Wayne C. Allen's "Works in Progress"
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Universal Rules: Look Wide, Then Focus Narrow


As I was sitting at my computer, meditating on this week's Into the Centre theme, I started generating golf examples. I guess my psyche is trying to get my attention so I'll start playing again. I stopped a couple of years ago, paradoxically after 2 great years of finally being able to break 90 every time. Yes, indeed, Uncle Wayne had a 2-year run of games in the 80s.

Which led me to think of the following, as I explore our theme. (By the bye, our theme is the same as, "Can't see the forest for the trees.") The theme is a call, not to a wider focus, but to a divergent focus. In life as in golf, we need to crave and create multiple foci.

Anyway, here are the two golf stories.

I started playing golf in High School, and got serious about it during Seminary. One of the guys in my class had been a semi-pro, and tried the Canadian Tour, but couldn't handle the stress and pressure, so he decided to be a Minister. (I'm grinning as I write this… talk about out of the frying pan, into the fire…) He and I would go golfing regularly. Later, once my dad moved to Canada, I'd play with him. He was actually quite good at the game.

Me, I was average, and thought it remarkable when I could break 100 on a regular basis. The toll on my body was extreme, though, because, like most "hackers," I had a wicked slice. I often played to the pin on the adjacent fairway, so off track were my fairway shots. In exploring the literature, I read, over and over, that I should correct by adjusting my hand grip.

This involves rotating your hands on the handle of the club, so that the swing through puts a spin on the ball to counter the spin that causes the slice. In practice, what this meant was that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get distance, and accuracy was something I could only imagine. All of my energy was dedicated to keeping the ball on the fairway, and the ball lost distance as the counter-spins fought for control of the ball.

Dar decided to take up golf, and decided to take lessons. That had never occurred to me, as "real men don't need no stinkin' lessons." I was self-taught, and proud of it. But that little voice I trust piped up and said, "Can't hurt."

The woman who instructed us was "up there" in the ranks of Canadian pros. Dar and I had simultaneous lessons. She told me to tee up, take a 5 iron and hit a green 150 feet out. I gulped, teed up a ball, grabbed my trusty 5 and gripped the club in my choked "correct the slice" grip. She fairly flew to my side. "Whoa! Relax! Take a neutral grip!" I demurred, indicating that if I did, someone to my right was going to have a golf ball in his/her ear. She insisted, and backed up, letting me swing. Sure enough, the ball took off, turned 90 degrees to the right and landed 150 feet out and about 50 feet to the side of the green.

I won't bore you with the conversation, but Susan walked up to me and said, "OK. Swing slowly and stop at the top of your swing." I did. She told me to hold the club at the top. She then proceeded to completely alter my posture at the end of my swing. She pivoted my hips, re-set the position of my club and otherwise fiddled with my anatomy until I was in an completely unfamiliar (and, of course, uncomfortable, as is typical of new things...) posture. She said, "Memorize this posture with your body." Having been in the Martial Arts for decades, that directive made sense.

She then directed me to swing at half speed and be sure each time I ended up in the new position. I started, and she went to work on Dar. After 50 swings she yelled over and told me to practice swing at full speed.

After 20 minutes of air-ball, she sauntered over, teed up a ball for me, and told me to hit the green. I started into my, "But you saw what happened last time…I have to correct my grip" whine. She looked me square in the eye, and said something I say to clients all the time: "If you focus on the results you want, and end up I in the correct ending posture, all the rest of it will take care of itself."

I recognized the idea, and thought, "Well, that might apply to life, but it can't apply to golf." But I'd paid my money and I decided to risk it. I took a swing, ended up where I was "supposed to," and my ball sailed out 175 yards, dead straight, past the pin. I realized that, for years, I'd been hitting 25 yards too hard, to compensate for my slice. No wonder a round of golf was so exhausting. Screwing up takes energy.

I was going to write that Susan smiled; she actually smirked. I hit a succession of balls, and 90% went straight. If I "lost" the end position, I sliced. If I "found" the end position the ball went straight. My game dropped into the low 90s immediately, and within a month or so, I was hitting the occasional 88.

My "problem," you see, was that my entire game focus was on my slice. Everything I did, every shot I planned, every approach I contemplated, had as it's focus, "How can I do this and minimize the damage of an uncontrolled slice?" What this meant, in practical terms, is that I was spending so much time compensating for my slice, that I never allowed for the possibility that I didn't have one.

Susan came along and reset my entire game by teaching me to fix my presuppositions. As soon as I stopped acting like I had a slice, and then compensating for it, I no longer had a slice. In a sense, by focusing wide (seeing myself as a golfer, not a golfer with a slice) and by describing my behaviour and actions by the result I wanted to achieve (the setting up of the end posture,) I could then "focus narrow" on the actual target. Notice how much better this is than simply accepting my fate as a "slicer," narrowing down my game to compensating for that, and never, ever being able to pick a target for my ball.

The other golf story is shorter. The idea of look wide, then focus narrow applies in other ways. There are occasions where I march up to my ball, look at the pin, grab a club, adopt my stance, visualize the shot, remember my ending posture, gauge the distance, and swing the club. My contact is perfect, exactly the right swing speed, and the ball lifts off, heading dead for the pin, only to collide with the branch sticking out unto the fairway.

My narrow focus was perfect, if only that damn branch wasn't there.

Had I looked wide, I'd have seen it, but then I couldn't blame the tree…

I was talking with a client who is narrowly focussed on his relationship with his girlfriend. It's not going the way he wants it to, and his judgement is that "she's not on the same path as me." He's torn, and seems to be collecting evidence to end the relationship. He indicated they'd had a talk the night before, and that he found himself "going numb." He sighed, and indicated this was more evidence.

I asked, "What do you think you created numbness for – what didn't you want to feel?"

This question invited him to step out of the narrow limitations of his belief about the doomed nature of the relationship. There was silence, a sigh, and a choked; "I'm just realizing now the depth of my feeling for her." By inviting him to widen his gaze, he began to notice the things he was pushing out of his viewpoint. 

In sum, life is always bigger than we perceive it to be, and never more so than when we are setting ourselves up to have a problem over something or with someone.

When in conflict, we almost universally are pulled into the drama, and all evidence of "things to the contrary" fall by the wayside. Like the branch overhanging the fairway, they are there, but unnoticed. Yesterday, a client who is in deep conflict with her husband, and is preparing to leave, said, "Now that I have shifted my focus to leaving, and have stopped angering myself over "him being him," we actually had a pleasant week, and even laughed once or twice. We've never, in 10 years, ever laughed together." She's suddenly aware of a wider story of her relationship, because she's let go of the narrow focus of "hard-done-by-victim." Even in her "leaving-time" she's seeing that there are multiple perspectives and possibilities.

This week, notice your "compensating behaviours." What are you doing to justify clinging to a dysfunctional view of yourself? Who are you blaming for your dramas? Who are you looking for to rescue you? What would happen if you stopped whining about how tough your life is, and simply looked wide, noticed how "perfect" life is, and then focussed narrow on choosing to live your life for a position of comfort and assurance?

It's your game. Maybe it's time to choose to lower your handicap.

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