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Staying on Track When Your Game Goes Off Course

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Equanimity sounds like an innovative name for a rescue club, but it’s not a new golf technology. It’s an old psychology going back to the Buddha, and is made inside of you as your game veers off course.

Equanimity offers a mental and emotional rescue after missing an easy putt, getting an unfair bounce into the water, a whiff, a duck hook or a triple bogey on No. 18 when all you needed was a bogey to shoot under 100, 90, 80 or 70 for the first time.

Equanimity is defined as:

Mental calmness, composure, evenness of temper especially in difficult situations, poise and serenity.

Calmness, composure, poise and serenity are exceptional emotions to experience when every neuron of your brain wants to explode with anger and you feel like throwing a club rather than swinging a club. Or you want to walk off the course or somehow shrink and disappear down the cup on the 13th green rather than having to make one more disastrous shot.

Here are five keys you can turn during a game to unlock equanimity:

  • Remind yourself that perfection is only an ideal. Keep reminding yourself that perfection is an ideal and not real. When you fail to achieve perfection with a shot, remind yourself that you are imperfect and that bad shots are to be expected even if they are not welcomed.
  • Acknowledge that everything is impermanent. Neither great shots nor bad shots are permanent. To find equanimity, embrace impermanence. In the very act of embracing impermanence you may find your enjoyment and performance improves. Impermanence is a great experience when a bad game starts to improve but we are challenged when a good game deteriorates.
  • Toss grass not temper. Here is a grounded way to restore equanimity. Throw a bit of grass rather than a temper tantrum. Pause after a really bad shot and just before you ignite into a temper tantrum, reach down and pick up a tuff of grass and throw it as if testing for wind conditions. As the grass falls or blows away let your anger slowly fall or blow away before you engage with the next shot.
  • Loosen your grip. It would be nice to be able to instantly let go of a bad shot. This may be unrealistic as an initial step. If you struggle to let go then work at loosening your mental grip. Let the anger occur and express it if you must, but if you are walking toward the next shot muttering and frustrated let your next steps loosen your hold of those destructive emotions so that these mental demons do not vex your next shot. Limit your expression of anger or anguish to one or two sentences so that you are not sentenced to 18 holes of misery.
  • Take a breather. When we lose our composure and calm, we often tighten up and start to breathe quite shallowly. Your brain can be starved for oxygen. Slowly exhale and mentally blow away the bad shot then inhale a bit of oxygenated inspiration for the next shot. Repeat as many times as necessary.

Although the concept of equanimity goes back centuries, you don’t have to strip off your khaki pants and golf shirt and attire in saffron robes to find equanimity at golf. Perhaps all you need to do is to keep reminding yourself to cultivate equanimity during the game by writing the word on your golf glove and use each time you see the word as a trigger to keep turning the keys of equanimity for composed golf.

A small and doable dose of equanimity during your game when it goes off course may do wonders to improve your experience of the game even when your physical or scoring game is off course. To steal a phrase from Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in their “Emotional Rescue,” equanimity can be your golf savior, steadfast and true.

Short Summary: Having equanimity in your mental repertoire is more important than having a rescue club in your bag after a bad shot.

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David Zinger taught Educational Psychology at the University of Manitoba for 20 years focusing on counseling psychology and how to teach adults. His master's thesis was on humor in counseling. During this time he has studied and kept a keen interest in the various elements of golf and performance psychology. David lives in Winnipeg, Canada so he contends with six months of snow hibernating his limited time to golf. David is primarily focused on employee engagement and runs a global network of 6000 members focused on the topic. Many of the key principles of engagement also apply to golf: connecting to results, energy, strengths, progress, performance, meaning, and moments. Although David only plays golf occasionally he has a passion for the game that dates back to being a $2.00 a round caddy at 12 years of age for Riverside Golf Club in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He enjoys playing golf with his wife Susan and they both relish each having a hole-in-one. Website: www.davidzinger.com Email David: david@davidzinger.com

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Chris Hale

    Jul 26, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    I submit that a proper club toss (toward the target, low to the ground, as if skipping a stone on a lake) is an excellent stress reliever. The key is to compose yourself, and focus on the next shot. 🙂

  2. David Zinger

    Apr 23, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    Bill: Nice to know my brother the marshall (now a starter I understand) send this out to his golf posse armed with 5 irons and now equanimity.

    Brian: I have welcomed too many bad shots but what else can we do that makes any sense. When I welcome then, uninvited as they are, I may just learn a little something from them.

    Ron: If equanimity was good for the Buddha can’t be too bad for us on or off the course and especially when we try to be on course but find ourselves badly off course.

    Mark: All the best at enlightening the golf buddies. Just make sure you don’t mention my name after a bad shot and they start calling their bad shots “zingers.”

  3. Mark Farrugia

    Apr 23, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    How a gift of prose so eloquently describes my game.
    Practice makes perfect..or in my case a few strokes off my game. Will pass it on to my golfing buddies. It will’certainly enlighten their upcoming season and help put in perspective
    their game as well.

    Good job!

  4. Ron McGurk

    Apr 23, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    Neil passed this along to me, glad he did. Well written! I’m not a golfer but can see the benefits of this mind-set in other sports and of course many aspects of daily life.

  5. Brian Swan

    Apr 23, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    David, enjoyed your article and although I only play golf occasionally I am sure the word “equanimity” will now be a big part of my game and my mental repertoire. I will now adapt your quote in the article to apply to me personally — “when I fail to achieve perfection with a shot I have to remind myself that I am indeed imperfect and that bad shots are to be expected even if they are not welcomed”. Good job!

  6. Bill MacLaren

    Apr 23, 2013 at 11:09 am

    Very good article and certainly will give me something to think about on the course. I will become part of my course management. Your brother sent me this article and I am glad he did.

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