It ain’t weird, don’t be scared–it’s meditation

ABC NEWS - Dan Harris, co-anchor of ABC News' NIGHTLINE and GOOD MORNING AMERICA: WEEKEND EDITION. (ABC/ Ida Mae Astute)

ABC NEWS – Dan Harris, co-anchor of ABC News’ NIGHTLINE and GOOD MORNING AMERICA: WEEKEND EDITION. (ABC/ Ida Mae Astute)  

Being alone with your thoughts sounds nice, but on the golf course our minds often resemble the barking dog next door that just won’t shut the hell up.

The yapping thoughts in my head rarely have anything nice to say, especially when I have a shot over water or a good back nine going. My thoughts are usually warning me about the horrible things that will happen when I inevitably screw up.

For most of us, our minds are like a big untrained dog on a leash yanking us around. and similarly annoying.

Meditation is like obedience training for your mind.

Wait! Don’t run away. Meditating isn’t weird. It’s a practice that can help you develop the skill of quieting your mind. I’ve been meditating for about eight years, but I didn’t tell too many people about it.

I was like Dan Harris. I thought most people, especially golfers—face it folks, we’re not known as the most progressive lot—thought meditation was some kind of new-agey-hippie-dippie trip.

In Harris’s wonderful and funny book 10% Happierthe co-anchor of ABC’s Nightline and weekend Good Morning America recounts how he thought meditation involved “ogling crystals, intoning om, and attempting to float off into some sort of cosmic goo.”

The book documents Harris’s journey of discovery that  meditation is a practical tool, a conclusion that I share.  Meditation helps you choose where you are paying attention and how to become more present to whatever you are doing or experiencing.

During Show #37 of our Swing Thoughts podcast, Howard and I compare our meditation practices, and I lead a guided meditation (which you can try). NOTE: Howard didn’t reach nirvana but he may have levitated.

Years ago as I began to learn more about the mental side of golf, I became aware that my untrained mind was constantly whirring. In fact, I was a chronic worrier.

Like most golfers, I fixated on outcome—future events. ‘I hope this putt goes in. Don’t hit it in the water. Can I par in from here? Don’t shake—please!’

This made me tense, anxious and emotionally volatile; although my swing technique was pretty good, my swing was tight and controlled and prone to off-the-world misfires.

As my meditation practice matured, I learned how my thoughts caused me to get in my own way, and that this was the main reason that I—like most golfers—chronically under-performed.

I learned that meditation silences the yapping thoughts, and that performers, athletes and business people of all kinds, including Sheryl Crow, Michael Jordan and Bridgewater CEO Ray Dalio use meditation to hone the skill of being in the present moment.

As a coach, I recommend all my clients take a shot at meditating. I invite them to commit to spending five minutes a day meditating for seven straight days . Most of them continue it.

I invite you to give it a shot.

Here’s a beginner’s guide to meditation:

  • Choose a place and time where you won’t be disturbed and distractions will be at a minimum. (I prefer first thing in the morning when my mind is relatively quiet.)
  • If you can sit cross-legged, great, but a straight-back chair is fine. Sit straight up (this helps to keep you from falling asleep) with both feet on the floor with your hands comfortably in your lap.
  • Set a timer for five minutes, or how ever long you choose.
  • Close your eyes, and focus your attention on your breath. Attempt to feel your breath and body, such as your heart, chest or your nose.
  • Here’s what’s going to happen—guaranteed: You will lose your focus and you will drift into thinking.
  • When you notice that you are thinking, simply bring your focus back to your breath. Repeat, repeat.
  • When your timer rings, stop.

Don’t judge or count how many times you lose focus and bring it back to your breath. As you meditate, you will be constantly losing the focus on your breath, and bringing your attention back.

That’s the practice of meditation—a means of building the skill of awareness.

What’s awareness? It is noticing that you are thinking, and choosing to bring your attention back to your breath. It’s not about slipping into a void of nothingness, although after 30 years of meditating you might.

It helps provide you with the skill of quieting your thoughts and to pay full attention to what serves you. For golfers, that could be the target, the feeling of your swing, or the clubhead, or whatever  you choose.

And, you are likely to feel calm and more relaxed, which is a pretty cool side affect. (In future blogs, I’ll discuss other ways to use meditation on the golf course and anywhere.)

Enhancing your awareness will help you play better golf and enrich all parts of your life. It might even help you ignore the barking dog next door.



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!