“We fail to realize that mastery is not about perfection. The master is the one who stays on the path day after day, year after year. The master is the one who is willing to try, and fail, and try again for as long as he or she lives” – Mastery by George Leonard.
At any given time, I have 30 to 40 blog post ideas in a note on my iPhone. I’ll have a quick thought flash through my mind driving to the course and I’ll quickly add it to the list when I arrive. One that has been sitting in the queue for the better part of 6 months is about “the process” and what it takes to accomplish anything meaningful and important. Given what took place at Augusta National Golf Club today, I thought there couldn’t be a better time to talk about “the process” and what separates those who succeed from those who fail.
For parts of three decades Tiger Woods has dazzled us with memorable moments while on some of the biggest stages in the game. The chip in on sixteen in 2005 at Augusta, winning by fifteen strokes at Pebble Beach in 2000, to being “better than most” at The Players in 2001. It’s easy to take these moments for granted, not knowing what went in to creating them. This concept is illustrated in the often-shared picture below.
When asked about his preparedness for an upcoming tournament, Tiger often talks about “the process”. When making changes to his swing or coming back from injury, he would describe how before his best stuff could show up at a major championship, it had to show up at a tournament. Before a tournament, it had to feel comfortable in practice rounds. Before practice rounds, playing 18 or 36 at his home club. Before rounds at his home club, on the driving range. There is no way to cheat the system and he made it quite clear to anyone who was listening.
Below is a timeline of the last 18 months, documenting the process for him to go from the operating table to Butler Cabin.
The above timeline represents a man who truly embodies patience and discipline. He knew this was a long term project, not something that would happen overnight. In my blog post entitled Anatomy of a Swing Change, I detailed Tiger’s first swing overhaul under Butch Harmon, which took nearly two years to complete.
Knowing that it took the best player in the modern generation this long to achieve his goal, why do we expect so much of ourselves? As a whole, we vastly overestimate what is possible in the short term, and grossly underestimate what is possible in the long term. Every January, gyms across the country are packed with well-meaning people only to be vacant in February. More and more Americans don’t have any savings for retirement, underestimating the value of compound interest over a long period of time.
In golf, we take lessons and expect to be cured at the end of the hour. We buy gimmicky training aids and Square Strike wedges, looking everywhere but at ourselves when it comes to our improvement. The fact that Tiger has gone without a coach since parting ways with Chris Como is telling of the fact that he’s willing to look himself in the mirror when improving his game.
When setting out to improve your game, the first step is to know what it is you’re working towards. Whether it is to break 90 or win your club championship, having an identifiable goal is a must. From there, work backwards, identifying some benchmarks that must be met. An example would be, for someone trying to break 90, to hit 50% of their greens in regulation.
In order to hit 50% of their greens in regulation, the player needs to be able to control their distance and shot pattern. Building this skill will take time and patience. To ensure completion of the goal, the player should set process goals, not outcome goals. A process goal would be to say, “I will do 25 low-point drills per practice session”, whereas, an outcome goal would be, “I will score 15/20 on the shot cone game”. Process goals keep you engaged in the activity, allowing the compound effect of your time to pay off. If you only set an outcome goal, it will be easy to get discouraged quickly and change course.
Jerry Seinfeld is my favorite entertainer of all-time. He is also a master of process goals. When young comic Brad Isaac asked Jerry what his advice was for someone looking to make it as a stand-up comedian, he said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day.
“He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day.”
“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.”
If we can learn anything from today’s historical event, it’s that anything worth doing takes time. Life isn’t lived in one day. Your golf game isn’t fixed in one lesson. Tiger showed us all today that it’s a process.
Hardy, D. 2010. The Compound Effect. New York, NY. Vanguard Press.