Staying Flexible, Maintaining Control

“People can achieve very substantial personal change when they follow a detailed yet flexible plan.”

Dr. Rodger Graham

I recall once seeing a poster at a golf driving range advising players on optimal grip.

“Hold the club as if it is a tube of toothpaste, but do not dent it”

As a teenager this struck me as good advice for swinging a club with the right amount of control versus flexion.

Twenty-five years later it strikes me as good advice for life.

The driving range is an interesting place to watch human psychology reveal itself in behaviour and ball trajectory. An off-target shot occurs – a slice, a hook, or worse. Perhaps it is followed by a quizzical head scratch? Maybe a sigh or two can be heard. Another bad shot. A tut, shoulders slump. Another shot goes astray – a few expletives are muttered. Head shaking and lip biting follow. Perhaps there is facial flushing and some glances around to see who might be watching this performance? The tantrum clouds gather. A storm brews in the mind of the player that is increasingly evident in both body and behaviour. The hips and shoulders are now tightened. The swing becomes more rapid and increasingly effortful. As physics remains in charge here, not the golfer, the shots go further awry. And so, a painful cycle is set in motion.

Transcribed, this internal mental commentary might read…

“Nothing is going right!”

“What’s the point!?”

“This is too difficult!”

“These useless clubs!”

“This shouldn’t be happening!”

“Must try harder!”

“It shouldn’t be like this.”

“I never have any good luck.”

“It’s not my day.”

“This always happens.”

“Nothing ever goes right.”

“I don’t care, I’m off.”

Sooner or later, with the toothpaste tube now well and truly mangled, the player drops the clubs and walks away.”I give up, what’s the point?!”

In golf, and in life, we want the ball to land where we want it to land. When it doesn’t take flight as we hoped, then we like to have an urgent fix. We also like to have a ‘point-to’ blame object. We prefer to apply more pressure, more force. “That’ll do it!” And yet, this same overcompensation drives us toward increasingly effortful, forceful means of correction that generate new problems.

‘Squeezing the tube’ – it’s the harsh word to a colleague or family member. It’s a rash, reactive decision. It’s the sulking behind a closed office door (squeezing guilt from co-workers). It’s the disengaged passivity and disinterest (squeezing attention and concern from those around us). As with golf, this cascade of emotion and behaviour almost always complicates matters.