Mental Currency

Mr. Ego is harsh, judgmental, unrealistically demanding, and loud. But, he’s not the only boss in your world. Imagine, your roommate telling you another place is hiring and that you should at least check it out. What the heck you agree, it can’t be any worse, could it? So, you arrive at this other space and a gentleman approaches and greets you “Hello, I’m Mr. Chance, I understand you might want to work here.” he asks, “I have a challenge for you” as he reaches into his pocket, places a golf ball four feet from a hole and hands you a putter. You are already thinking this is going to be a repeat of yesterday but then he says, “the challenge is to figure out a system of controllable actions for yourself that you believe would give you the best likelihood to make this putt.”

“You don’t want me to make this putt?” you inquire. “I want you to figure out how to make it as often as possible and in every conceivable circumstance, that’s all” Chance says. As you get ready for the first attempt, you’re thinking about what it is you do to give the putt a chance to go in. You recognize this mindset as different from what you more commonly experience. There is less tension and contraction, you are in more of a solution and discovery mode than a result only orientation. You hit five putts, making them all and glance at Mr. Chance, he shows no reaction. Then the sixth putts burns the edge of the cup and misses. You immediately feel a wince of anger and brace for some reaction from the boss, but again there is none. You make the next putt. “Was there an adjustment you made on that one” Chance asks, somewhat startling you. Taking a few moments to think, you respond that you just intensified your visual focus on the intended line. “Is that something you can control and commit to at your will” he asks. “Yes, it is” I reply and as I say it feel more empowered about my putting skills. This interchange goes on for several more putts. Mr. Chance displaying zero judgment and only asking questions that guide me to think about the process that goes into my putting attempts rather than whether I make them or not.

I tell my roommate that I love my new job. “Because it is easier” he asks. “No, it’s not really a job, it’s a game, a really hard game at times but super engaging and extremely liberating” I exclaim.

Where does this “good” boss come from? We know the Ego boss is a product of our personal history and has deep roots in our subconscious mind. Where is this other voice arising from? Some of it is also surfacing from our own personal history and experiences. We are all both our own best and worst coaches. Yet, any action including how we talk and think to ourselves, that stems from the subconscious are habits. Spontaneous, on purpose, actions when our minds are in the present are products of the conscious mind. Mr. Ego is with us always and arises at its own discretion, Mr. Chance appears when we consciously choose to allow it to.

To further explain, study this chart:

 Mental Currency 
Focus       Motivation
Making a Good Attempt Producing a Good Result
“I want to put the best stroke I can on this putt”   “I want to make this putt.”
I do not want to miss this putt”
Measured by Measured By
Adherence to routine
Tournament Finish
Importance leads to Importance leads to
Clarity, Stillness, Growth   Anxiety, Fear,
Strong emotional reactions

Think of your mind as possessing energy that I will describe as mental currency and there is a set amount of it. Often this currency is spent on producing a good result in the form of thoughts about the outcome you want to achieve or the outcome you want to avoid. Your mind is filled with nothing more than making putts and not missing fairways. You know it is a good result when you obtain an outcome you are pleased with. Unfortunately, this result your mind is attached to is elusive. The lack of being able to simply chose to have the outcome you strive for or worse to avoid a consequence you are terrified to face leads to strong, often negative, emotions and feelings. Ultimately, currency directed this way is an unwise investment, it leaves no valuable return.

When the stream of mental currency travels in the other direction –towards making good attempts, the chain of events is quite different. When you say to yourself that you want to make the best stroke you are capable of creating at that moment, one that gives you the best chance to make the putt, then your mind is occupied by actions rather than outcomes. Currency spent on actions is direct, leading to commitment and clear engagement, and when you care only about the well-planned actions you believe in, you experience flow. This is the wisest investment you can make as ultimately it leads not just heightened performance but sustained growth.

When the currency is spent on results it is called motivational energy, when is goes towards attempts (or process) we call that focus energy. The emphasis on motivation in competitive golf is greatly overemphasized. When I sit down to talk to a golfer about his or her game, I already assume that they are motivated to play well. If they are about to tee off, I would presume that they want to hit their drive in the fairway. Conversely, when I see or hear that a golfer has missed a putt, I don’t believe for a second that they missed because they lacked the motivation to make it. I often tease golfers who tell me of certain outcomes that occurred while playing, such as, having a three-putt bogey on the final hole, by asking them if they did that on purpose. “Of-course not”, they typically chuckle in response. “Ok, then” I’ll counter, “lack of motivation was not the problem then”. Yet, the ego is screaming for them to try harder (i.e. apply more motivation).

Motivation is not the solution to playing better golf, if anything it is the problem. Mental currency invested towards the results of the shot leaves less currency for squaring the face at impact and starting the putt on-line for the first six inches. It is like having your eyes glued to the leaderboard while attempting a putt. The truth is, you don’t voluntarily choose to spend your mental currency on results, you get sucked into it. Like a vacuum cleaner sucking up dust, the ego and its single-minded obsession with results draws energy away from process because while the ego desperately wants to achieve excellence it is not very wise on how to get there.

There does exist however, this other voice-the good boss, that you have the capacity to exercise and grow. While the subconscious mind speaks to us in thoughts, the conscious mind uses talk, self-talk to be specific. Self-talk arises from the present moment interaction of perception, insight, evaluation, experience, and rational prediction. Within the brain it comes from the region known as the frontal cortex. In contrast, thoughts generated from the subconscious ego stem from the limbic system. That’s as deep into neurobiology as I will venture right now. Most importantly, self-talk is controllable and is possesses the greatest potential for you determining what and how you want your life to be. From a sport psychology perspective, self-talk is a mental skill.

The mental skill of self-talk can be learned and improved. Self-talk can be thought of as akin to salespersonship. Not all people who work in sales are equal. Some are more effective in persuading their customers into purchasing than others. Further, people who work in sales often attend training seminars to become better at selling. This is very similar to the understanding of self-talk.  One of the ways that I evaluate a golfer’s self-talk is with the question, “how effective were you during today’s round in persuading yourself to spend your mental currency on making good attempts?” This is the “mental game” –the interplay between the ego and the conscious mind to get the currency to flow in each’s direction. In the end, at any given moment the score of this game will fall into two scenarios. The current flow of mental currency is either a) helping you to play the best golf you are capable of at this moment or b) keeping you from it.

Try this:

Refer to the descriptions of what the ego boss tells you when you play from the previous blog. Now imagine that you are caddying in a tournament for your closest friend. A person that you’d really wish to help play their best. As he or she is playing they are verbalizing every thought that comes from that ego boss. You hear them utter things like, “if I miss this putt, I’m a loser”, “I’m so bad”, “this is the worst ever” etc. All the harsh things the ego produces. Think about what you as their caddy would say to help your friend to get their mind (mental currency) back on things that will help. Make a list of these responses.   

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