In response to yesterday’s post about Harrison Frazar, a reader wrote:

I litigated [very large business] cases. If I won, my clients thought I was great. If I lost, my clients thought otherwise. I had to unilaterally declare myself a professional success. Sounds glib, but it worked. My clients (except the general counsels) didn’t know whether my work was good or bad. 

Self confidence that you’re a success is an elusive quality. 

What the reader alludes to is the transformation process: how do you go from what you are to what you want to be? I first broached this topic in my August of 2010 post, “Transformation – In Defense of Michelle Wie,” but I thought that Frazar’s predicament presented a perfect opportunity to delve a little deeper.

I ran headlong into this issue when I decided to use the principle of Transformation to begin chasing a Tour card on the Champions Tour.

Most people think that transformation involves “doing” a bunch of stuff in order to become the new reality you choose for yourself. “Let’s see. First I have to do this and then I have to do this and then I have to do that and then I can become what I want to become.”

In fact, when you step into the new reality first, the long list of things you have to do goes much easier. 

So, for example, if you want to become a brain surgeon, you have to go to college, you have to go to medical school, you have to do your residency and then probably a brain surgery internship or something like that. So you have to do all those things over many years before you can become a brain surgeon. But it forwards the action immeasurably if while you are “doing” those things, you are “being” a brain surgeon.

While pondering the molecular structure of polystyrogliserate at 2:00 AM on the eve on your undergrad chemistry exam, the labyrinthine nuances of chemistry become much more accessible if you are studying them as a brain surgeon…even if you aren’t yet. Rather than memorizing them when faced with the complexities of all of the vascular flows to the brain in med school, you simply “come to know them” if you are being a brain surgeon…even if you aren’t yet. And as you stand over the hospital bed of your very first patient in your residency, you instill great confidence in that patient if rather than standing there as some ”newbie,” doctor-supplicant, you stand there as a brain surgeon…even if you aren’t yet.

So when I set out in the early weeks of my quest, everything shifted for me when I stopped playing practice rounds to get to the Champions Tour and instead “became” a Champions Tour player playing practice rounds. It seems just a simple turn of phrase, but it made a huge difference.

I got three Titleist visors. I got the latest TaylorMade driver and fairway woods. I played Wilson Staff irons, so I called Wilson to get a big red and white “staff” bag with my name on it. I added a lob wedge to my bag and dropped the 1-iron out. I got some nice golf shirts and sweater vests, the standard Tour player uniform. I got a couple of pairs of the good FootJoy shoes. All professional players require a rain suit to play in the rain. Rain or shine, I always had mine in my bag.

So when I arrived in the parking lot, I looked the part. I normally played as a single and joined whatever group I could hook up with. When I met my playing partners on the first tee they would take one look at me and instinctively begin to reduce my expectations for their rounds by explaining that they didn’t have a chance to hit any balls on the range, that they had just had a lesson, that they hadn’t played in (fill in the blanks): three days, three weeks or three months. Anything to explain away the skills gap that they could see would be revealed out on the course. And when I stood over a shot, they knew it was going to be a good one.

I put together all of these things to remind me of who I was…even if I wasn’t just yet. When I went through my pre-shot routine, I did it with the sort of understated certainty you see in all Tour pros. When I got ready to hit a little chip shot around the greens, I did it with delicacy and panache. And when it was time to putt, I putted like I expected them all to go in.

By all my outward appearance, in all my mannerisms, and in more and more of my shots, I completely looked the part of who I claimed to be—even if I wasn’t just yet.

My handicap dropped from a seven to a two in just four months. For you non-golfers, in the heady air of single-digit handicaps, this is an extraordinary accomplishment. I knew that a “two” still wasn’t good enough, but it was all the proof I needed to see that my principles were working and that I was now at least good enough to be competitive out on Tour while the process continued. But with that quick burst of improvement, I just had no idea the process would take years.

And in those early years, my improvement in practice rounds with my peers was dramatic, to the point that my game was indistinguishable from most everyone else’s. I had average length and a world-class short game.

The mistake I made was that, while patiently waiting for the process to play itself out, I fell into the trap of “being” a Monday qualifier slogging though the process rather than continuing to “be” the Tour player I started out as. And so each Monday, on the brink of my dreams, my nerves would be jangling, my breath would be shallow and I would be filled with so much veiled fear that I would regress to micro-managing my swing rather than just playing.

Obviously, Harrison Frazar is a lot further up the food chain than I ever got, but I think he makes the same mistake. Instead of thinking of himself as a very good player with all the money, credentials and experience he’s garnered to support that, he needs to start thinking of himself as a “winner”…even if he isn’t just yet.

That simple idea would have immeasurably emboldened my Monday morning efforts and I suspect it would help Frazar over his hump too.

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