Road to the 2015 GBO – Focus

 

GBO miscThe second putt always goes in.

You know what I’m talking about.  You miss that first putt, pick up another putter and just fire it at the basket.  That second putt always goes in.  The same thing happens with lots of other shots.  You’re standing in the woods and you hit the first available tree.  You lean over, yank another disc out of your bag, fire down the fairway in semi anger or frustration, and of course the second shot threads the needle to nestle up gently under the basket.

“Why couldn’t that happen the first time!” is something all disc golfers have screamed at the disc golf gods on more than one occasion.  But why?  Why does this happen?  If we could only figure out how to throw that second shot on the first try!

I’m fairly sure there are a lot of components that go into why this happens.  I’d love to solve the whole of that problem for us right here in this post, but I seem to have left my psychology degree in my other pants.  Even without a degree, over the last couple of weeks, I’ve started to make a distinction that I think directly relates to the mystery of the obscenely accurate second shot.

Right now, at this moment, you have focus.  You are sitting there looking at a screen and reading this blog.  You didn’t have to try to do that, you just did it.  You didn’t have to get yourself prepared, put yourself into a particular position, psych yourself up, or anything else.  You simply opened the post and started reading.  You aren’t thinking about background noises, how you are holding your phone/tablet/computer, or what your left foot feels like.  You are simply reading.  You have focus.

That, it turns out, is vastly different from concentration.  Concentration is what you had to do when you first learned to read.  You had to sit up straight, get the right lighting, make everyone else in the room be quiet, and stare at the words and letters on the page until they made sense.  It was hard, and sometimes you screwed up.  The slightest thing took you away from doing it at all.

Focus just happens.  Without trying, it’s just there.  You have all experienced true focus quite often.  Here are some examples…

  • Walking and checking your phone at the same time.
  • Playing catch with your friend.
  • Playing with your dog.
  • Playing with your kids.
  • Watching TV.
  • Watching a movie.
  • Skiing or snow boarding.
  • Surfing

All of those things require your attention.  All of those things got your attention at a level that screened out the rest of the world.  All of those things found you in deep focus.  None of those things required you to think about having that focus in the first place.

When you are skiing down a mountain, you just do it.  You are in the moment.  You have extraordinary focus.  You are in a flow state.  The moment you try and think about what you are doing, though, is the same moment you find out exactly how much snow can fit in your face.

faceplant

Losing focus on the slopes can lead to problems.

 

This is the difference between the first shot and the second in disc golf.  For the first shot you were trying.  You were concentrating.  You were consciously trying to exert your mental power over the task.  For the second shot, you simply relaxed, saw your target, and fired.  Concentrate = miss.  Allowed focus = make.

One of the best rounds I ever shot happened last summer at the course in Marengo, IL.  I was by myself.  It was getting dark.  There were horror movie swarms of mosquitos out who thought that Off was just seasoning.  I wanted to get another round in.

I knew I needed to move fast because of the failing light.  I needed to move faster because I only have so much blood and the mosquitos were determined to get all of it.  I pretty much ran the whole round.  No time to set up.  No time to concentrate.  No time to overtly think about anything.  I was simply focused on my goal of playing a fast round.

Marengo is a mostly wooded and tight course.  Any missed fairways would have put me in an even deeper mess of mosquitos and would have cost daylight that I didn’t have.  My focus was simply to play fast, stay in the fairway, make my putts.  That round every shot was a “second shot”.  Every drive was center fairway.  Every upshot was next to the pole.  Every putt went in.  It was amazing.  Without a single ounce of concentration, I played a round that would have taken the Open win in any tournament by several throws.

God I hate these little bastards!

God I hate these little bastards!

While I relished that round, I never stopped to try to figure out why it happened.  I have memories of dodging mosquitos and racing through the woods, but I never tried to repeat that.  Any desire I had to figure out how to do it again faded along with the hundred or so welts left by the voracious mosquitos.  I never gave it too much thought until now.

As I prepare for the GBO, I’ve been mostly relegated to indoor putting practice.  In the last two months, I’m well over 10,000 practice putts.  Some days I’m on, some days not so much.  It wasn’t until this week that I realized a major difference between the on and off days.  The on days were full of focus.  The off days saw a lot of broken concentration.

The on days I just putt.  As Ty Webb would have said, “be the disc, Danny”.  The off days I think about every little thing.  Where’s my foot, what’s my wrist doing, where’s my release point, remember to follow through, remember to move the disc last, blah, blah, blah.

Be the ball, Danny.

Be the ball, Danny.

Realizing the difference was focus is great, but how do we get to a place of focus intentionally?  How do we use this to our advantage?  First, we have to understand where focus comes from.  In simplest terms, confidence.  The more you practice, the more confidence you have.  The more confidence you have, the less you find yourself having to think about things.  Especially minute details that just distract you, break your concentration, and cause you to miss repeatedly.

With confidence, focus becomes an innate quality of the mind.  It’s not something that is “created”.  It’s something that occurs as a by product of confidence.  You throw that second putt in from a place of confidence.  You are frustrated the first one didn’t go in because you “know” you can make it.  You “know” you can execute that shot.  So you pick up a second disc and throw it from a place of “knowing”.  That “knowing” imparts focus without you having to think about it.  The only thing in your mind at that moment is making that second shot.  You don’t have to actively think about anything.

Since focus is an innate quality of your mind stemming from confidence, it also can’t be broken.  Concentration, on the other hand, is just another form of hope.  It’s something you are actively trying to do.  It’s something that can be broken.  And it often is.  It’s broken by external distractions.  It’s broken by fear.  It’s broken by your racing mind.  It’s broken by the squirrel farting in the tree behind you.  It’s broken by the littlest of things.

If this doesn't make you laugh, you're probably not a guy.

If this doesn’t make you laugh, you’re probably not a guy.

Deep focus is something that doesn’t leave us.  It can’t.  It’s something that moves with us through a round.  On my Marengo mosquito nightmare round, I didn’t lose focus the whole round.  The mosquitos couldn’t take it away.  The setting sun couldn’t diminish it.  I knew inside that I could execute the needed shots for a fast round, I’d done it before, I could do it again.  No matter what was going on around me, focus was not lost.  It was just there.

Back in the real world, we need a way to do that all the time.  When you step up to a clutch putt in a round, how do you allow focus to happen instead of concentrating on the million things you need to do to make a putt?  How do you get from your racing mind telling you to do sixteen different movements at once to a calm, focused mind that just allows you to put the disc in the basket?  You have to practice two things.

First, you have to practice putting.  If you don’t practice putting, you have a very slim chance of having confidence.  If you have no confidence, you simply can’t have focus.  Your monkey brain is trained to think about all the bad possibilities unless it’s 100% sure that you can actually perform the task at hand.

Second, you have to practice having focus.  You do that with meditation.  Look, you already know how to focus.  It simply happens when you do certain things.  The key is taking time each day to figure out how to do it intentionally.  10-20 minutes of meditation each day are the perfect tool to learn this.

It just so happens that on the road to the GBO, I’ve been doing both.  It’s taken two months, but I’m finally putting the two together.  It’s not an easy process.  I have by no means reached Mr. Miagi status.  I’m just barely knocking on the door of the general idea.  It’s worth knocking, though.  It’s worth taking a battering ram to that door if needed.

We’ve all had times spent in the zone, where every shot did what we wanted.  We’ve all experienced that flow state or sense of effortless focus.  We’ve all made those second shots look easy.  We’ve all been there.  It’s figuring out how to get back that’s the challenge.  It’s getting our minds to stop concentrating and just focus.  Be the disc, Danny.

 

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