Survive or Thrive?
Every time we step into the ball to hit a shot, we are faced with an existential crisis, to survive or thrive. Unfortunately, for most of us this decision is made unconsciously and out of our control.
On the one hand, we have survival. Our brain’s primary job is to keep us alive, and it excels at it to the extent that we don’t even need to think about it; it’s automatic. In fact, the overwhelming majority of the day-to-day decisions we make are unconsciously driven by a genetically programmed instinct to survive. Survival is deeply rooted in our older brain structures, which for better or worse, governs our movement through the world, even the outcome of a golf shot. Thriving, on the other hand, is a more consciously driven state of mind that is concerned with optimal well-being and flourishing characterized by the pursuit of personal fulfillment, vitality, and a deep sense of engagement with life (or golf). Thriving is not concerned with keeping us alive, rather, it is focused on how to enhance the lives we choose to live.
So, which one leads to better golf? Surviving? Or, thriving?
Of course we always need to be on alert for any threats to our survival, but when it comes to playing our best golf, we need to be in a mindset that allows us to thrive. In order to perform optimally, we need to feel unthreatened, focused on the present moment, and immersed in the task at hand. Unfortunately, the parts of our brain that allow us to thrive are inter-connected with the parts of our brain that are responsible for our survival. Since survival is our brain’s primary function, the thriving parts of our brain need to be given the “all clear” from the survival parts of our brain before they can pursue well-being and flourishing.
How does this relate to golf you might ask? If you are standing over a shot worried about your score, nervous about what others are going to think, berating yourself for a mistake you made on the previous hole, fretting about the lake hugging the right side of the fairway, or overthinking your technique, you are in survival mode whether you are aware of it or not!
Here’s the rub: even though your brain is wonderfully designed to identify threats to our survival it doesn’t know the difference between being chased by a bear and worrying about embarrassing yourself on the first tee. One is real and one is perceived, however, both are equally threatening to your nervous system and it will respond accordingly.
In order to get into a thriving mode, you need to do three things: (1) recognize you are in survival mode, (2) identify that there is no real threat to your survival, and (3) take action to refocus on the task at hand. For example, you are nervously standing on the first tee waiting for your turn to tee off. Recognize what you are feeling: “I feel butterflies in my stomach, increased heart rate, sweaty palms, and thoughts of failure and embarrassment.” Identify that there is no real threat: “I’m okay. My mind and body are simply doing what they have been programmed to do when I feel threatened, but there is nothing to fear. Take action: “I’m going to take a few slow, deep, smooth, and rhythmic breaths to calm down my nervous system and get back to the present moment reaffirming that I’m okay. I will go through my routine and focus on the task at hand.”
In the game of golf, as in life, the choice between survival and thriving is a critical one that can ultimately determine our success on the course. While survival instincts are deeply ingrained within us, it is the ability to transition into a thriving mindset that leads to better golf performance. When we stand over that crucial shot, we must recognize the signs of survival mode, acknowledge that there is no real threat, and take deliberate actions to refocus our minds on the task at hand. Golf, like any pursuit, thrives on our ability to be unthreatened, present, and fully engaged. In mastering this mental shift, we not only enhance our golf game but also gain valuable insights into the art of thriving in the game of life itself. So, remember, on the golf course and beyond, the path to excellence lies in our capacity to thrive amidst the challenges that confront us.