On Friday, I won a monumental $4 from one of my best friends (Scott) on the golf course.

It was one of the most painful “wins” I’ve ever experienced because while I was winning (and playing poorly, at that), I witnessed a total meltdown. And I didn’t realize it until three hours later, Scott repeated a flippant comment I had made on the 6th hole: “…he can get to the green, but doesn’t know what to do once he’s there.”

That’s not actually true. He does know what to do. The problem is he doesn’t know how to talk himself through it. That’s not meant to be a derision. That’s just fact. And I know about it because I see it in lots of people around me. And when I’m not paying attention, I do it, too.

Our world is wrought with platitudes about how to talk with others, especially when the conversation is combative or difficult: take the high road, be the better (wo)man, we’ve heard them all. They all have one thing in common: focus on endgame.

But when we have internal conversation, what if we actually focused on everything but the end? What if we simply identified the intended positive outcome, call out the tipping point, and reframe our thinking to focus on process rather than outcome?

I can’t tell you exactly what was going through his mind, but my guess it went something like this: I’ve seen this shot before, I hit it poorly because I didn’t [fill in the blank], and the ball ended up [some place not happy]. So this time, I’m going to [use the same blank] and the ball will end up [happy]. For each shot, that blank may be TOTALLY different. Thus, for each shot, you’re focusing on something variable - and all you’re doing is avoiding the negative.

In golf, when I hit a shot, I think about the same things, every time:

  1. What is the best outcome I can achieve?
  2. What one thing matters most in getting to that outcome?
  3. What will allow me to achieve that one thing?

That’s it- then I do it.

For better or worse, I don’t consider variables like the past or what could potentially go wrong (although, if we’re all being honest here, we know that stuff creeps in… we just can’t let it take focus).

The same thing happens in business. Or religion. Or relationships. Or competitive bobsleds. All of it. How we talk to ourselves will impact the outcome of everything we do. And how we reframe the shot at hand is critical.

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