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ā›³ From Tee to Transformation: Lessons in Golf and Behavior Change

behavior change resilience Nov 26, 2023

Behavior change demands considerable effort and commitment, particularly when it involves altering ingrained habits and actions. This realization struck me during a free lesson at a golf training center where the coach, armed with motion technology and instant video feedback, meticulously illustrated the adjustments needed to enhance my swing.

Anticipating room for improvement, I was unprepared for the depth and technicality of the recommendations. From the bend in my knees to the angles of my hips, wrists, and elbows, decades of poor form confronted me. My initial reaction to the information was a mixture of both dread and resistance. Was my swing truly that deficient? Would the investment in relearning golf be worth it? Did I even enjoy the sport?

As someone who has made a career out of helping organizations navigate the difficulties of the behavior change process at scale, I knew I couldn't shy away from the challenge. Instead, I committed to six months of weekly lessons.

Despite my initial overwhelm, I understood that embarking on the journey to relearn golf would not only improve my swing but provide fresh insights into the challenges related to the individual change process. In many ways, the intricacies of unlearning old patterns, learning new techniques, and navigating the mental aspects of golf parallel the emotional and cognitive complexities people encounter during organizational changes. This includes:

  1. Accepting that you have behaviors that need modification. This is a significant hurdle in behavior change and a critical aspect of successful organizational change. During my first meeting with the instructor, I received an honest assessment of my swing revealing my blind spots. While uncomfortable, acknowledging areas for improvement is the first step towards progress.
  2. Crafting a plan of action and setting realistic goals. Leaders often underestimate the impact of change on people and as a result, skip critical steps in the planning process. Enrolling in weekly lessons established the plan to address improvement areas, and allocating six months to the process alleviated the pressure of learning something new. Setting realistic goals is crucial for maintaining motivation, especially in endeavors that require behavior change, where progress can sometimes be slow or frustrating. 
  3. Dealing with setbacks, which are inherent to the change process. Whether it's learning golf or a new professional skill, setbacks should be expected, and resilience is essential. Enlisting in lessons and working with an experienced coach ensured the right support, encouragement, and accountability to keep going. It also motivated me to practice independently, which allowed me to test my skills and self-identify where I needed additional training.

Learning golf and changing behaviors share parallels in the process of identifying areas for improvement, setting realistic goals, dealing with setbacks, and maintaining resilience. From the initial resistance to unlearning old habits to the patience required to develop new skills, golf has given me a deeper appreciation for the hurdles inherent to individual and organizational change, and a better swing, too.   

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