Last month my friend stopped short before making her first tee shot and said, “Let’s say we have to pay 10 cents every time we say something negative today.” I laughed.
This will be good for her because she is really negative, constantly criticizing herself for the whole round of golf. It will be a relief not to have to deal with that. So I said, “Let’s make it a quarter.”
She hit her drive, not a brilliant shot, but in play. I teed up and watched my ball hook way to the left. “Look at that,” I said, “right in the fairway.” My friend said, “That will be 25 cents.” I argued I wasn’t being negative – just making an observation. She said I was being sarcastic and negative since I’d hit the ball into the fairway of the hole next to us. Turns out I'm pretty negative myself.
That’s how the first three holes went. Each of us calling out the other’s negativity then defending ourselves. By the fourth hole, we just stopped talking about golf. Changing the subject helped some, but even that was precarious, because we couldn’t say anything negative about other topics either.
On the seventh hole, I hooked it off to the left again. Instead of saying anything, I just stood in my stance and watched the ball go. Then for some reason, I looked down at my feet and realized I’d hit the ball perfectly straight. I wasn’t hooking it at all – I was lined up pointing left. My friend had a realization of her own about her follow through and managed to fix a slice that had bugged her game for years.
After a while, we decided it was dishonest to ignore negative results in our game, but talking about that result wasn’t too helpful either. Instead we started to frame our discussion around what to do next time. So in place of, “What a stupid shot,” I would say, “Hmmm… next time I think I’ll check to see if my feet are lined up right.”
The last three holes were some of the most delightful golf we ever played. Not a perfect game – we still missed a few strokes, but enjoyable and even relaxing.
What happened? We think it had to do with our intention and our point of focus. Our negativity was always focused on the result, not the cause. The problem in my tee shot wasn’t that it went to the left – that was just the result. The problem was the direction I’d placed my feet. Venting about the result distracted me from recognizing the actual problem.
I’ve seen this power of intention play out in our work with horses during Equine Assisted Learning Sessions. A horse has sharp intuition and can read a human’s nonverbal communication to determine intention. For example, without using a halter and lead rope, without touching the horse at all, I might ask him to walk with me to the other side of the arena. My mindset will shape the result of that experience. If I set my intention to success (we’ll both walk together to the other side) and I focus on that success by walking with calm confidence, my eyes focused on where we’re heading, the horse is much more likely to follow my leadership.
If my mind is in a place of weak intention, of defensive hopes like “I hope this works out” or “what if the horse won’t come along” then the horse is more likely to perceive me as an untrustworthy leader and less likely to join me in the task.
Let’s go back to refusing negativity in a round of golf. After that first informative nine holes, we found creative problem solving and relaxed innovation seeped into other areas of our lives for several hours, even a full day, afterwards. Eventually it wore off and, like any new mindset, we have to keep practicing. So we scheduled the next round.
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