Back in my younger days my buddies and I used to play a lot of golf. There was a tucked away course that we loved because it was cheap, laid back, and had very little traffic; great for us because we weren’t exactly your well-dressed, upstanding, country club types.
We were barely in our twenties and taking some time off after college. Things have changed a lot since then, but at the time our lives basically consisted of bartending all night and golfing all day. I know, that doesn’t sound like too bad of a deal; but at some point I had to grow up and do something with my life.
Predictable Performance Curve
We would show up at the golf course, fill our coolers with beer, and hit the links. After awhile, a very predictable pattern of our performance emerged.
The first couple of holes were always a little shaky because we never took time to warm up. By the third hole, the rustiness had worn off and our swings got better. This was also the point at which we decided that we were far enough away from the clubhouse to crack the first beer.
There was always a point, somewhere around the fifth or sixth hole, when each of us would hit the most beautiful drives of the day. Since we had each thrown a few beers back, we would all conclude that we had hit the beer window for maximum performance.
The Downward Spiral
The only thing more predictable than hitting a great drive around the fifth or sixth hole was hitting an absolutely terrible drive on the next hole. With the feeling of a great swing still fresh in our heads, we would try too hard to recreate it; and by forcing it, we’d kill it.
This, of course, was the beginning of a downward spiral as more and more beer was consumed and our swings got progressively worse. On a few occasions it got so bad on the back nine that we would stop keeping score and just hit the ball around for fun.
As I got older (and wiser) I eventually removed alcohol from my golf game all together because I realized that it was a net loser; but the idea that a beer window might exist for a hole or two still intrigues me.
Golf Digest’s “Study”
Golf Digest took a pretty non-scientific look at this topic a few years back in an article called Does Beer Help? They sent a team of really good golfers to Vegas to test the hypothesis. Surprisingly, even though they each took down a ton of beer, it didn’t hurt them as much as you might think.
The Real Answer
Beer doesn’t so much help your golf game as it reduces tension, which hurts your golf game. The perfect swing is an extremely delicate balance between focus and relaxation. While a few beers might help with relaxation, the unfortunate consequence is a drop in the focus part of the equation.
The real answer to improving your golf game is learning how to control this balance consciously, without foreign substances. Furthermore, the way to get control of your mental function is through meditation.
Golf as a Microcosm of Life
Since the golf swing is so sensitive to the battle of duality in our heads, I like to think of it as a microcosm of life in general. To succeed at almost anything, we need mental balance. The problem is that most of us are nowhere near in control of our own brains.
If you’ve ever tried to meditate you’ll know what I’m talking about. The idea of meditation is to relax and focus your mind on one thing. It might be a word, your breathing, or the ambient sounds in your environment. It sounds easy at first, but it is actually extremely difficult to settle your own mind.
Out of Control Mind
When I first started meditating, it was really frustrating. After only a few seconds of concentration I would find myself thinking about what I had to do that day or off in a daydream. Every time I brought my focus back to the object of my concentration, it would only last a few seconds.
It’s a little scary to think about how out of control our minds really can be. It might help to explain why some people continue to engage in negative behavior even though they know it’s hurting them.
Balance of Relaxation of Focus
To succeed at anything in life, you have to be in control of your own mind. In a job interview, you have to be focused enough to sound like you know what you’re talking about yet relaxed enough to be likeable. In front of a crowd, again, you need to balance focus and relaxation.
Success in sports, dating, sales, entrepreneurship, and even the stock market requires this balance. I imagine if someone did a scientific study to test the results of focus and relaxation on performance, the results would look like this graph.
Learning to find this balance and have control of your own mind can have an extremely large impact on your life. Some find this balance naturally while others have to work on it.
I have always been gifted with focus, but struggled with relaxation. I used to get so uptight about things that I would kill my chances of success. It wasn’t until I learned to take it easy that I started to really excel.
Acting is a good example of how balance can affect performance. The best actors are sharp enough to remember their lines and be in the moment, but relaxed enough to give a natural performance. Nerves are the number one culprit in auditions gone bad. A really great actor can bomb an audition by being too uptight. In fact, most casting directors would rather take a relaxed, natural actor with less talent over a great actor who is too nervous.
On the other end of the spectrum, someone who is too relaxed and “out of it” won’t get the part either. The object is balance.
While beer sounded like a great performance booster when I was young and stupid, it wasn’t a very good idea; but it did bring to light an important piece of the life puzzle. The idea of balance seems simple, but is actually very difficult to achieve. If you can master it through meditation, you can accomplish just about anything.