A few years ago, I met a well-known motivational speaker and sports psychologist, Dr. Kevin Elko. Dr. Elko works with NFL and college football teams, but he also does corporate speaking events, which is how I met him several years ago. When I heard him speak, he asked the audience a question that changed my life:
How do you talk to you?
Now think about this for a minute…How do you talk to you? Dr. Elko’s question is so hit-you-over-the-head simple, but the correct answer is the key to success in almost any endeavor. How do you talk to you? Do you tell yourself that you are capable and deserving of success? Does your self-talk support your well-being, your relationships, your goals, and your aspirations? Or does your negativity keep you from achieving your deepest desires? Do you tell yourself that your dream of ______________________________ will never happen because you don’t have what it takes? Or worse, do you blame someone else or life’s circumstances for what you are settling for?
In today’s blog post, I want to share with you how Dr. Elko’s simple question inspired me to squash my negativity and transform my inner dialogue, and how this small but important change enabled me to go from a 12-handicap to a 1-handicap in 5 years.
I had a big obstacle to overcome if I was going to be nicer to myself on the golf course. I started playing golf when I was 6, but quit after high school, mostly because I had more and more difficulty understanding why anyone would want to play such an infuriating game. I gradually made my way back to golf in my early 20s, but struggled with taking golf seriously enough to play well, but not so seriously that it soured my round. In 2009, my husband and I joined a country club. I started playing lots of golf and began to think more about my true potential as a golfer. How low could I go? What would it take to get there? I would fantasize about how f*ing fun it would be to collect birdies, sink putts like a boss, and shoot in the 70s. I just didn’t know how to get from where I was to where I wanted to be.
Around this time, I attended a conference for work and heard Dr. Elko speak. When he asked the audience “How do you talk to you?”, it hit me like a bolt of lightning: The reason I wasn’t getting better at golf and why I wasn’t enjoying it more was simple: I was a jerk to myself. I needed to become a vigilant Stuart Smalley. “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”
By focusing on my inner dialogue on the golf course I slowly rediscovered my love for the game, played a lot of golf and watched my handicap drop slightly by the end of the year. A couple months after hearing Dr. Elko speak and making progress on my inner self-talk I decided on my goal.
I said to myself: In 5 years I will be a scratch golfer.
I knew hearing one speech one time wouldn’t be enough to keep my head right. If I was going to stay on this path for 5 arduous years, I would need constant reinforcement of positive golf psychology. So I picked up Dr. Bob Rotella’s CD collection. It is BY FAR the best $27 I’ve ever spent on anything golf related and I still listen to the CDs today. I highly recommend it if you are serious about improving your golf psychology. I have several of his books, but hearing his message told through his own voice helped me store it better in my memory bank for better recall in the moment on the golf course, when I need some “medicine” as he would say.
There will be setbacks and it won’t always feel like it’s worth putting in all this time and effort to get better at some stupid game. One of the most discouraging setbacks I had early on occurred after a conversation with a pro I was getting lessons from at the time. I asked him if he thought I could reach scratch. He told me there’s a huge difference between my handicap and scratch, and that it would take A LOT of improvement in all areas of my game. He didn’t think I would get there without treating it like a full-time job. I know he was just trying to be realistic about it (after all, less than 1/2 of 1% of all female golfers in the USGA have a golf handicap of scratch or better), but it was difficult to hear my own teacher say this and it made me seriously doubt myself and question if I really wanted to put in the effort for something I would likely never realize. Then Dr. Elko’s question came back to me, and I said to myself: “It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks I’m capable of. I will be a scratch golfer.”
I found a new teacher who supported and encouraged me, and by the end of the following year my handicap dropped from 11 to 7. 1 year gone. 4 more to go. I kept telling myself: I will be a scratch golfer.
Not “I hope I’ll make it to scratch” or “I’ll try to get to scratch”.
I said “I WILL be”and I kept pushing.
The following year my handicap dropped to a 5. The year after that it dropped to a 3. This is the shortened version of several years of ups and downs, practicing until dark, and many failed attempts to overcome a lot of manic depressive self-talk on the golf course. But the positive voice inside kept talking louder than the other voices and propelled me ever closer to my goal.
Something amazing happens when you make progress toward your goals. You fill the internal gas tank to keep going. But too many of us never go down that path because we tune out the positive voice and only listen to the negative, sabotaging voice.
Near the end of my 5 year deadline, I thought for sure I would make it. But I stagnated at a 1-handicap for 2 years, then got pregnant in late 2013, so I’ve had to put my dream on hold for a little while.
I found that what I’ve gained most from this journey has very little to do with golf. What I have gained most from my 5 year journey striving for scratch are qualities that will transfer to my relationships, my career, and any future endeavor I attempt – qualities like positivity, sticktuitiveness, hard work, focus, and persistence. I am a stronger human being than I was when I first told myself I would be a scratch golfer. I might have never realized these wonderful gifts of the human spirit if I didn’t hear Dr. Elko speak that day and transform my mental thinking with a simple question: How do you talk to you?
Have you overcome your own mental demons on the golf course? Please leave a comment!
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