I cannot believe it…you didn’t just hit that drive in the trees did you?
You total and utter loser!
You should go home and berate yourself for the rest of the evening for that woeful swing.
Then when you wake up in the morning – keep thinking about it until you drive yourself crazy.
It’s just not good enough…
Do you hate me yet?
I am a total t**t aren’t I!
Unfortunately this isn’t me – this is your pursuit for perfection clawing it’s teeth into you.
Is Perfectionism Useful in Golf?
Some may argue that being a perfectionist is required to reach the dizzy heights in golf (or anything for that matter)
I would agree with this partly… but at what cost?
I don’t know about you but I would rather be a fulfilled 8 handicapper who loves the process of improving than a 2 handicapper who lets every error eat his sole.
Would you rather be a golfer who embraces mistakes than a golfer who tries everything in his power to avoid them?
Perfectionists are usually driven, goal crazy animals, who have the focus of a lion trying to hunt down its prey.
And yes, this part of perfectionism is healthy and prosperous and can lead to some amazing things.
But with perfection often comes a darker more unfulfilling proposition. The never ending dissatisfaction of never being quite good enough…
Perfection often leads to some success on the exterior. But the interior is often an empty and unfulfilled entity.
Is this simply because perfectionism isn’t possible? Not even the best golfers who have ever graced our planet have achieved anything near it.
A quote from arguably the best ball striker of all time…Ben Hogan.
“A good round of golf is if you can hit about three shots that turnout exactly as you planned them.”
Gene Saracen, another great – would allow himself 8 poor shots per round.
So if you’re on a pursuit of perfection, it is going to be one huge waste of time. You’ll never feel satisfied, you’ll never feel fulfilled and you’ll always think you’re a failure.
I believe perfectionism can be one of the biggest self sabotages’ to your own growth as a golfer. Perfectionists are often unmotivated by failure which sends them into total despair. They spend a lot of time focusing on what went wrong and not the solutions.
Perfectionists often suffer much higher levels of fear of failure. This is due to the overwhelming strain they can put on themselves to be perfect…
If this is starting sound like you and you feel like you want to punch me in the face, then keep reading. It gets better. (But not yet)
It can also have a huge effect on your confidence and your self- belief. You set yourself these unachievable standards that only set you up for disappointment.
Instead of focusing on all the great stuff you did during a round, you reflect intensely on all your mistakes.
Okay, it’s important to pick up on your weaknesses and improve them. This is just a part of learning. But it’s when you start taking no satisfaction from any of the good parts of your round, then it becomes hugely detrimental to your well being.
Let’s look at this quick example…
You may hit 80% of your tee shots nicely one day. These drives are all met with your finest swings. They are a thing of beauty.
But you don’t care much for them…
It’s the 20% you just can’t get out your head.
They fester around like a bad smell.
What went wrong? Why did that one shot go 40 yards right?
Did you get too steep? Ahead of it? Was the ball too far back in your stance?
”I need to go and fix it, I can’t have that shot in my armoury”
You just cannot accept those poor shots. You see them as a total failure. And the other 80% that you hit great are lost in the abyss never to be restored again.
This sort of attitude could sound great on the outside to some, but from personal experience, this becomes emotionally taxing after a while and eventually sends your performance anxiety levels through the roof…
Fear of failure starts to become out of control.
I don’t remember when or where I developed the yips. I remember roughly but I couldn’t pin point the date or exactly when it began.
This is because it was wasn’t one shot or one swing which caused this debilitating occurrence. It was due to my need for perfection…
Which slowly ate my confidence until every chip round the green scared the living daylights out of me.
(And still does occasionally)
I was one who couldn’t accept mistakes. I would let that that little duff chip eat away at my very core. That thinned chip would be replayed over and over in my mind.
My need for perfection round the greens allowed me to dismiss every single good chip I had ever hit.
And then one day – I cracked.
If I could speak to that 16 year old perfectionist – My best advice would be to tell him that mistakes are all part of growth. Growth is a very messy experience. Full of errors, learning and acceptance.
But back then I hated errors and accepting mistakes was the last thing I was going to do.
And looking back on it, I think it was because part of me had fallen into the…
The Perfectionism Illusion
As a kid growing up – I spent a lot of time watching golf on TV. I loved all the big events and just adored watching all the best players in action. It gave me thrills only us golf nuts would ever appreciate.
Looking back on it – I think it stunted my growth as golfer.
Actually no – it really killed my growth.
I would watch these guys at the top of their game making it look so effortlessly easy and at times, playing what I perceived as perfect golf.
”They never duff a chip”
”They would get up and down from there”
”They are deadly from 60 yards and I have just missed the green”
A lot of my need for perfection all stemmed from an illusion that I watched on TV. An illusion which is completely false.
I have now come to realise that these guys are far from perfect. Of course they have incredible golf games and talents NOW.
But to get where they are now – they would have had to fail many, many times over. They would have duffed chips, hit chips thin and hit some terrible pitch shots.
(Which they all still do of course)
And if they had let their need for perfection eat them away like it did to me, they may have fallen victim to this ‘performance anxiety’ induced disease.
So are you letting your own need for perfectionism not only ruin your game but also your enjoyment?
If so, I believe there is a far better and healthier way to approach your improvement.
First of all – close the door to perfection and open the door to growth.
As I have already said – growth is a messy place. Full of mistakes, full of learning experiences, full of pushing yourself beyond what’s comfortable.
But at the same time, it’s far more fulfilling. You allow yourself some room for failure because you know this is required for true growth to happen.
You still analyze your mistakes/weakness and try and improve day by day, but it hasn’t got to be perfect. The aim is to just keep moving the needle in your favour.
Was Tiger a Perfectionist?
That’s what I believe the legendary Tiger Woods did when he made a swing change after winning the 1997 Masters.
Some would say that this was a quest for perfection.
He’d just won arguably the biggest tournament in the world by 12 shots. Why would he need to change his swing?
I would argue this wasn’t to seek perfection, it was because he had an insatiable desire to keep getting better.
This is not perfection.
This kind of swing altering process is a perfectionists nightmare. Performance has to suffer for a while (like it did for Tiger in 1998) and you have to be okay with it.
Actually, you have to embrace it.
If Tiger had let that dip in performance eat into his confidence because things weren’t perfect, he would never of come out the other side like he did in 99/2000 and dominate the world of golf with such unprecedented confidence like we have never seen before.
Okay his performances weren’t exactly terrible in 1998 for normal mortals but by his standards they were far from ‘perfect’.
Growth and the need for perfection I believe are polar opposites in terms of mindset.
A growth mindset allows for mistakes and rough patches because you know you’ll come out the other side a better and more complete golfer.
Perfection tries to keep you comfortable because mistakes are far from accepted and in the end, often suffocate you, until one day, you crack…
So, are you doomed?
OK, so we’ve discovered that this perfectionist mindset may not be the greatest approach, but what can you do about it?
#1 Bigger Picture Thinking – Just like Tiger did after his win in 97, he knew that to grow as a golfer, changes needed to be made.
So, he allowed himself the short term dip in form in 98 and didn’t let this derail him. His short term success was sacrificed for his ultimate goal. To be better. Not perfect.
#2 As we have already touched on – start thinking in terms of growth. Focus on small improvements every day/week. Remember this doesn’t necessarily mean performance improves week on week.
It could mean a swing change you are currently working on which is edging closer to where you would like.
The work you are doing on your mindset could be getting better each week.
Although Tigers performances declined during 1998, it was very evident that growth was taking place. He just had to wait until 99/2000 to really reap the rewards. It’s important to realize that growth does not always equate to a better performance.
#3 Start viewing mistakes completely differently. Mistakes do not mean failure. Mistakes often mean you are pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
For example – if you’re a trying to add a flop shot to your armory, then expect loads and loads of errors. Mistakes are often a really good sign of growth and they give you a great opportunity to learn. Try not to let them derail you.
#4 Spend some time after each round writing what went well. This is great technique to flip that one sided negative view point after each round. Something I have learnt to do and it’s really effective – write down 3/4 positive things about the performance and one thing you would like to do better.
#5 Look back on how far you have come or things you have accomplished in this game. Perfectionists spend so much time striving that they completely forget to celebrate the victories.
This mindset again will begin to get you away from the negative self loathing cycle perfectionism often creates after a perceived failure.
#6 Become aware. Sometimes perfectionists are unaware of what this kind of behavior is actually doing. I was blissfully unaware of what I was doing to my short game.
I thought that this kind of self criticism and want to hit every shot perfectly was required to become the best. How wrong was I?
Very – and I don’t want you to fall into this same trap…
Hopefully this article has begun this awareness process and you can begin to alter to a much healthier and rewarding mindset. If you know any other perfectionists who may need to read this – please forward it on.
P.S This advice could literally be applied to anything in your life – not just your golf game.