Gordon on Golf

Golf can clear your mind if you let it

Golf is a mind game

If you’re looking to be more grounded in life, golf is the answer.

Literally and figuratively.

Just ask Dr. Joe Parent, founder of Zen Golf (www.zengolf.com).

“You should use golf as a form of meditation. When you stand on the tee, breath down through your body, through your feet and into the ground. Feel connected through the earth, through space and then to your target.”

If you’re a cynical old so-and-so like me, that Zen stuff doesn’t adhere all that much. But when Parent starts talking about slot machines, well, here we go.

He talks about “random intermittent reinforcement” where every so often, after you’ve poured a bunch of quarters into the one-armed bandit, the light goes off and “ding, ding, ding,” you’re a winner. And, like that one great shot during your otherwise unremarkable round of golf, that keeps you coming back.

Parent says that golf is “90 per cent mental and 10 per cent mental because your mind runs every swing you take.” (It must be a Zen thing.)

And while the physical benefits of the game are well documented, golf can clear your mind, give you increased self-awareness and improve your mental and psychological well-being.

“If you’re mindful, simply being outside, participating in an activity that you enjoy, you breathe more deeply and your thoughts slow down, all of which has a calming effect. It’s not dissimilar to the benefits of mindfulness meditation where practitioners focus on their breath,” says Tim O’Connor, mental performance coach at Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ont. (www.oconnorgolf.ca)

Dr. Adrienne Leslie-Toogood (www.drtoogood.com) is Team Canada’s sports psychologist. While her focus in that role is on elite athletes, she recognizes the mental health benefits of golf for everyone. But the onus is on the golfer to do the same.

“You have to accept what you can control and what you can’t. You’re striving to get better, but you must accept the present reality. Once you do that, there’s a great opportunity for growth and you can then translate that realization into other areas of your life, whether it’s family, business or something else. It’s self-realization.”

And rather than castigate yourself for a bad shot, Leslie-Toogood says take the opportunity during every round to implement the “self-compassion theory.” It’s kind of the converse of the Golden Rule in that you should treat yourself the way you would ideally treat others.

“If you make a mistake, forgive yourself. Have realistic expectations. Take the opportunity to learn something about yourself and to grow. That takes courage.”

Too much has been made of the frustrations associated with golf. The frustrations are on you.

And so are the gratifications.

The choice is yours.

As the late great golfer Walter Hagen said: “You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

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