The Rabbit Hole: Why it’s so hard to avoid going down there

Today’s blog deals with the dilemma we face every day, but especially on the golf course. We miss a few shots or putts, and down, down, down we go … into The Rabbit Hole.

To help you avoid going down The Rabbit Hole and overcome many of your short-game woes, I am offering a six-week online group coaching experience called Quiet Mind Putting: How to Make More Putts Without Changing Your Stroke. It starts June 22. 

Click here for more information. I’m sure you’ll find it intriguing and empowering in dealing with The Rabbit Hole. 

I hope you enjoy today’s blog.


We all do it. Something appears to go wrong, and down the rabbit hole we go.

Perhaps we start missing putts, a family member angers us, an app doesn’t work.

We get triggered. We react. Then we try hard to fix, solve or control whatever the hell is going on, only to make it worse.

And down we go …

When I’m down the rabbit hole (TRH), I can feel angry, sad, powerless, deflated, resigned. 

Most of the time, it’s about something that’s not a big deal at all, and it will resolve itself eventually. Going down TRH is a dumb thing to do.

And yet … I do it, you do it. Everyone does it.

Serious golfers are especially prone to going down TRH, forever wondering, ‘When will I ever get this? How come I can’t improve? What’s wrong with me?’

My own recent experience with TRH reminded me how it’s so easy to get sucked down into it, but also how to we can avoid it.

I started thinking about this tendency to go down TRH in talking to golfers about their putting woes during my recent Quiet Mind Putting group coaching sessions on Zoom. I recorded one of them, but concluded the 90-minute file was too large to share. 

I downloaded an app to compress it, and soon started the process of “encoding.”  But after it finished, I couldn’t find the ‘encoded’ file on my computer.

I promptly tried again. Again, I couldn’t find the file. Dammit! 

I immediately tried it again, but this time I’d save it to another folder.

Same result. “@#$%^&*!!” I banged my fist on my desk

An achingly familiar surge of sadness flowed through me. Then the story: ‘I suck at this! Why does this stuff have to be so difficult? Why can’t I get this?’

I was fully down the rabbit hole—the same one that’s consumed me when I let in a bunch of goals as a goalie, failed an exam, missed putts, found a typo in an article, yelled at one of my kids, missed a client’s appointment. Down, down, down.

Desperate to shake this, I went for a walk. Within a few blocks, I felt the sun on my back, and … this popped into my head: ‘Google Drive.’

Without trying hard to solve the problem, the answer came easily. I use Google Drive all the time … to share big files!  Problem solved. Actually, there never were was a problem. In my state, I created my own hell.

Does this scenario sound familiar? Sure.

Going down TRH is really stupid. We all know this. And yet …

How come I cannot catch myself—become aware—that I’m at the entrance of TRH, and stop myself? Am I just too dumb? Not committed? Unenlightened?

This conundrum has fascinated me for years, and it’s part of my work in coaching golfers to use their awareness to improve their golf and enhance their lives. I believe it’s why I keep getting pulled back to the work of legendary coach Fred Shoemaker, founder of Extraordinary Golf Schools.

Shoemaker says that our perception of the world trumps our awareness. Namely, we can’t be aware if we’re in survival mode.

If I miss putts or can’t get an app to work, I’m not going to die. That’s obvious. But my mind unconsciously perceives the situation as life-threatening. Yes, completely over the top.

Shoemaker says our “unconscious desires” overrule everything. He references Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. At the bottom is water, food and air—things we need to survive. Those needs must be met before we can focus on anything else.

Shoemaker writes that if “there’s no trust that we’re going to hit the ball solidly, then our survival instincts take over … The world that occurs for that golfer is as if survival is at risk.”

How does this relate to my app meltdown? In the days that followed, I realized l had a story cooking that I needed send the file to the group session participants ASAP, or they wouldn’t attend my future group sessions.

Drill down a few layers, and, in that moment, I was fighting for survival. 

Yes, it seems ridiculous to think that trying to make putts or figuring out software could be interpreted by our brains as a life and death situation, but that’s how our antiquated brain circuitry works.

How do we co-exist with this antiquated brain?

I believe it starts with being more mindful in all parts of our lives. Focusing on what we’re doing rather than doing two or three things at once. Grounding ourselves regularly just by taking a break, perhaps focusing on our breathing for a few seconds, or seeing what we’re feeling in our bodies.

With this kind of awareness, we can catch ourselves and realize that we don’t need to live and die with every shot or keystroke, and we certainly don’t need to fix, solve or control everything right freaking now. Instead, we can respond, and choose … to stay out of TRH.

Don’t miss your opportunity to participate in my six-week online group coaching class Quiet Mind Putting: How To Make More Putts Without Changing Your Stroke. Max of eight. Click here for info.

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!