Editor’s Notes: G&E Contributor, Michael Konrad, is back with the second installment of his mini-series, STOMP (Strength, Toughness, Optimism, Mentality, & Preparation). His take on mental toughness is phenomenal. It does not just apply to the individual working to reach their peak level of performance in golf. Anyone in life, no matter their goals, can learn a thing or two from what Mike has to say. And that is what is so great about the sport. Whatever you learn while pursuing this game can benefit every area of your life if you look at it the right way. Enjoy! – Ryan Walker, Editor-in-Chief
STOMP the Mini-Series: Toughness
No, I am not talking about how many beer bottles you can break over your head to prove yourself. Toughness, in psychological terms, is best displayed by those who keep going. Those who persevere through great amounts of adversity. Just like with all the STOMP concepts, toughness is something not everyone has, but everyone can develop it through practice and hard work. It’s time to test your grit, it’s time to see what you are made of, it’s time to develop some toughness.
How many times have you seen another golfer blame everything under the sun, but not their behavior, for their poor performance? Maybe you are that golfer? This is a sign of mental weakness. This is an individual searching for a way out of their problems, but unwilling to change their own behavior. This begs the question, what does toughness look like? Mental toughness is an accumulation of behaviors, attributes, and constructs. Although many people have their own definition of mental toughness it is observable as a personality trait. Bottom line, a mentally tough person takes accountability for their own actions, sees the process rather than the results, and doesn’t let negativity affect their goals.
Let’s look at an example. Lexi Thompson is known for her exceptional ability as a professional golfer. However, I will always respect her for the mental toughness she showed at the 2017 ANA Inspiration, a major for the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). Just to recap, Lexi was in the lead on Sunday and was told (during her round) she had committed a violation of the rules on Saturday and was therefore given a four-stroke penalty. Her two-shot lead became a deficit. After confronting the initial frustration Lexi worked her way back and earned a playoff spot, but lost. She had every right to be mad and give the LPGA a piece of her mind. Instead, she took responsibility for the penalty, apologized, and even went on to sign autographs. I have a six-month-old daughter and as I was watching that tournament unfold I said to myself, “I hope my daughter looks up to Lexi as a role model one day.” Not just because she is a great golfer, but because she has command of her mental game and showed great toughness.
Too often people do not hold themselves accountable. Golfers are no different. They have a plan to attack a golf course, but their plan is neither adaptable nor flexible. Weather, playing partners, the cart girl doesn’t come around often enough, anything is an excuse for why they didn’t play well. Mental toughness starts with accountability. This is easier said than done because the golfer has to challenge their inflated sense of identity. The truth is, you probably are not as good of a golfer as you have made yourself out to be. Step 1, confront reality and humble yourself with some self-criticism.
Step 1 is often the hardest part. However, if you can look inward and begin to constructively criticize your game you are actually building a foundation for mental toughness. Step 2, develop a plan to get better. Your plan could include practice sessions, a lesson, physical fitness, playing golf without drinking alcohol (I know that would be tough for a lot of golfers). Whatever your plan for improvement includes you need to set some short-term goals in order to reach your overarching goal of being the golfer you want to be. Start by committing yourself to mastering one task. If you can do this then you are improving your ability to focus.
Step 3, execute your plan. Now that your plan is put into place you can go forth and put it into action. Plans, just like new year’s resolutions, tend to start out red hot, but fizzle out with time. The overwhelming truth is plans do not change behavior. Rather, people need to understand that psychological underpinnings can better support a plan and then behavior can change. Too often plans do not have a coping mechanism embedded within them to deal with the one constant in life, change. Change is the ultimate killer and destroyer of plans. Change brings about destruction and turmoil to our mental toughness. Build in a coping mechanism that allows you to deal with and accept change as an inevitable part of life. I highly recommend adaptability and flexibility as ways in which to cope with change. Perspective is another great coping mechanism for change. Perspective allows us to see the end goal rather than the rocky road right before us. Give these three steps a try and see if they improve your ability to be mentally tough.
Perhaps the greatest single thing you can do to be a mentally tough individual is recognize you will always have mentally weak moments. I realize this can sound counterproductive, but by recognizing our weaknesses we can focus on them and turn them into strengths. Be aware of your weaknesses, learn from them, and seek ways in which you can improve. Never shun your weakness or try to hide from it because it is indeed a human quality. Mentally tough people understand this quality and they grow from it rather than hide their weakness. So, the next time you are out on the course, or encounter a life event, I hope your mental toughness will give you the spur of confidence that is needed.