Overcoming Fear; How I Did It on the Golf Course

Self Motivation

Let’s take a look at situations where fear can be paralyzing and potentially cause you to not perform to your potential. Of course I’ll relate what I have to say to sales, but my personal example is about golf.

Last weekend I played in a Member-Guest golf tournament at a friend’s club. We did pretty well, qualifying into a seven-team "shootout" for the championship.

If you’ve never seen one of these, it’s a fun event to watch, and can be nerve-wracking for participants.

Most of the other players who don’t qualify for the shootout, and various other spectators watch from their golf carts and follow the action hole-to-hole.

All 14 of the players on the seven teams start on the first playoff hole. Then teams are eliminated on each hole until there is a champion. It truly has the electric feel of a big-time golf event, albeit on a smaller scale.

I’m not a great golfer, but respectable, and shoot in the low-to-mid 80’s, occasionally dipping into the 70’s. One other time, two years ago I was in a similar type of shootout, and actually won it with my partner when it came down to a chip-off against the other final team.

Even though I experienced a shootout before, being in that situation last Sunday with all of these people watching, just the thought of trying to hit a golf shot where I wanted it to go was a bit unnerving. (It’s not easy even when no one is watching!).

In fact, evil doubts tried to creep into my head.

I have given over a thousand seminars and workshops to groups as big as 2000 without any anxiety, but I must admit, hitting the golf ball in this situation is downright scary for me. In fact, I’ve been in less-stressful golf situations where I still had "a little too much going on upstairs" and completely botched shots.

As I played in that shootout with my partner on Sunday, to help me handle the potential fear, I recalled my mental notes about managing these types of situations that I first read several years ago.

Jack Stark, sports psychologist for the University of Nebraska football team, in an interview with the "Omaha World-Herald," said that activities such as golf, place kicking, free-throw shooting, job interviews (and let me add, sales calls) that

require a burst of activity after down time are fertile breeding grounds for negative thoughts that can cause even a polished pro to turn into a Jello-legged babbling Elmer Fudd.

Self-destructive thoughts ("Please don’t hit it into the water, again, dummy," or, "I hope I don’t say something stupid.") cause an adrenaline rush, according to Stark, that result in 1,200 chemical changes in one-tenth of a second.

He says these changes inhibit our finer thinking and natural motor activity. That means instead of just doing what we’re otherwise capable of expertly and repeatedly in a role play situation, or when no one is watching at the driving range, we lose it when it counts.

So what should we do to avoid turning into Gumby when faced with money situations?

Stark teaches players a system that also works in any life circumstance. He calls it FOCUS, an acronym to help remember the steps.

FORGET. Start with a blank sheet. The past doesn’t exist. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT let negative images or thoughts enter into your mind. I did not think about dumping the ball into the water on the two holes where I needed to hit over it from 175 yards.

ORGANIZE. Get your notes, product info, whatever you need in front of you. Position your body properly.

CONCENTRATE. Visualize the call or shot in a positive light. See the ideal call. Hear the words being spoken–by you and the customer-as you want them to occur. Matt Oechsli, author of the "Inner Game of Selling," suggests using affirmations in the present tense:

"I will sell this big account."

"I will land the ball next to the pin."

As King Soloman said, "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."

UNWIND. Take a slow, deep breath. Loosen your shoulders.

SHOOT. Dial the phone. Place the call. Begin the swing. Don’t worry about how you’re going to succeed. Let it happen. Thinking about HOW it will happen at this point is sure to throw you off. A long-jumper doesn’t think about his jump when he’s in the middle of it. He’s thinking about the other side, the result.

The next time you’re faced with a situation that raises your anxiety level, practice these ideas and you’ll perform at the high level you’re capable of.

And oh, if you’re wondering how we did, well, I’d like to tell you that this ended as a Cinderella story and we won the championship.

Close, but not quite.

Jim and I both managed to hit clutch shots, keeping us progressing as four other teams were eliminated. My butterflies were flying like crazy, but in formation as I managed to keep those FOCUS points in mind (the ample Bud Lights contributed a bit too).

Three teams remained, with the other two being much lower-handicap (better) golfers than us.

The next hole was a 165-yard par 3, with the pin nestled between a front and back sand bunker, and only a sliver of green about 8 yards wide to work with. You’ve go to be kidding me, I thought. No room for error.

The other four players all hit their shots fairly close to the pin.


Then my partner sprayed his well to the right, off the green.

I was next.

I went through my mental routine, and proceeded to hit my most purely-struck shot of the day, right on the screws, directly at the pin.

Beautiful trajectory…several people in the gallery yelled "great shot," "nice swing," and I do recall someone screaming, "Go in the hole!"

And it landed…

…two yards too long, absolutely buried in the back bunker with just the top of the ball peeking out of the sand.

I proceeded to spray my sand shot into the other bunker across the green, while my partner did the same.

Third place. Oh well.

You can bet the next time I’m in that situation, it will be even easier, just like anything we initially fear, but work to overcome.


Child Category