I’ve tried to become a better man through books, apps, DVDs, etc. Doesn’t work. When I live on my edge—-that’s when change happens.
Historically, I have been weak. Temptation has clawed at me, the sirens beckoned, and I have caved, keying in my credit card number in anticipation that the agent of change would arrive in two business days.
Most times, it’s been a book that I’m sure will lead me to the personal change that I’m seeking to become a better man. Or a DVD promising to make me an improved golfer, or a magazine article that will transform me into a more engaged family man. The list is lengthy. My book shelf runneth over.
But in recent years, I have resisted, fought the good fight, and silenced the barkers of snake oil by gamely clamping my hands on my ears and loudly singing “la la la la la.”
Well, I didn’t do that last bit, at least not in the aisles at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Florida during the last week of January. The golf industry’s annual trade show is an overwhelmingly massive extravaganza where vendors flog their latest wares, hoping to land orders from golf pros and retailers, as well as create some buzz.
Like most industry people at the show—I’ve written about golf and consulted in the industry for 20 years—I’m an obsessed golfer who yearns to become better at this infernal game. Through the years, I’ve bought a truckload of gadgets, training devices, books, all of which promised to shave strokes from my game.
As I walked the floor at the latest show, I found myself having something akin to out-of-body experiences, observing myself being drawn to new electronic devices that track club path and ball speed and other cool things. Lest I turn into a pillar of salt, I walked away just seconds from asking, “Excuse me, is there a show special on that?”
This experience is not dissimilar to what happens to me in a book store when I spot a lovely textured book jacket that seductively promises that I will do lovely things like evolve, ascend and grow so I become self-actualized and the best gosh darn guy I can be.
Whether it’s a book, app or online course, there’s a cornucopia of stuff for sale that will lead us to bliss, whether that’s a slimmer body, a better sex life or ________________ (insert your wish here).
Let me know if this seems familiar. After the excitement of the purchase, I put the advice into practice and, well, you know the drill, the allure starts to fade. The compromising and bargaining begins. I slip and slide, and inevitably, the book or device—and my commitment to change—is put literally and figuratively on the shelf like the others before it.
Then, I suffer what I call the self-improvement deficit, when I feel even worse than before, calling myself names, berating my weakness (again!), throwing on heaping helpings of shame, and—metaphorically or not—retreating to the couch to ply myself with a beer and Sports Center.
Why is change so damn difficult?
Paul Dewland, a golf mental performance coach, says that most everyone, including yours truly, hates change. None of us really wants to change.
“Change feels awkward, clumsy and uncomfortable,” says Dewland, who coaches at the Core Golf Academy in Orlando, Florida. “And regardless of our commitment to doing things differently, this is the reason we lapse back into old behaviours, especially when we’re under some sort of stress or pressure.”
It’s an unfair fight, this change thing. We’re battling against a lifetime of recurring behaviours driven by traumas, assumptions, perceptions and stories no one else has lived through.
Even if the sage advice we’re getting from books or programs has been distilled from the experiences of thousands of other folks, or from a well-intentioned friend or family member, it’s not based on our unique circumstances.
“We’re attempting to change people with things that they’ve never experienced,” says Fred Shoemaker, founder of Extraordinary Golf Schools in Carmel, California. “People will always go back to what they know. They cannot learn things that they have not experienced. People learn through their own experience.”
Shoemaker’s remarkably successful method of teaching golfers to play better is not about giving tips or imparting information; he helps his students to become fascinated with learning and observing what happens to them as unique human beings. In other words, growing their awareness about themselves and learning from their own experiences.
And that is a long and often uncomfortable process. “People rarely make change from a eureka moment,” Dewland says. “When you have the intent to go after what you want, you then have to use discipline to endure discomfort and work your butt off.
“When you feel uncomfortable, that’s exactly where you need to be. You’re on your way to some kind of change.”
This is not to say seeking advice won’t help—we certainly can benefit from wisdom, knowledge and insight. But that’s the easy part. The heavy lifting is up to me. And you.
photo: photographer name / flickr