Goal Setting For Golfers

A Better Approach To Goal Setting: A Personal Philosophy

As you set your goals for the new year, I’d like you to think less about what you want to achieve and more about the person/player that you want to become. 

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t set outcome goals. I think you should know what you are working towards, why and how you are going to achieve it. Time is precious and we need a plan to allocate our time most effectively. Goal setting for golfers can be inspiring and motivate us to put in the effort each day. 

However, if the only goals we have are results based goals, there are drawbacks to the approach, such as:

1. It takes us away from the present

If we focus too much on what we want to achieve, we can miss out on the journey. If you are always doing something now to achieve something in the future, you are not fully experiencing the moment you are living in. If we focus too much on our future selves, we take valuable energy away from being our best selves in the present. 

2. We can tie our identity in with the achievement of the goal

So you want to lower your handicap in 2022? You want to win the club championship? Why? If the reason is because you feel like it will elevate you to a higher state of happiness and fulfillment, you put yourself in a fragile position. Confidence and fulfillment that comes from results can change at any time. I forget who said this, but this quote came to mind: “If it is golf that makes you somebody, it can just as easily make you a nobody again.” We need something deeper. 

3. It can cause frustration and a loss of motivation if you don’t achieve them

If you make this year about achieving certain results-based goals and you don’t achieve them (especially if you have deadlines), it can leave you feeling like you’ve failed, and you haven’t made progress (when actually you have). It can cause you to feel frustrated and lose motivation to keep going. 

4. It can leave a hole once we achieve them

Upon achieving our outcome goals, we feel good, but shortly after, there’s a come down and a feeling of emptiness and not knowing where to go next. It can be hard to motivate yourself again and put in the effort. E.g. If for most of your life you’ve had the outcome goal of “winning a major”, what happens when you win one? 

A Better Approach To Goal Setting For Golfers: Living by A Personal Philosophy

An outcome goal setting approach should be combined with a values-based approach. Values are unlike outcome goals in that we don’t achieve them, instead we live by them. 

When I begin working with a young player and ask them the question “Why do you play? What are your goals in golf?”, more often than not I get a list of tournaments they would like to win or “to become a Tour player”. To be honest I find the most refreshing answer to be “I love the game and I just want to keep getting better”. 

A values-based approach to goal setting for golfers will make your outcome goals in line with the player or person that you want to bring to each day (in the present), rather than chasing results that you believe will make you happier.  

Don’t get me wrong, choosing value-based goals doesn’t mean that you want to be a great player any less than you currently do. If I was to say to my Tour player clients, “score doesn’t matter, success is about values”, they might take issue with it. My view is that if you keep cultivating (and living by) the philosophy of being a better human and a better athlete, you will improve and bring these more commonly thought of measures of success (tournament wins, lower handicap, etc.) closer towards you. 

What are the values behind your goals? 

Let’s turn goal setting for golfers upside down. Instead of thinking about the outcomes you want to achieve – let’s think about the values and purpose first (that will really make you feel more fulfilled) and set outcome goals that support you developing those values. This means that every thought and action that you take will be in accordance with those values. Let’s find a deeper purpose for playing than making this the year that you win the club championship or break 80. Results will come and go but values will stand the test of time. 

Being an extraordinary human being should be your number one goal 

Creating a player philosophy is one of the first steps we go through in my online mental game training program. Who is the person/player that you want to be? What is the philosophy that you want to live each day, round and practice session by? Write it down. Here are a few examples of values:

  • Curiosity
  • Better Focus For Golf 
  • Integrity (doing the right thing whether people will find out or not)
  • Acceptance 
  • Growth mindset 
  • Work ethic
  • Kindness
  • Being classy
  • Compassion
  • Preparedness
  • Authenticity
  • Gratitude
  • Patience

Put together a statement which encompasses the values that you want to uphold and do so in every day and every round. You always win when you live by your personal philosophy no matter how you play or how the day goes. Winning trophies is great but developing values is the most rewarding thing we can take from the game. 

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David MacKenzie

is a mental golf coach and lives in Washington DC. He is the founder of Golf State of Mind, a teaching program designed to help golfers condition their minds to overcome fear and play with confidence.

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