Just stop it

  • Watch for news about an exciting new program that PGA of Canada professional Nathan Robinson and I are launching in early 2022.
  • I’m getting wonderful feedback from participants in our first two Golf is Line: Online Golf Nerd Group. If you’re interested, check out this blog and this one, and send me an email to tim@oconnorgolf.ca.
  • And, I will be doing some indoor coaching this winter. News to come.

This blog contains some great advice.

Not from me. From Bob Newhart, the great comic actor. (If you don’t know him, he was  Papa Elf in Elf).

His advice makes perfect sense, but I don’t know anyone who can do it.

In a MadTV sketch from many years ago, Newhart plays a psychotherapist. His client is a woman who tells him she has a lifelong fear of being buried alive in a box.

(Spoiler alert: Before reading on, I suggest you watch the sketch below first; besides, it’s hilarious.)

He responds: “I’m going to say two words to you right now, and I want you to listen to them very, very carefully… ”

He leans forward, and yells: “Stop it!”

Shocked, she asserts that she can’t. This fear has been with her since with childhood.

He persists: “You don’t want to go through life being afraid of being buried in a box. That sounds frightening.

“Just stop it.”

It’s funny because it’s so logical. If we don’t like what we do, then we should just stop. It makes perfect sense. But we know we’re anything but logical.

We all have addictions, fears, self-interfering patterns, and more that we know are killing us—and our golf games—and yet we keep doing them.

Metaphorically speaking, we find ourselves over and over again standing with the freezer door open at midnight pounding back spoonsful of ice cream directly from the bucket.

Why can’t we stop? That’s a whole other topic, but like the woman in the sketch, most of the stuff that messes with us is linked to beliefs, shadows, traumas that we’ve been carrying around since we were kids.

‘Why’ isn’t the right question to ask ourselves in most cases.

The better question is ‘What are we doing?’

Consider a pretty common golf situation.

Let’s say that a golfer decides that she chronically underperforms because of her perfectionist tendencies, which cause her to get technical when she starts missing a few shots. (Her father was a demanding taskmaster!)

So for her next round, she commits to swinging rhythmically on every shot. But after a bad start, she gets lost in mechanics. Nothing works.

Getting into her car, she pounds the dashboard, “Dammit! Again!”

When she gets home she’s sad, and wonders ‘What the hell can I do to stop this brutal cycle of making promises to myself and then feeling like a failure when I can’t deliver?’

Like many of us, she’s read mountains of books, taken courses and lessons, and on and on.

No doubt you’ve tried some sports psychology techniques, but found they didn’t work either. Unfortunately, most techniques just make people think more and self-interfere. Thinking just leads to more thinking, which is where most of our problems start.

So, what can a person do?

If I can offer anything it’s simply this: observe yourself. That’s all. You don’t need an app, special headgear, or a wrist thing.

As you go around the course, or any part of your life, witness yourself. Simply pay attention to your thoughts and feelings.

If you need something more substantial, just write this reminder question on your scorecard: ‘What am I paying attention to?’

How can that make a difference?

First off, you are not your thoughts. That is, whatever comes into your mind is not necessarily real. Most of our thoughts are past-based—derived from the nasty stuff we’ve been carrying around since we were kids. Our thoughts are just ephemera passing through.

One of the most profound questions that I was ever asked came from Garry Lester at an Extraordinary Golf coaches’ workshop. He asked, “Are you your mind? Or do you have a mind.”

If it’s the former, I’m a captive to every thought that flits through my cranium. If I have a mind, I realize I am not my thoughts, and that I can make choices about how I respond to them.

Besides, if our thoughts were real, we’d be in jail, or banished from polite society. At least, I would.

When we observe our thoughts, we’re now aware of what’s happening in our minds.

Rather than our train of thought barrelling out of the station and out of control, we can do something different. Put another way, rather than react as we normally do, we can respond.

For example, by witnessing my internal conversation, I might notice that after blocking a couple of drives that I’m starting to go through my Rolodex of swing tips, which is a common default behaviour of mine.

‘Oh, for Pete’s sake, I’m doing that again.’

And I could go back to my intention for the day, which may be committing to the shot that I want to hit.

Does it stop me from my old behaviours? Not always. Sometimes.

But when it comes to an old self-interfering behaviour, at least I give myself a fighting chance to just stop 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!