- Golfer Benefits
As part of a strategic partnership, Mass Golf and KOHR Golf are excited to provide resources to junior members of Mass Golf as well as parents and guardians of juniors interested in the game. This page will be regularly updated with new blog posts each month.
Exclusive content below has been created by KOHR’s team of professionals that center around mental preparedness, fitness, and golf skill improvement.
Next Up: Blog Post #6 – “Mental Game No. 1” to be posted in September 2022
Golf’s mental game
A Caveman, a Chimp and a Golfer walk into a bar
By Iain Highfield, KOHR Academy Director
Once upon a (long, long) time ago there were two cavemen – let’s call them Tiger and Phil.
One day, these two Neolithic rascals were out hunting for food when they walked past a big, ominous cave.
As Phil strolled jauntily past the mouth of the cave, a huge lion leapt out and gobbled him up like a Jolly Rancher. Witnessing this, our friend Tiger turned around and ran squealing back to the camp.
The next day Tiger had to go hunting again – cave folk are notoriously hungry characters. Just like the day before he walked the same route, in exactly the same manner – except for one significant difference.
This time, as he approached the mouth of the cave, he experienced a strange sensation. His prehistoric man sense was tingling, he felt tense, his heart thumped. Confused by this sudden rush of apprehension he tripped over a nearby dinosaur egg, an act which focused his mind ever more intently on the strange reactions in his body.
Then he remembered. Hold on. This is where caveman Phil got gobbled down like a Jolly Rancher. I should probably be careful.
Of course, this tale is not merely applicable to our caveman friends, its applicable to some pretty fundamental aspects of modern day life. Every day, innate human survival mechanisms that have evolved in our brain fire off feelings in our body like an alarm system designed to keep us alive. We stop at red lights for fear of getting slammed into by a truck. If we climb a ladder we get a trusty companion to secure the base. We don’t accept candy from sinister looking men.
This innate human survival mechanism (that I often refer to as the Chimp) is a vital component of human ascendency, a key factor in our rise to become the planet’s most dominant, if not always most responsible, species.
Oddly, this very same mechanism, so fundamental to our evolution and endurance, can also be a significant weakness on the golf course. And if you don’t believe me, simply ask Doug Sanders about his experience in the 1970 Open, Jean Van der Velde about 1999 or Adam Scott about 2013. The very instinct that has kept these three men alive throughout all the hazards of modern life, became activated when they were on the edge history – and torpedoed their chance of glory. Their brains sensed an imminent ‘danger’, failing to distinguish golf from that red light or wobbly ladder. And because these three experienced professionals did not have the processes to regulate this response, the only thing their minds had rescued them from was the sort of injuries you get from lifting trophies and receiving too many pats on the back.
For now, let’s focus on the example of the ladder. With someone we trust holding the base while we climb, our thoughts are of safety, stability and support. This creates a palpable sense of confidence and relaxation, helping us ascend to the top of the ladder and retrieve, I don’t know, let’s say a kitten from the roof. From a position of certainty and safety, we achieve our goal.
Golf is no different. The key to having a strong mental game is, quite simply, developing the ability to match our thoughts and feelings to our intentions.
The athletes I work with at the KOHR Golf Academy learn a simple 5-step process to help them achieve this internal synchronicity on the golf course.
OSVEA – an acronym for Options, Selection, Visualization, Execution and Acceptance – acts as a framework, guiding players to create a process focused, totally malleable mind. Process focused thinking helps reduce the ‘noise’ made by the innate human survival mechanism (or Chimp) and triggers a response in the body to create feelings of calm, control and relaxation. This physiological response enables a golfer to swing the club more efficiently and brings them closer to their intended outcome – whether that’s winning a Tour event, national selection, triumphing the Sunday medal or reducing their handicap.
Examine any golfer not in possession of process focus and you quickly understand the adverse effect it can have on performance. Outcomes, like winning events and medals, are uncontrollable. We can’t expect to control a concept so fickle and intangible as winning. You can’t control the subjective thoughts and feelings of a national selector. And you certainly can’t control what your pal Bob shoots in the local medal to snatch the trophy.
The brain knows how little control we have over these outcomes. So, when we allow our mind to be penetrated by thoughts of ‘what if’ or ‘if only’, we wake the Chimp. Threatened by these impending goals, the Chimp feels exposed, precisely as he would if we were about to cross a busy road. His only response to this is to cause a fuss – a fuss that our body responds to with a classic stress response. Now, gripped by the Chimp’s anxieties, our relaxed fluid swings are a million miles away, our grip is clammy and strangled, our shoulders tighten and our heart pounds. Cumulatively, this adds up to one fundamental state: we are now a long way from achieving our intentions.
So, now we know the impact the Chimp can have on a golfer, over the next few blogs I’ll provide practical mental tools that myself and the team of coaches at KOHR Golf Academy use to help students learn to use their mind so they can move towards their intended goals when they play competitive golf.
But, before we get into this, here’s a challenge to conduct before the next article. Take a red pen with you onto the golf course every time you play competitively. Each time you have an ‘outcome thought’ pertaining to the past or the future (for example: ‘I cant believe I made double’, ‘I’ve got to make par’, ‘ don’t 3 putt!’) put a red dot on your hand and add up the dots at the end of the round. The reason I ask you to do this is not to shock you by the frequency of these debilitating thoughts, but rather because any positive psychological change begins with psychological awareness. In other words, an inky red hand is a great place to start our journey to silence to Chimp.
To learn more about KOHR Golf contact Academy Director, Iain Highfield, email@example.com Cell 3529788322
The Number 1 factor a child needs to succeed on and off the golf course.
By Iain Highfield – KOHR Academy Director
The Marshmallow Experiment
At Stanford University, in the 1960s, a team of researchers, led by Professor Walter Mischel, set out to explore the ability of young children to defer their gratification, and the implications that this ability, or the lack of it, might have for their development.
Hundreds of four year old children were tested by being put in a room alone with a marshmallow. “If it’s still here when I get back,” a researcher told them, “you will get another.” The researchers were then absent from the room for fifteen minutes, during which time 2 out of 3 of the children tested ate the marshmallow.
If the research had concluded at this point, its findings might well have been dismissed as neither surprising nor particularly interesting. But the marshmallow experiment was to become world famous because of the followup study that Mischel conducted with his child subjects when they reached the age of 18.
The Most Important Factor for Success
Without exception, those who had not eaten the marshmallow had become successful and well motivated students.
They had achieved good grades, had ambitious career plans, and enjoyed good relationships with their teachers, coaches, and peers. This success in school was also reflected in generally good physical health, social skills, and a robust response to stress.
By contrast, a significant portion of those who had eaten the marshmallow were struggling with lower grades and other problems; many had failed to make it to college or had dropped out of high school
With these kinds of results, which have since been confirmed in a number of followup studies, it’s perhaps not surprising that the ability to defer gratification has been described as “the most important factor for success.”
To watch the marshmallow experiment click here
But what does all of this mean for you?
It simply means that you are still in the room with the “marshmallow.” Just because you have been educated, inspired, and began to practically apply positive change into your environment, it does not mean that you will become instantly gratified. The process of creating positive change is a long one, and the gratification you will derive from this will be worth the wait.
And if you’re thinking that this wait could be too long, take some inspiration from Brian Banks.
Who Is Brian Banks?
Brian Banks is a man who did not eat the marshmallow. His marshmallow was cruelly taken away from him for over a decade, but his story is one of resilience, inspiration, and an exorbitant delay of gratification that I believe we can all benefit from knowing.
What Mr. Banks went through, you would not wish on your worst enemy, but the resilience he showed must have calloused his mind in a way that most of us reading this book would not be able to fathom. You would not desire in any way, shape, or form to have the experience that Mr. Banks did, but if you could select some of the mental strength that arose from the experience, it would probably help you create some positive change in your life.
The 2018 film, Brian Banks, is an inspirational drama about a young high school football player who is falsely accused of rape and sent to jail. After spending some time in prison, he was released at the age of 27 years old, on parole, and living as a registered sex offender in Long Beach, California.
Brian Banks dreamed of one day making his way to the NFL, something that was particularly difficult given his current circumstances. Not only that, but new laws also required him to wear an ankle monitor at all times. When you also consider that he had to stay at least 2,000 feet away from schools and any public gathering spots, it’s easy to see why achieving that dream of becoming a professional football player was more or less impossible. Thankfully, Brian didn’t see it that way.
Brian approached the California Innocence Project to help clear his name. One day, after getting a Facebook friend request from his accuser, he put his mind to work and devised a scheme to trick her into confessing on tape that the rape in question had never actually happened.
Brian Banks fought like hell to achieve a new trial and, eventually, he was able to cast enough doubt on the situation to convince a judge to finally overturn his conviction. After triumphantly cutting off his ankle bracelet, he got his shot to try out for the Seattle Seahawks… and didn’t make it, partly due to his declining health as a result of spending so much time in prison.
But over the next year, after training harder than he could have ever thought possible, Brian got signed by the Atlanta Falcons.
Part of the reason why both the film and the real life story of Brian Banks are so inspirational is because they highlight something that far too many people just don’t want to think about these days—a delay of gratification. Yes, I’m sure if you’d asked Brian, he would have preferred a more conventional approach to achieving his dream of one day playing in the NFL. But that wasn’t what life had in store for him.
This insane example of the delaying of gratification only made Brian stronger. It increased his motivation and his will to succeed exponentially. Armed with that superhuman motivation, he was able to bring his vision of his own ideal future to life, albeit in a very unfortunate and unexpected way.
But that superhuman motivation was now arguably much greater than if he had followed a more standard pathway to success. He didn’t let a major setback keep him down for very long; he used it as fuel to carve out an even better future for himself, which is something that we could all stand to remember every now and again.
The reason I share this with you is that we will all have our own “Brian Banks moments.” If you are going to move from frustration to fulfillment, and create positive change in your life, on that journey, the one where you have to stay process focused no matter what, you will need some “Brian Banks resilience” to help you through your challenges.
Just being process focused is not enough. Just reading these words and then shifting your mindset is a great start, but if you expect instant success and a smooth journey to happiness and fulfillment, you are in for a shock.
The key to positive change is to be like Brian—being able to stick to your process for as long as needed and during the hardest of times.
In my experience, being successful immediately and gaining the outcomes you desire, can be a bigger problem than delaying gratification.
If you don’t believe me, ask Batman.
Your Victory Has Defeated You
I had the honor of going to London to see the great Eric Thomas speak. Within the context of an incredibly straightforward speech—not to mention with the aid of an incredibly unlikely metaphor—he really changed my perspective on things, in more ways than one.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with him, Eric Thomas is a critically acclaimed author. He’s an educator, a pastor, and a Ph.D. He’s a world renowned speaker, something that I can personally attest to.
You may have heard of him by his other name: ET, the hiphop preacher. His own personal story is one filled with strife and adversity, both of which make it all the more impressive. He was born to a single, teenage mother and eventually dropped out of high school. He was homeless, living on the streets of Detroit, for nearly two years. During this time, he met a preacher who inspired him to return to school and change his life, something that always stuck with him and that he personally tries to do for as many people as possible on a daily basis.
He spent 12 years working toward an undergraduate degree and, at the same time, he set up a program to help underprivileged youth, in his new home of Huntsville, Alabama. In 2003, he returned to Michigan and took a job at Michigan State University. During this time, he worked his way up as a senior pastor at A Place of Change Ministries, in Lansing, and soon began his career in earnest as a motivational speaker. He’s written a wide array of different books and has developed a massive social media presence, both of which allow him to bring his inspiring story and his message of positivity to millions of people around the world on a daily basis.
I have studied Thomas, and have consumed and applied a lot of his material. Watching him speak is an amazing experience rife with constant goosebumps and the dropping of knowledge bombs when he is on stage. One of the most impactful things I heard him say, in London, was inspired by Christopher Nolan’s, The Dark Knight Rises.
ET asked a simple question: Are you Bane, or are you Batman?
In that movie, during a climactic showdown, Bane tells Batman, “Your victory has defeated you,” something that absolutely shatters his worldview and sense of himself. In a phrase, Bane is able to take a hardened vigilante millionaire and turn his own sense of motivation against him.
I thought it was a powerful point because it’s something you see happen in real life—people who do achieve success very quickly, the ones that are not required to delay gratification, often let this instantaneous success, or victory as Bane calls it, become their defeat as they expect that it will always be this easy, and forgo the dealing with adversity that often accompanies delayed gratification.
This is the opposite of what happened to Brian Banks, and what the marshmallow experiment concluded.
Always stay motivated through success and delayed gratification. Always keep going no matter how near or far success may seem. If you don’t, you’ll soon find yourself left behind by someone else who better understood this simple yet critical message, even if it took them over a decade to get there, like it did Mr. Banks.
To learn more about KOHR Golf contact Academy Director, Iain Highfield, firstname.lastname@example.org Cell 3529788322
By Iain Highfield – KOHR Academy Director
The answer to this question, admittedly one that the KOHR Coaching team have all spent time trying to solve is a framework that helps coaches and players think and practice in a way that will lead to the retention and transfer of golfing skill.
The KOHR Coaching Team have accumulated thousands of hours coaching golf at all levels, studying sports psychology, the learning sciences and – most importantly – spending time with some of the greatest minds in, not only professional golf, but also many other fields of human performance. And what that has given us is a distillation of this vast bank of knowledge that makes it practical (and digestible) for you to become a better golfer where, and when, it matters most.
‘Rather than reasoning by analogy you boil things down to the most fundamental truths you can imagine, and you reason up from there. This will help you figure out if something really makes sense.’ Elon Musk
Following in the footsteps of old Musky, our decade of investigating, learning and investigating some more has led us to our fundamental golfing truth:
‘learning happens via cognitive stress’
So, again with a little inspiration from the Musketeer, we ‘reasoned up’ from this truth. In other
words, we asked what actually creates that fundamental state of cognitive stress. The answer… spacing, variability and challenge
To forget is to remember.
Now, even though this may seem like the kind of empty, pseudo-zen nonsense you’ll see written over pictures of sunsets – it’s a central pillar of human learning.
By incorporating the spacing effect to your training, you are effectively increasing the time you take between each rep.
This creates cognitive stress as your brain – or more specifically, your working memory – is challenged to recall previous successful reps (more so than if there is little or no time between shots). So, rather than simply machine-gunning balls down the range, you are actively teaching your brain to induce a deeper degree of learning,
A very basic example of this could be instead of hitting the same shot 20 times in a row as fast as you can, limiting yourself to hitting 1 ball a minute for 20 minutes – which, admittedly, may sound like a nightmare to range-ragers.
Some significant neurobiological research from Stanford University has provided a bit of bad news for the way most people practice golf – namely, the evidence that suggests our brains need variety if we are going to learn.
In other, more golfy, terms, learning through repetition is, in most scenarios, ineffective.
Instead, constantly changing the nature and application of tasks is vital for successfully learning and mastering any new movement – such as a golf swing – as this conscious variance is far better when it comes to engaging memory recall and creating cognitive stress.
So, rather than hitting 20 balls with the same club to the same target, the variability effect demands that you mix things up – changing your club and target regularly and repeatedly.
The Optimal Challenge Point
Increasing the spacing and variability in your practice will in turn increase the challenge point it presents. So, the more space and variability your training contains the higher the challenge point – and the more purposeful and rewarding that practice session has become.
Setting outcome goals is another way to elevate your own challenge point – with more complex and testing self-targeting representing a higher challenge point.
If we combine some of the scenarios from our spacing and variability effects, and embellish it with outcome goals we have already created the conditions of cognitive stress.
So, for example…
If we hit 20 balls in 20 minutes
AND we change our club and our target every two balls
AND we award ourselves with a point every time the ball is struck from the center of the club face AND if we set ourselves a target to achieve 14 points within those 20 balls
THEN we are in the state of cognitive stress and therefore, a state of learning
At KOHR golf we teach all our the students the power of understanding and applying spacing, variability and challenge.
‘We also teach the KOHR Students to be able to answer the following question,
Am I training to learn or am I training to perform?’
At KOHR Golf we class training to learn as stimulating the connections in the brain that help you learn to move the club in a desired motion. Scientists may call this synaptogenesis. Golfers may call this making a swing change stick!
At KOHR Golf Academy Training to perform is about finding ways to adapt to the environmental demands and psychological stresses of the golf course and competition. Performance experts would suggest players who can do this can access a state of ‘flow’. The golfer might state they finally can ‘take their range game to the golf course.
The goal of performance practice is not to develop the perfect repeatable swing, it is to develop a generalized motor program (your swing) that you then must learn to adapt to the environmental demands of the golf course.
Golf is, after all, a problem-solving task in which the problem involves sending the ball from point A toward point B.
The solution to the problem involves a process that requires situational awareness, perception, movement planning, retrieving a motor program and adapting the motor program from memory – all before the swing is executed.
During competitive play a golfer has to do all of this while adapting to the demands of the environment (the wind or an uneven lie being prime examples) not to mention the stresses contributed by the competition and its outcomes. And these stresses are all relative, whether it’s a putt for your first major victory, tour card or the lowest net score in the Sunday medal, that stress response is still going to fire.
So if you truly want to be able to take your range game to the golf course, the answer is to inject more performance Games into your practice.
To learn more about KOHR Golf contact Academy Director, Iain Highfield, email@example.com Cell 3529788322
Who is Kai Knight? And what can we learn from him?
By Iain Highfield, KOHR Academy Director
A bespectacled and slightly built classical violinist might at first sight seem an odd choice of inspirational speaker for one of America’s top NFL teams.
But coach Pete Carroll knew exactly what he was doing when he invited Kai Kight to talk to his Seattle Seahawks following their bruising loss in 2015’s Super Bowl XLIX.
The Humiliation of the Seattle Seahawks
Defending champions, the Seahawks, had built a ten point advantage by the end of the third quarter, but they let this slip to allow their opponents, the New England Patriots, a 28–24 lead as the game approached its climax.
With a minute to go, however, the Seahawks had driven to within a yard of the Patriots’ line and seemed certain to score. What followed was one of the most iconic Super Bowl moments, as the final touchdown pass was brilliantly intercepted in the end zone, to the evident disbelief of Carroll and his players.
Pundits were quick to condemn the play Carroll had called, and as if to twist the knife in the wound, Super Bowl XLIX was and remains the highest rating TV broadcast in history, so the Seahawks humiliation could hardly have been more public or more universal.
Kai Kight’s Story of Panic and Paralyzing Stage Fright
Now, of course, the Seahawks had not suddenly become a poor team, nor Carroll a poor coach, but their confidence had been shattered, and it was Kight’s task to help them rebuild it. And he did it very effectively, by telling them his own story of recovery from paralyzing stage fright.
Kight related how, in the early days of his career, he had suffered from such extreme anxiety that he had sometimes felt compelled to cancel performances rather than face the ordeal. What he was feeling was something far more intense than the familiar butterflies in the stomach; it was something more like a fullblown panic attack, during which he would find his whole body almost frozen with fear.
Even if he did manage to begin a performance, he would anticipate the more difficult passages of the work so intensely that his hands would freeze up when he got to them. His natural reaction was to try, try and try again until he got it right, but by then he had lost the attention of his audience and destroyed the emotional impact of the performance.
At the root of his problem, which Kight came to understand, was that since early childhood, his identity as a person had been wrapped up in his identity as a violinist. So when he stood up on stage, he was exposing not just his technical skills but his entire being to the scrutiny and criticism of the audience.
It was hardly surprising that he felt under pressure.
Why the Search for Technical Perfection Is a Dead End
The road to recovery began with some great advice from an enlightened teacher, who told him that technical mistakes should not be allowed to detract from the impact and the purpose of the performance. A great musical performance is not defined by executing every single note or sequence without error. That kind of technical perfection is hardly ever attained, even by the greatest virtuosos.
The most memorable and successful performances are achieved by creating and maintaining an energy and an emotional connection with the audience, and by adapting seamlessly to inevitable errors without disturbing its flow.
Once he understood this, Kight made some simple but fundamental changes to the way he practiced and prepared.
Building Confidence with the Right Kind of Practice
Previously, he had rehearsed by going through whole pieces of music in a silent room, repeating them again and again until satisfied that he could reproduce every note and sequence almost unconsciously. It’s an approach that puts a premium on hard work, dedication, and the ability to persevere through long hours of tedium, which every elite performer requires.
Unfortunately, though, it is a very ineffective way of preparing for live performances, because these seldom if ever happen outside of the ideal conditions of the practice room.
It’s why it proved so difficult for the Seahawks to reproduce a play in the last minute of the Super Bowl, which they had no doubt executed perfectly hundreds of times in practice. And at a less exalted level, it’s why so many weekend golfers, who hit the ball beautifully on the range, find themselves utterly unable to transfer these skills to the course.
At root, the problem is that confidence built on perfect reps, in perfect conditions, is extremely fragile and apt to crumble alarmingly when confronted with the more testing problems of competition or live performance.
The answer, as Kai Kight puts it, is to “add some chaos to practice,” to make it resemble as closely as possible the conditions of actual play.
So, Kight began to add some distractions; for example, by playing background music in his practice room or deliberately beginning a piece on the wrong note to see how quickly he could get back on track.
Success Through the Conscious Pursuit of Resilience
In this way, he began to see practice not so much as essential to the pursuit of an always elusive technical perfection, but as an opportunity to develop confidence in the face of difficulty and distraction. This is a message we deliver to our students at the KOHR Golf Academy.
This conscious development of his resilience has been transformative for Kight, who now not only finds himself able to perform without a tremor in front of large live audiences, but has also become a much sought after motivational speaker.
His central insight for athletes at all levels, and indeed for people in all walks of life, is that confidence and resilience are not qualities that you either do or do not have, or which are confined to a special breed of elite performers.
Much less are they attributes derived from the subconscious mind, to be obtained through mysterious psychological exercises or positive thinking. They should rather be thought of as mental skills that can and should be trained in exactly the same way as physical and technical skills—by well-structured and purposeful practice. Something the coaching team pride ourselves on at KOHR Golf.
How do you create these kinds of practices? You guessed it: You change your environment. The environments that Kai and Sara were exposed to shaped their mindset to embrace failure. This is critical if you want to create positive change in your world. .
Stop Searching for Confidence and Build Resilience
Before we begin the process of shaping an environment that embraces failure, you must first end your fruitless quest for confidence.
If you had to make a list of all the things that people say you need to be successful, confidence would undoubtedly be right at the top.
Confidence is that feeling—some might say a firm trust—that your own abilities are enough to help you accomplish anything you put your mind to. You take the value of your potential as an absolute fact, and know beyond the shadow of a doubt that if you simply apply yourself, success becomes a foregone conclusion—which, of course, is problematic, considering that life doesn’t necessarily always work out that way.
This is what ultimately leads to failures that are so absolutely shattering.
Instead of desiring confidence, there’s another psychological skill that can help someone become that ideal version of themselves. It’s a mental skill that can also be applied to not only your daily tasks but to the very environment you surround yourself with:
A willingness to fail and deal with adversity.
When most people go on their quest for confidence, they think it means that they need to be “perfect.” That’s what they’re really trying to achieve—a state at which they can do no wrong. It’s a state that exists only as a fantasy, but by assuming it to be true, they also remove their own willingness to be criticized or critiqued. They become averse to taking risks because of the fear of failure that sets in.
Ironically, criticism and failure are big parts of how we become those best versions of ourselves in the first place.
We are shaped by so many different things in life to believe that confidence is the key to success. Our friends and family members, general conversation, the media—you name the source; you’ve probably heard that confidence is the answer to everything at some point. Thankfully, that simply isn’t true. Your willingness to embrace failure and deal with adversity should not only be at the core of your future successes, but at the core of your processes and eventually your happiness. At KOHR Golf we use the following exercise to prepare our students to deal with adversity.
Stress Inoculation Imagery Task
It doesn’t matter if you’re about to walk into that big business meeting, or if you’re about to take the field for a sporting event, or something else entirely; the secret to success involves the following technique:
Take a moment and simply visualize yourself positively reacting to adversity.
Be prepared for something to go wrong—because something always does. If you’re a golfer, you’re probably going to hit the ball in the trees at some point. It happens to Tiger Woods, and you can be certain it will happen to you too. Jeff Bezos and the late Steve Jobs no doubt had stressful times in the boardroom, and so will you!
Visualizing yourself responding positively to adversity and dealing with failure, will become a more powerful tool in your mental toolbox than picturing the meeting, game, or recital flowing perfectly.
If you’re able to engage in this kind of practical task, you’re able to build the mental representations of resilience necessary to deal with adversity and failure.
Too often, we are seeking and hoping for comfort. I find it astonishing how many athletes are training their minds to see the perfect performance without complimenting this by visualizing their responses to chaos or stress. This results in them being shocked when something unplanned happens, and often they cannot inoculate the stress response, and this inhibits their performance. Part of creating positive change is being process focused, and part of your process needs to be this practical task. If you’re not ready to inoculate stress, you’re not ready to perform to your highest level.
The Fisherman’s Tale – The Endless Quest for More
By Iain Highfield, KOHR Academy Director
A rich tourist is walking around a beautiful harbor, and he is texting and checking his emails on his mobile phone. On the odd occasion, he takes a break from his phone to soak in some scenery or feel the cool breeze caress his face.
An old fisherman catches his eye, as his boat is the only one to have docked from the morning fishing trip.
The rich tourist shouts across to the fisherman, “You should stay out longer and catch more fish,” but the fisherman says that his small catch is enough for his family’s needs.
“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a nap, have a few drinks with friends, play guitar, and sing. I have a full life. Why would I want to stay out on my boat any longer?” replies the fisherman.
The tourist insists, “You should fish longer every day so that you can earn more and buy a bigger boat.”
The tourist’s phone beeps a few times, but he ignores it as he is deeply focused on making the fisherman’s life better.
“And after that?” asks the fisherman.
“Then you can buy more and more boats and open your own plant someday, and produce your own fish, packaged and ready for the supermarket,” replies the tourist.
The fisherman asks, “How long will that take?”
“Twenty to twenty‐five years of super hard work, focus, and dedication,” replies the tourist. “Then you can sell your business for millions of dollars,” he adds.
“What will I do with all that money?” asks the fisherman.
“Well then, you can retire, live near the coast, sleep late, catch a few fish, play with your children, take a nap, drink with friends, play guitar, and sing.”
Why Success Will Not Make You Happy
I, as so many others do, used to measure success in the form of money, titles, cars, watches, bonuses, awards, leaderboards, rankings…
My definition of success used to be the very definition of the word you can find in the Oxford English Dictionary. I was never taught, and I never chose to use happiness as a measure of my success.
The relationship between external success, the achievement of our goals, and our sense of inner happiness and fulfillment is so deeply embedded in our culture that it requires a considerable leap of imagination to even question it.
But according to modern, positive psychologist, Shawn Achor, who explains in his hugely entertaining Ted talk, the traditional view of the relationship between success and happiness is the wrong way around. The problem, says Achor, is that every time you achieve a success, your brain redefines what success looks like. So, for example, the golfer who gets down to scratch will immediately decide that his next success will be becoming a pro. Once a pro, he or she will set their sights on the major tours. As a tour player, they will want to be a winner; as a winner, they will want to win a major; as a major winner, they will want to win multiple majors.
The same applies to a business salesperson that MUST hit their quarter target. Once this is achieved, they will be happier if they hit their stretch target for that quarter. Then maximum bonus becomes the goal, and then top 10 in the sales charts; then they will be happy if they reach the sacred number 1 spot, and then the top salesperson for the year is the goal; then smash all company records; then defend that title…
And so, it can go on, making happiness forever elusive.
The Trouble with Studying Averages
At the root of this problem is the emphasis that statistics based disciplines, such as psychology, place on explaining away the outliers— those experimental results that don’t conform to fashionable theories.
Instead of treating exceptional performers as examples of human potential, they’ve been treated as anomalies, with nothing to teach the average performer.
Educators and coaches have been asking:
“How fast does the average child learn?”
When they should be asking:
“How much can this individual child learn, and how far might they go?”
Traditional classes and group coaching sessions tend, therefore, to be geared to the average performer, and have the effect of pulling everyone back toward that level.
Positive psychology, by contrast, deliberately focuses on the outliers— the above average—and asks how they come to be so far ahead in intellectual and artistic capabilities, or sporting prowess, as the case may be. The idea is not to find out how to move people toward average performance, but to move the entire average up.
Our team of coaches at KOHR have learned a lot from Achor’s work and we make every effort to make this part of our culture at the KOHR Golf Academy?
Flipping the Model
Why Happiness and Success Both Depend on Attitude
It would be only natural to ask in response what a Harvard student could possibly have to be unhappy about, but such a question would be based on a false premise: the assumption that our external world or achievements are predictive of our happiness levels.
In fact, research has shown that 90% of longterm happiness is predicted not by our external world but how the brain processes it; in other words, by our attitude.
So changing the lens can certainly do wonders for our happiness. But this isn’t just a matter of feeling better through positive thinking or affirmation. Changing the way we look at the world can also have a tremendous impact on educational and career outcomes.
When the right positive attitudes are developed, intelligence, creativity, and energy are all enhanced.
The lesson is clear: The pursuit of external goals as a means of achieving the universal desire for happiness is highly unlikely to be effective.
We need to flip the model and focus first on the process of developing positive psychological attitudes and emotions. From this process, the external rewards we desire will follow almost effortlessly.
I opened up this blog by stating that my definition of success was the actual definition of the word, the one that can be found in the Oxford English Dictionary:
Success: the accomplishment of an aim or purpose; the attainment of popularity or profit; a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity.
Can I say that Google and the Oxford English Dictionary are wrong? Probably not! And this is good because I am not in the business of being correct. I merely aim to say enough to challenge people to think.
At KOHR we challenge our students to create a new definition of success and as a team of coaches we are constantly highlighting that success is more than playing well:
At KOHR we help our students believe that, “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self‐satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming. Success is never final; failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.”
During the season we have students engage in tasks and challenges that can support this message and are a way of creating lasting behavioral change. One of these is the Thought Trainer Journal.
Thought Trainer Journal
How Does It Help?
“The Science of Happiness,” by Shawn Achor (and many other research papers), states that the activities contained in the thought trainer, when combined with exercise, will increase performance, as performance and happiness are intrinsically connected, and a happier person is a higher performer.
Engaging in the activities on the worksheet and having to physically check them off as you do them throughout the day, will create the happiness advantage that Achor advises we all take advantage of.
By Iain Highfield, KOHR Academy Director
Inky Johnson is a thankful man.
He’s naturally grateful, as anyone would be, for the precious gifts of a rewarding career, a loving wife, and two beautiful children.
But most of all, he gives thanks for the 9th of September 2006. It was the day his world changed in an instant and forever.
It was the day he nearly died.
“Get that man into the theater. He’s about to die!”
Playing in a football game for the University of Tennessee, Volunteers against the US Air Force, Inky was poleaxed when what should have been a straightforward tackle turned into a sickening helmet to helmet collision. Blacking out for a moment as the force of the impact drove all the air from his body, Inky lay on the ground unable to move as panicking teammates urged him to get up.
Rushed to the hospital, Inky had just undergone a CAT scan when a doctor shouted, “Get that man into the theater. He’s about to die!” Sure enough, he had a life threatening internal bleed and needed immediate surgery.
When Inky came round, his doctor told him there was good news and bad news. The good news, as Inky had already worked out, was that he was still alive. The bad news was that serious and irreparable nerve damage to his right shoulder meant that he would probably never play football again.
“Doc, You Don’t Know Me”
“No disrespect, Doc,” replied Inky quietly, “but you don’t know me.” And he didn’t.
The prognosis would have been a heavy blow for any athletically gifted, ambitious 20 year old. But it was especially devastating for Inky. Just weeks before, his coach had told him that he was in line for a top 30 place in the NFL draft. All he had to do was complete ten more games for the Volunteers, and he would be, as Inky puts it, “an automatic multimillionaire,” in fulfillment of the dream he had pursued with extraordinary single-mindedness since the age of six years old.
Growing up in the troubled Kirkwood neighborhood of Atlanta, Inky was the son of a teenage single mom—one of six kids who shared a home with up to eight frequently imprisoned uncles.
A Dream of Playing in the NFL
From his earliest years, he dreamed of a career in the NFL as a way of escaping the drugs and gangs of Kirkwood. By the age of seven, he was training every night with his cousins, sprinting from light pole to light pole in the dark streets, instinctively understanding that the key to success lies in patient engagement in consistent action.
Inky’s persistence paid off when he was spotted training in the street, by a coach who signed him up to take part in organized football. But that was just the beginning of an extraordinary journey. After the end of team practice, Inky would have to wait alone for his mom to collect him after she finished her shift at Wendy’s, at 10 or 10:30 at night.
“Mom, You’ll Never Work Another Day in Your Life”
Rather than going straight home, Inky would persuade his mom to shine the car headlights onto the training field and wait while he went through yet more drills. As tired as they both were, catching his mother’s eye helped motivate him to persevere. “If I get to the NFL,” he would often tell her, “you’ll never work another day in your life.”
The most important lesson Inky got from his mom was to finish what you start; and in his opinion, one of the major problems in today’s world is that too many people get involved in things and then quit, either because they find out they don’t like the people they have to work with, or because the process isn’t what they thought it would be.
More fundamentally, people quit, or put in far less effort than they’re capable of, because they don’t have a strong sense of pride or purpose in what they’re doing. And without a higher motivation above and beyond mere ego satisfaction, it’s all too easy to quit when faced with even relatively minor obstacles.
Why Giving 100% Was as Natural as Breathing
For Inky, the intense drive to provide a better life for his mom and siblings, his focus from an early age on the process of practice, and above all, his pride in himself as an individual with the power to impose his will on his circumstances, meant that it was as natural as breathing for him to give 100% when he got to the University of Tennessee.
And it was natural, too, for him to treat his injury as an opportunity rather than a terrible misfortune; a chance to repay those who had invested in him, and to tell his remarkable story to the world.
So although his doctor might not have known him, the rest of the world now certainly does. Inky was quickly in huge demand as an inspirational speaker for Fortune 500 corporations, sports teams, schools, and churches, and he now holds a Master’s in Sports Psychology from the University of Tennessee, specializing in mentoring young athletes and people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
There could be no better use of his talents, because while Inky is unquestionably an outstanding individual, his story, and particularly the way he set about achieving his goals, holds some very valuable lessons for everyone.
Matching the “How” to the “What” – Unearthing the “Process”
All the KOHR Golf Academy students that I am blessed to work with understand that their task is to think carefully about their outcome and process goals, placing particular emphasis on process.
Another good way to think about goals is to ask students what they want (outcome) and how they are going to get it (process).
At KOHR Golf Academy we are never dismissive of what students say they want to achieve, no matter how unrealistic it may seem that the gawky kid might one day win the Open Championship, be the CEO of a fortune 500 company, or in Ink’s case, play in the NFL. Everyone has to start somewhere.
The task for a KOHR coach is not to be realistic; it is rather to make sure that the student’s process goals are appropriate to the outcome goals they have set themselves—that the how matches the what. It should be obvious, for example, that a young golfer whose outcome goal is to play the PGA Tour, but whose process goal is to practice for a couple of hours a week, is unlikely to succeed. But of course, there will be many far less obvious misalignments that need to be corrected.
Determining your Why – The Most Important Key to Strong Motivation
The final and perhaps the most important piece of the goal setting jigsaw is to ask the student to carefully consider why it is that they want to pursue their outcome and process goals.
Most KOHR students will find the question puzzling at first. Perhaps they’ll respond that they have to practice because their parents, teachers, or coaches say so. Or they may point out the obvious attractions of status and financial rewards that come with winning trophies or winning on the PGA Tour.
But it’s my job as KOHR’s mental performance coach to dig a little deeper, because the research evidence is clear that the most powerful and resilient motivation comes from those internal sources that are generated and owned by the individual. These may include the enjoyment of practicing and playing for their own sake, the challenge and excitement of competition, and the pride that comes with the development of high levels of skill. Strong internal motivations may also include, as in Inky Johnson’s case, an urgent desire to provide for and be an example to others that are faced with the adversity of poverty.
Inky’s Personal “Why” and the Triumph of the Individual over Circumstance
Inky Johnson is by any standards a remarkable human being, but his powerful story carries important lessons for people of far more ordinary capabilities.
Faced with the sudden and irreversible loss of the NFL dream he had cherished for so long, Inky might easily have fallen prey to anger, bitterness, and “why me” resentment. But his lifelong focus on process, starting with his nightly races from light pole to light pole, had given him the inner strength and psychological excellence he needed in order not to quit. It was, as he says, the process that saved his life.
More important still, his early experience of adversity had endowed him with an acute and invincible sense of why he was setting out on this path. “You’ll never work another day in your life,” he had told his mother, and motivation like that is not to be extinguished by the mere loss of an external goal, no matter how dearly cherished.
There is no “why me” for Inky; only a far more powerful “why not me” attitude, which has allowed him not only to accept appalling misfortune but also to achieve outstanding external successes, albeit that they are very different from those of which he dreamed for so long.
If Inky had conditioned himself, like so many do, to focus on what he wanted from his life, his ability to deal with this level of adversity would be nonexistent, and he would have been another potential that had the legitimate excuse of injury blocking them from achieving their lifelong goals. But Inky is different to most of society. His psychological habits, ones that he has trained since the tender age of six, mental patterns, his focus on his process (how), and his purpose (why), enabled him to pivot in the midst of adversity and launch a career that I am sure fulfills him spiritually and emotionally, and allowed the promises he made to himself, when he looked deep into his mother’s eyes, to come true.
WARNING: I watched this video with my cat, and it became a lion!
“What, How, Why” Goals
It was simple for Inky; at six, he decided what he wanted, how he was going to get there, and why he wanted it.
What = Play in the NFL.
How = Run light pole to light pole; give it all he has got; stay behind after training and do extra work while his mother is working; never cheat; study film on opposing teams.
Why = The look in his mother’s eyes; the desire to show the people in his family that looked up to him that they do not have to be in and out of jail like their uncles.
Inky lived and breathed his how and his why.
To learn more about KOHR Golf contact Academy Director, Iain Highfield, firstname.lastname@example.org Cell (352) 978-8322
KOHR Golf will be hosting junior golf open houses in May and June where Juniors can try out the KOHR Academy programming for FREE!
CLICK HERE to reserve a spot at one of the open house events.