Identify and Strengthen Your Weak Links

If you've struggled to perform in the most opportune moments, before doubting your mental toughness, take a closer look at your skills!

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When is a "Choke" not a Choke?

After three-putting the final hole of last year's 2015 U.S. Open - rolling his 12-footer for eagle beyond the cup and then missing the comeback 4-foot birdie putt that would've propelled him into an 18-hole Monday playoff with Jordan Spieth--critics were quick to label Dustin Johnson a "choker." After all, it wasn't the first time Johnson had a chance to win a major championship on the final hole of regulation and failed in such spectacular fashion (remember Whistling Straits in 2010?). Nor was it the first time he had a lead or share of the lead on the final Sunday of a major and came up empty (see Pebble Beach in 2010).

But before you go classifying Johnson's three-putt as yet another choke job, consider the following: At the conclusion of the PGA Championship, Johnson ranked 174th out of 200 PGA Tour players in Putting between 3-5', and 177th in Putting from 4', converting 88 percent of his attempts. In those same two categories this 2016 season on Tour, he ranks 76th and 103rd, respectively. Certainly room for improvement, but significantly improved. Overall, Johnson's "strokes-gained" putting ranking has moved from 71st in 2015 to 30th in 2016 (an improvement that contributed to his winning the 2016 U.S. Open!).

So did Johnson really choke in the 2015 U.S. Open, or was it a case of the weakest part of his game breaking under pressure at the most inopportune moment? Remember: Johnson hit his tee shot to 8 feet to make birdie on the par-3 17th to pull even with Spieth and then hit a magnificent drive and a 247 yard 5-iron to 12 feet on No. 18 to give him a chance to win the championship outright. Interestingly, Johnson ranked 4th on the PGA Tour in Approach Shots outside of 200 yards. Certainly, he didn't give into the enormity of the moment and the pressure on the three full-swing shots he hit prior to his three-putt on No. 18.

On the golf course, the skill that breaks down under pressure is more often than not the one that is the weakest part of your game. In Johnson's case, the weak link is his short putting game. His stats bare this out-relative to his PGA Tour competitors, he's just not as proficient at putting from inside 5 feet. For other golfers, it might be that they struggle hitting the fairway with their driver when they're under the gun, or they might leave their chips well short of the hole. The point is, although mental symptoms may exist (fear, anxiety, lack of confidence), the cause of the apparent "choke" is not always mental; sometimes the root cause is a lack of sufficient skill in the one part of their game that is exposed the most when the heat is turned up. I believe this was the case with Johnson at the U.S. Open.

Similarly, at this year's Masters at Augusta National, Jordan Spieth made a quadruple-bogey 7 on the par-3 No. 12 on Sunday to throw away his chances of defending his green jacket. After hitting a 155 yard 9-iron into the water, Spieth dropped a ball at 87 yards and proceeded to chunk it in the water. He then dropped another, hit it over the green into the back bunker, and finally got up-and-down for a quad. Certainly, this must be a choke - or so one would think. However, if you knew that Spieth's Tour ranking was a surprising 163rd for Approach Shots of 150-175 yards and was 115th for Approach Shots of 75-100 yards, you may think twice before calling Spieth a choker.

The analogy I use with my Tour clients is that if you had a metal chain hanging from the ceiling, and one of the links was flawed or damaged, where do you think it would break if you pulled down real hard on it? Of course, at the weakest link. That's what happens to your game under pressure - you put stress on the chain and suddenly the weakest link succumbs to the pressure and breaks down.

Rather than get upset and label yourself a "choker", take note of what skill is breaking down under pressure on the course and then go work with your coach to devise a plan to help you improve upon this skill. You don't have to be a Tour pro to do so - each of us can identify our weak links and strengthen them. Don't just simply work on your weak link on the driving range or practice green, either; expose it to increasing levels of pressure on the course. If you tend to miss a lot of 3- and 4-foot putts under pressure, then make sure to putt all of your 3-footers out; don't take any gimmes. Or increase the stakes of your Saturday match by playing money games.

Lastly, be patient. Learning any new skill takes time, so your weakest link may continue to break down under pressure. Instead of getting down on yourself, see each pressure situation as an opportunity to test your skill and train it even further. The more and more you expose it to pressure, the faster you'll be able to master this new skill and turn your weakest link into a strength.

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What fishing can teach you about your underlying motivation to grow

In my work with financial advisors, many express that they experience a plateau in their business growth after a number of years in the business. Although they know that their net new assets are too few, they have difficulty putting their finger on the underlying cause of their growth struggles. I often bring up the analogy of fishing when attempting to explain.

People can have many different motivations for fishing. If you're starving on a deserted island, your approach to fishing might be to cast a wide net to pull in anything that gives sustenance. If you catch a crab, you boil the crab. If you catch a minnow, you eat the minnow. If you catch a grouper, that's a bonus. You'll eat well that day, but the bottom-line is that in all cases, your motivation to fish is survival.

Another reason people fish isn't trying to survive; it's for leisure and social interaction. In this case, your behavior is different. You get together with a group of friends, pack a cooler full of food and drinks, rent a boat and head out on the lake for the day. You're not necessarily so concerned with what type of or how many fish you catch. Instead, you measure the success of the day by the stories that were shared and the relationships that were formed and fostered.

A third reason people fish is to master the art of fishing. If this describes you, then you research the best places and times to fish. You purchase a fishing boat loaded with state-of-the-art technology. You know which baits, which techniques, and which gear is best to catch certain fish. You may even enter fishing competitions. Your underlying motivation is to increase your fishing prowess, because mastery is at the core of why you go fishing.

When you consider why you are in business, which approach to fishing are you paralleling? Are you casting a wide net for clients, or targeting the big fish? Are you just surviving, enjoying the relationships that you have, or attempting to master your craft? Again, if you're in survival mode, casting a wide net, you'll rarely catch a Blue Marlin, but you may be completely okay with that. Simply recognize that your method is a result of your motivation at this time in your life.

If you've ever taken an introductory psychology class, you've probably heard of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow theorized that human motivation progresses from the bottom to the top of his pyramid of human needs, with the basic needs for survival (food, water, shelter) taking precedence before we can move up the pyramid to meet our psychological needs, and then finally our need for self-actualization and fulfillment.

It's very difficult to make sacrifices and pursue your ultimate dreams if you're hungry or feel unsafe. If you're in a Survivalist period of your life, as most of us are in the beginning of our careers, it is understandable why you would choose to cast a wide net for clients; you're most concerned with basic needs such as paying bills and putting food on the table. (Some advisors may even revisit this Survival mindset several times in their career - say, if their spending exceeds their income, they're going through a divorce, or their triplets are about to head off to Harvard.)

To grow exponentially, you need to shift beyond your original survivor's mindset - this approach to business growth may have helped you get your business off of the ground. However, who has the time or interest to cast a net when you are busy meeting the service demands of an established book of clients. If you're at the point where your basic needs are met, it is now time to find a higher purpose for why you are in business - a purpose of mastery, prestige, accomplishment. Once they are established in the business, top producers aren't in it for the money anymore. They become specialized and pursue a target market within which they focus and thrive. They no longer prospect for any client with a dollar and a pulse; instead, they build a business that attracts and services their most ideal clients. They then strive to master every aspect of their business - a business specifically designed around the needs and preferences of their target market. All the food is on the table. They make enough money to secure their basic needs. They want to be the best. It's a champion's mindset - the same that we see in top athletes.

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In Easier Said than Done, Dr. Rick Jensen peels away the layers of misunderstanding, confusion, and wishful thinking that obstruct golfers' improvement at all levels. If you've ever questioned why you can't take it from the range to the course, why you don't play up to your expectations, why you don't play more consistently, or why your game doesn't improve-this book provides you with the answers.

Drive to the Top! provides aspiring business champions with a unique opportunity to discover what it takes to rise to the top of their industry. Drawing from his experiences with Fortune 500 executives as well as PGA and LPGA Tour champions, Dr. Rick Jensen pinpoints the five "essentials" that these top performers rely on to achieve world-class results.

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