My math belief added up to trouble (and how your stories are messing with you)


Can you glance at a bunch of numbers and effortlessly add them in an instant?

Not me. Especially if there are people watching and waiting for me, such as after a round of golf and I’m the scorekeeper. Ack!

When I have to publicly compute, I suffer bodily chaos similar to Albert Brooks’ outbreak of flop sweat in Broadcast News. I think it partially stems from standing at the chalkboard in high school math class with an exasperated teacher and a room full snickering classmates enthralled by my inability to solve an equation they all figured out in their heads.

For most of my life, I lived out my belief that “I’m crappy at math.”

I’m in good company. All of us have developed stories about ourselves. Some serve us. For instance: I believe that I’m a good writer. You might debate it, but at least I believe it.

We’ve all got stories that keep us repeating the same behaviours over and over again.

Most everyone has such messages: “I’m a choker,” “I don’t deserve a relationship,” “I’m a klutz,” “I couldn’t organize a one-car parade,” and on and on.

When bad stuff goes down, we figure: “Of course, that’s what always happens to me because I’m  _____________________ (your favourite self put-down goes here).”

Consider the golfer struggling with her putting who suffers yet another three-putt green in a tournament. “All this practice has been for nothing. I suck, I’ve sucked for years, and I will always suck. I can’t putt.

The power of that belief may dissipate if she manages a few decent putting rounds, especially if  she changed her stroke or putter. But under tournament stress she may miss some putts early, and once again she believes she will live in putting hell for eternity.

Although these beliefs prevent us from doing what we truly want, we subconsciously act to prove them right. We self-sabotage. If someone screws me over, at least I can blame that person, but shooting myself in the foot really seems stupid.

So how do we stop living out these limiting beliefs?

There are different ways, but the key one is to just let them go. Seriously, just ignore them. When a limiting thought intrudes, you can acknowledge it, dismiss it and move to something else. “Thank you Thought, but you are super annoying, so go the hell away.”

It’s called witnessing. You can witness the thought, but not get absorbed or distracted by it. Like a black cloud passing in the sky, you can see it, but let it go. “Rain somewhere else!”

Try this: When a disturbing thought comes into your mind, immediately shift your focus to your breathing. This takes practice, of course. Try it under stress, such as the next time a drunk person is beside you grovelling loudly into his cell phone to his ex-girlfriend.

So, how do I deal with my scorecard addition stress? I add the front nine (naturally), and then keep adding the numbers as I play the back. Hey, it’s not cheating. I call it my mitigating strategy. It sounds cool and it works for me. (My Saturday morning group uses a scorecard app. Phew.)

In further blogs, I’ll explore other practices for rewriting your crappy re-running stories and why we do it in the first place.


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!