Why your storytelling leads to the ‘spiral vortex of death’ and more missed putts

As he rushed past me at a university golf tournament this fall, the wide-eyed young player exclaimed, “I’ve missed five putts within 10 feet. I can’t putt!”

He was telling himself one hell of a story.

As a coach of a university golf team (Guelph), I hear plenty of stories from anguished players who don’t want to let their teammates down. ‘I can’t close a good round; I’m such a choker.’ ‘I can’t get a break.’

In other coaching, I also hear: ‘I never get invited out anywhere. I’m a loser.’ ‘I can’t develop new business; I suck at selling.’ ‘No one wants to hire an old guy.’

It’s partly social conditioning and partly the way our minds work. To make sense of our world, we sift through the evidence and make up a story. And we believe these stories.

But … they are just that—stories. We’ve made them up. These are just interpretations.

Unfortunately, we believe these stories. In fact, we start to live them out. They become self-fulfilling prophecies. In other words, “what the thinker thinks, the prover proves,” Karl Morris, the England-based golf performance coach, writes in his book The Lost Art of Putting.

As we tell our stories to ourselves, we get caught up in our escalating emotional drama, and we create a runaway thought-train of misery—AKA “the spiral vortex of death” as Howard Glassman described it on our Swing Thoughtspodcast.

During our first two university tournaments of the year, I noticed how common it was for a number of our players to get caught up in stories when things weren’t going as they hoped.

At a meeting before our third tournament, I asked them to let go of their stories. But first they needed to be aware that they were in the throes of a story.

How to tell? When you find yourself explaining your missed shots, how the conditions are conspiring against you, how today is just not your day, and on and on. Or you start making making declarations such as ‘I am _____” or “I can’t _____.”

What to do?

Witness what you’re doing. ‘Oh, I’m in story telling mode again …’

And then let it be. Let the story go. When you notice what you’re doing, you’ll stop.

That’s too easy, you may argue. Only a monk can do that!

It’s your choice how you respond. You can keep doing what you’re doing, or make a different choice.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space,” wrote Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning. “In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

So, sounds OK, what to do if I choose to ignore my stories?

You could just pay attention to something else, like the sky, trees, the feel of the wind on your face, the smell of the grass. Or talk with your playing partners about anything.

Or follow the adage to hit one shot at a time, and see what happens. It’s a hoary old chestnut but it’s a beauty.

In essence, that was the message I delivered to the team before our third tournament.

It seemed to help. Our men’s team finished second and two of our guys shot 68, tying for low individual score of the tournament.

Let’s be clear: I’m not taking credit. They hit the shots.

But the players seemed lighter during the round, talking more with their partners, standing taller. Afterwards, one of my players said, “It was the first round that I’d never called myself a #$%& loser.”

I couldn’t have asked for a better line of dialogue from a golf story.

What can you do?

  • Ask what stories do I tell myself?
  • Witness when you get into story telling mode
  • Choose your response
If you’re interested in stepping more into the golf and life that you really want to lead, I would love to empower you. I encourage you to contact me about a complimentary 45-minute private coaching session.