How Golf Made Me Rethink Work

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For years, people have told me I need a hobby. (I guess building a company and raising a couple of kids doesn’t count). Regardless, I’m happy to report that I finally have one: I am absolutely obsessed with my golf game. And those people were right – it is good for the soul to have a hobby!

Last week, I had a big week. I played in the ladies tournament at my home course, and my partner and I won! Before anyone gets too impressed, I must admit this tournament is handicap adjusted, and I have a 38.5 handicap, so I had a little help. But also, over the last year, I’ve really been working on my mental game and I credit that a bit too. I read “Every Shot Must Have a Purpose” by Pia Nilsson and it has defined how I practice and play golf.

What has really stuck with me about this book is the concept of separating the “think box” and the “play box” (or the strategy and the execution). When I do this, it has an immensely positive effect on my game. Here’s how it works for me. When I come up to my ball, I start in the “think box.” I stand back and figure out the best shot I can take in that moment. Should I hit it over the creek or lay it up? Is it better to go long or short? Right or left? High or low? I pick the best club I can, and I figure out how I want to swing it. Then, I clear my head and move into the “play box.” I slowly walk up to my ball and deliberately execute the play. I hit the ball. It does what it does. I take a breath. I think about it, learn from it, and then do everything I can to leave that shot behind, whether it was good or bad.

This has recently gotten me thinking about the parallels between my golf game and my work. In the work we do at Thought Ensemble helping executives through transformations, strategy and execution are equally important. They are different but interrelated disciplines. And much like with my golf game, separating the “thinking” from the “playing” can make both more effective.

When you are in the “think box,” sometimes the strategy is totally clear, and sometimes it is a tough decision. On the golf course, sometimes you don’t have the perfect club, or you can’t decide whether the conservative or aggressive play is better. And sometimes, you can’t think straight because you are so frustrated about hitting into the sand trap or that unlucky bounce you had off the sprinkler head. But ultimately, you have to let all of that go and pick the best play you can at the time. Back in the office, you might have just had a key employee quit or closed a huge, new account. But, the more you can let go of what happened and calmly come up with the next best “play,” the better you’ll do.

When you are in the “play box,” you’ve just got to execute. On the golf course, thinking about the last shot, thinking about your score, or rethinking your swing strategy mid-swing can be catastrophic. In fact, it is best to step out of the “play box” and back to the “think box” until you clear your head. It is the same back at the office. Losing focus on the meeting you are in, or the person you are with, to think about what happened earlier in the day, or what will happen if the current meeting doesn’t go well, can reduce your effectiveness. Being totally present in the current play will ensure you get the most out of it that you can.

Now when I walk along the golf course, I’m always thinking, “every shot must have a purpose.” It reminds me to be in the moment I’m in, focusing on my shot, executing on its purpose. I walked into a meeting this morning and thought, “every meeting must have a purpose.” I thought about how I could help my contact before I stepped in and then got completely in the moment, and it was one of my most effective 30-minute meetings I’ve had in a while!

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