Hitting the Target

It's spring and as the snow melts in Denver, my thoughts come back to golf. It's a silly game that some would call "a good walk spoiled." But I suspect that any game remains popular because it teaches us something about life that we cannot learn through pure intellect alone.

Why do so many CEOs play golf? I think it's because of what golf teaches them.

People don't play sports because they are easy. Nine out of ten golfers never break 100 (pros routinely shoot in the 60s). Let's face it, the golf courses, basketball courts, and gridirons of America would be empty if everyone had to be good at a game before they played it.

When I first started to play golf, I took lessons. The golf pro taught me how to stand, grip the club, and make those first few awkward swings. Eventually, I learned how to get the club head to find the ball and send it in a forward direction.

But Jack Nicklaus says that playing well is 90% mental and 10% swing. I don't remember my golf pro teaching me anything about the other 90% of the game. I was reminded of this when I went to the practice range last week to hit my first bucket of balls of the season.

After you've played golf for a while, you realize that the ball will go toward a target you select or go just about anywhere if you don't pick a target. Standing on the range, I teed up a ball, picked a tree behind the driving range as my target and imagined the ball flying toward the tree and then just let my muscle memory do the work. The ball sailed toward the tree.

I managed to do this three times in a row before I got a little cocky, forgot to pick my target and imagine the ball's flight, and sent the next ball slicing right out of the range entirely. Humbled, I went back to imagining every shot until a thought about a work problem crept into my brain and I snap-hooked the ball left out of the range. Such is the power of imagination and attention.


Whether it's your favorite sport, career, or relationship, are you expending too much energy on the "swing" and not enough on the "mental" aspect of success? It's so easy to get bogged down in the specifics of everyday life that we forget to imagine the future we desire.

What will it look like, sound like, and feel like to have the job you want? The amount of money you want? The kind of lifestyle you want? When you can imagine this fully, you'll take a straighter path to your goal (fewer shots).

What will it look like, sound like and feel like to have the relationship you want with your spouse, your kids, your family, or your coworkers?

Lesson: Achieving your goal begins with imagining the result as fully as possible using all of your senses.


When you hit a golf ball, you can't be thinking about something else. Before and after the shot you can be thinking about anything you want. Lee Trevino jokes with people all the way around the course, except when he's hitting a shot. 

Lesson: When you're working on your goals, be present. Focus your attention.


One of the things you discover playing golf is that getting angry or tense only sabotages your game. Your muscles tense up and you make more mistakes, not less. To have a long flowing swing, you have to be relaxed. The more relaxed you are, the better your swing and the better the result.

Even though I've been playing golf for over a decade, I've never made a hole-in-one. And I don't know anyone who has (other than pros.)

Lesson: You rarely succeed on your first attempt, so relax.

On any golf course in the world, playing by the rules, I can get from tee to the green in under 10 strokes. Hit it left into the trees? No problem, just chip back out to the fairway. Hit it in the water? Take a penalty drop. No matter how badly I hit the ball, I'll get the ball on the green and in the hole eventually. 

Lesson: You can always achieve your goals, no matter how badly you play. (Walt Disney went bankrupt twice on his way to founding the Disney empire.)

Golf Course Management

Just because Tiger Woods can bomb a drive doesn't mean that he always chooses the driver. Sometimes he chooses a 3-wood or an iron to keep the ball in the fairway when the driver might put him in trouble. 

Lesson: Sometimes it's better to hit two safe shots than one risky one.


So, if you want to be more motivated in life:

  1. Imagine the results you desire in every aspect of your life. Success is 90% mental and 10% swing.
  2. Focus your attention when you're working on your goals. Eliminate distractions.
  3. Relax, because anxiety rarely produces a good swing.
  4. Manage your risks. Hit two safe shots instead of one risky one.
  5. The ball always goes in the hole if you keep moving it forward.

Whatever you enjoy as a leisure activity, whether it's golf or knitting, what lessons can you learn from it that can be applied to your whole life? 

Lesson: The answers we seek aren't always where we look for them

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