In Extraordinary Golf, Fred Shoemaker describes a study comparing the golf swings of top professional golfers with the swings of average golfers that provides some useful lessons about doing, effort and effortlessness. The study shows three different rows of golfers, detailing their various golf swings. In the top row is a professional golfer. In the second row is an average golfer hitting a golf ball. In the third row is an average golfer swinging when there is no ball. The study found that when an average golfer is not trying to hit a golf ball, his or her swing more closely resembles the swing of a professional golfer. When an average golfer is actually hitting a golf ball, his or her swing changes for the worse.
It appears that when a golfer is not aiming for any result, the golfer can replicate the better, more professional swing. Put a ball on the tee, and the golfer tries too hard or exerts unnecessary effort, which gets in the way of the natural, effective knowledge that is resident within the mind and body.
Lack of striving by itself does not lead to an effective golf swing (nor does it make you more focused, more emotionally present, or a better leader). Being effective requires study, practice and skill-building, which at the point of performance combines with effortlessness. It’s particularly significant that this study of golf swings highlights the negative impact of extra effort, of trying too hard.
I cite this study not to improve your golf game (though for some it could be a useful unintended consequence), but to offer a quantifiable example of a lesson that can be applied to anything and everything in your life. Tension, anxiety, extra effort, an overly busy mind, our inner critic, any negative inner voice: these all can interfere with a calm, composed mind and affect our performance. In this golf study, we see a perfect illustration of the central theme of this book: less effort accomplishes more. Less striving, less trying, less racing, less pushing can lead to surprisingly better results. At the same time, the work we do becomes less exhausting, less emotionally taxing. In a very real way, when we reduce busyness, the productivity of our business improves – whether it’s our personal business or the profit-oriented kind.
One way to explore the practical side of more results with less effort is to ask yourself: What am I doing that is extra? Then for a few hours during the day, pay attention to simple everyday physical activities like walking or sitting. Yes, pay attention to how you walk and how you sit down. Do you hold your shoulders tightly or are they relaxed and comfortable? Is your walking fluid and flowing or is there effort and strain in your gait? Notice where you carry tension in your muscles, and when you notice it, relax. Take a deep breath and let the tension go. Continue to do this regularly throughout the day, paying attention to your body and your posture, and reducing stress and tension. By the end of the day, do you notice any change? Do you have less tension, and when you feel it, is it easier to let it go? It can take a lot of practice and attention to relearn ingrained physical habits, but doing so has enormous benefits.
Adapted from LESS: Accomplishing More By Doing Less