MANAGING CHRONIC STRESS
I recall an interview with Jordan Spieth after leading the Masters after round three (and going on to win by 4 strokes). “What” he was asked “will you be doing tonight? Will you be thinking about the round today, or tomorrow, or golf?” The answer, of course, was “I won’t be doing anything to think about golf. I’ll be with my family and maybe playing some ping pong, watching TV, enjoying ourselves.”
Annika Sorrenstam’s coaches, Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott, taught that every shot has a decision line – an imaginary line that divides the area where you do our thinking and strategizing (the Think box) from the area where you simply hit the shot (the Play box). To oversimplify, she divides up the approach to golf with these two phases. In the thinking box you stand behind the ball and take everything into consideration, the lie, the wind, the game plan, the club choice, the swing shape, etc. Once you decide, you step into the action box and execute- no more thinking.
Walking along the fairways during a round of golf, you are executing golf shots for a small number of minutes. The rest of the time you are standing around, walking between shots, or whatever. Hopefully, you are fully engaged during those few minutes of making good swings. What about the rest of the time? Hopefully, you’ve learned (like the best golfers) to have your mind somewhere else - in some friendly conversation, in some music inside your head, in some engagement with the beautiful nature surrounding you. Hopefully, you are not stressfully worrying about some problem in your life (when that is unavoidable it probably has a negative effect on your game). Certainly, you should not be engaged in anticipating what your score will be, how the game will finish, who will win the next hole, how a bad shot cost you the last hole, how much you want to beat your opponent, what the trophy will look like, why you will never win a trophy, etc. You learn, from golf, to engage when you need to, and to shift into a pleasant, alert, and active, mindfulness the rest of the time.
This shifting ability is the skill you want to retrofit from golf into your life. Life will present problems. If you don’t have them now - lucky you. They will come some time. When they do, dealing with them requires you to do take care of them, to address them effectively, to the extent you can (you can only manage what is possible to control) If you think about it, you can only be effectively engaged for limited periods of the time, the rest of the time you can ruminate, catastrophize, visit your negative feelings about those who want to blame, etc. That type of thing is as useless and destructive in life as it is on the golf course.
Do what you can in the appropriate “action boxes” for your life’s problems, and the rest of the time, walk down the fairway, actively mindful. There is still beauty around you, there is still music to hear, there are still people to be with.