In the case of ‘you knows’, I’m much better off just observing or listening to myself rather than fixate on never saying it. There’s a big difference.

It’s a difficult concept to grasp, so I’ll give you an example how this process can work.
Legendary golf coach Fred Shoemaker tells the story about going to see coach Timothy Gallwey to cure his habit of loosening the fingers of right hand at the top of his backswing. Shoemaker said he had been trying to stop for decades.
Gallwey asked if he had ever experienced himself doing it. Shoemaker said no, but his friends said he did it all the time. Gallwey told Shoemaker to make a swing, and observe his fingers. “You mean, deliberately do it wrong?’ Shoemaker asked. Gallwey told him just to swing. 
Shoemaker said that as he swung, he eventually became aware of his fingers moving off the club. At some point, they stopped moving off the club. Shoemaker says they’ve never moved since. 
What’s the lesson? Awareness is curative.
Unless we have experienced what’s in our blindspot, we are incapable of changing it. We must first become aware.
Although I would like to extricate ‘you know’ from my speech, I haven’t yet. But now I’m aware that when I get excited, I speed up, the filler words pile up, and I don’t think clearly. I catch myself and can slow down. 
But here’s the thing: no cares. I’ve never had a podcast listener say, ‘Hey Timmy, great podcast, but geez, watch the ‘you know’s buddy. You’re killing me.’ 
It’s the same with Macdonald’s audience. They could give a damn. He gets the result he wants, which is what it’s all about. (Let’s just say my audience resembles a couple of folks standing at bus stop compared to Macdonald’s millions.)
So … what’s the takeaway, eh?
Um, focus on the objective, and, ah, don’t worry about doing things right. As you develop your awareness of what you do, like, you’ll eventually meet your objectives. 

And, awareness is curative … you know?

Do you want to learn how to better manage your thoughts and emotions on the golf course, and in other parts of life?

Then, check out my just released Obedience Training For Your Brain e-book, a companion to my webinar of the same name.

To learn how to silence your inner critic, press pause on your thoughts, and keep your emotions from running away from you, check out my new e-book Obedience Training For Your Brain: How to stop your mind from yanking you all over the place, from biting the kids and gobbling down your food. It’s only $5.

Click here to learn to train your mind to play better golf, and have more fun—in life too! 

You can also download my free e-book Getting Unstuck: Commit to Freedom by visiting

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. John Regan says

    You know Tim, Norm is the brother of CBC news analyst Neil Macdonald. They are similar in many ways.

    • Thx John … I appreciate the comment. Indeed, I did know that. I’m sure Neil is one funny dude too. I hope you’re well. I’m enjoying having Pat back in London. Are you? 🙂

      • John Regan says

        Truthfully I haven’t seen much of him. We text back and forth but we’ll need some warmer weather and vaccines before we can really hang out.