We laugh when we hear tour play­ers say, “I was just try­ing to have fun out there,”

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - The Golf Life -

he hap­pi­est golfer I ever knew was Peg­gsy. “Isn’t this the great­est?” was his mantra from the car park to the last putt, no mat­ter the weather or what he shot. Peg­gsy was not only the best player on our league team, he was also the luck­i­est.We’d roll our eyes, yet we sensed his 6-hand­i­cap wasn’t all magic. There was some­thing about his in­de­fati­ga­ble mood that made him hard to beat.Turns out, there’s sci­en­tific proof this “hap­pi­ness edge” ex­ists.

First off, if you’re wait­ing for good golf to de­liver hap­pi­ness, know that it works the other way around. “We need to re­verse the for­mula for hap­pi­ness and suc­cess,” says Shawn Achor, au­thor of The Hap­pi­ness Ad­van­tage. “Your brain at pos­i­tive per­forms sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter than it does at neg­a­tive, neu­tral or stressed.”

Some golfers have al­ways known this. Like five-time Open Cham­pi­onship win­ner Peter Thom­son, who said, “You can think best when you’re hap­pi­est.”

Of course, most golfers (most peo­ple, re­ally) tend to fo­cus on im­per­fec­tion, an ac­tion of­ten en­cour­aged by teach­ers, bosses and coaches. “We have iden­ti­fied 19 flaws in your swing,” one high-tech anal­y­sis ser­vice re­cently told my friend be­fore sug­gest­ing a se­ries of lessons to fix them. We laugh when we hear tour play­ers say,“I was just try­ing to have fun out there,” but that mind-set is yet another rea­son they’re on TV, and you’re not. “When the brain is neg­a­tive, you split its re­sources be­tween pro­cess­ing the ac­tion at hand and pro­cess­ing the neg­a­tive thoughts,” Achor says. “When you’re pos­i­tive, your brain can use all of its power to fo­cus on learn­ing and look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

THap­pi­ness has been a boom­ing book busi­ness since Nor­man Vin­cent Peale pub­lished The Power of Pos­i­tive Think­ing in 1952. Nev­er­the­less, the re­cent stud­ies Achor and oth­ers cite to sup­port their con­clu­sions are star­tling: Nuns with more joy­ful en­tries in their di­aries lived longer; hap­pier doc­tors made the right di­ag­no­sis twice as fast as other doc­tors; clean­ing crews told they were get­ting lots of ex­er­cise by sim­ply do­ing their jobs lost weight, but co­work­ers who were told noth­ing lost noth­ing; 4-year-olds told to think of some­thing happy com­pleted tasks faster and with fewer er­rors; think­ing pos­i­tively in­creases pe­riph­eral vi­sion.And on and on.

So why do golfers think they need to be tough on them­selves to get bet­ter? It starts with how we “model” ex­pe­ri­ence, says Dr Sriku­mar Rao, au­thor of Hap­pi­ness at Work. Our con­structs about how things should work send us down the path of what’s miss­ing rather than what’s work­ing. “We have no­tions of how to get a job, how to marry, bring up chil­dren, choose a res­tau­rant, etc,” Rao says. “These con­structs are won­der­ful time­sav­ing de­vices. The prob­lem is, we don’t recog­nise them as such.We think,This is the way the world re­ally works.”

Our con­cept of how to play good golf – how tee shots ought to look, how pars are to be made – is just a con­struct, too.

“We have a neg­a­tiv­ity bias. We store neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences in a way that is more last­ing than pos­i­tive ones,” says Lynn Mar­riott ofVi­sion54, who with Pia Nils­son has coached play­ers such as An­nika Soren­stam and Suzann Pet­tersen. Ask a friend about his round, and lis­ten if his lead anec­dote isn’t about a missed putt or some other blun­der.

In The Hap­pi­ness Ad­van­tage, Achor de­scribes the Tetris Ef­fect af­ter an experiment in which video gamers re­ported view­ing the whole world as Tetris, or as an end­less on­slaught of puz­zle pieces. Achor says that pro­fes­sion­als who spend their lives search­ing for mis­takes – ac­coun­tants, lawyers, teach­ers – tend to do the same when en­gaged in leisure ac­tiv­i­ties.With golf it can work in re­verse. Get good at find­ing flaws in your swing, and you be­come like the lawyer who comes home and deposes his kids.

Turn­ing it around, say the ex­perts, be­gins by iden­ti­fy­ing the kind of golf that com­bines suc­cess and en­joy­ment for you. Mar­riott and Nils­son ask stu­dents to “in­ven­tory” el­e­ments for each round. How did you warm up? Who were your play­ing part­ners? Was your de­ci­sion-mak­ing ag­gres­sive or con­ser­va­tive? “It’s not that ev­ery good round will look the same,” Mar­riott says. “But so many golfers never stop and ask what is it that they do when they play well.”

In cor­po­rate con­sul­ta­tions, Achor pro­motes the Zorro Cir­cle of im­prove­ment. (Your of­fice is a mess? Clear a cor­ner of your desk.) “Try to fix your whole swing and you’ll lose it,” Achor says. “But if you’re able to de­fend just one area of suc­cess, like cor­rect grip pres­sure or breath­ing right, your brain starts be­ing able to ex­pand to other ar­eas. Small vic­to­ries for the brain give it the belief that our be­hav­iour mat­ters.”

That’s what Scott Barry Kauf­man, sci­en­tific di­rec­tor of the Imag­i­na­tion In­sti­tute at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, calls “hav­ing a learn­ing goal ver­sus a per­for­mance goal.When you fo­cus on the learn­ing goal, you tend to be hap­pier.”This is the wis­dom be­hind tour-pro plat­i­tudes like “I’m just stay­ing with the process” and “not wor­ry­ing about the re­sult.”

The last piece of the golfhap­pi­ness for­mula might be the sim­plest: Ex­er­cise be­ing grate­ful. “This is not ‘happy-ol­ogy,’ ” Kauf­man says.“It’s not all about nice­ness and smiles.” In­deed, the deep­est sense of con­tent­ment, he says, de­rives from act­ing for a larger pur­pose. For Bill Gates, that might mean erad­i­cat­ing malaria. For you, it might be as unas­sum­ing as im­prov­ing your health. Or teach­ing a child a great game. Or ex­plor­ing an el­e­ment of your per­son­al­ity (pa­tience, per­haps) you’d like to be stronger.

“Look, you have a choice,” Rao tells me. “Maybe you played a round where you duffed ev­ery shot. You want to break ev­ery club.You can stew in it. Or you can say,‘Well, I did my best. I’ll come back and do bet­ter next time.’ ”

That’s so ar­ti­fi­cial, I protest. Aren’t you just fool­ing your­self?

“Of course you’re fool­ing your­self!” Rao shouts. “You’re al­ways fool­ing your­self! Why not fool your­self in the right di­rec­tion?”

Isn’t this the great­est?

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