Ambition Neutered By Self-Doubt Part 2

As a young boy, I was introduced to the game of golf by my dad. He didn’t play a lot and was an average player at best but he loved to play the game. Some of my childhood friends already played so it became just one more way to get to hang out with them.

As with any undertaking requiring your skill to develop I was quite horrible when I first started playing.

On the little small town course on which I learned the game, hole number 5 was the first hole which required us to hit the ball over a small creek which meandered through the fairways of a couple of different holes. I have vivid memories of walking up the small hill to the 5th tee box. All the guys would start to talk about pulling out a “water” ball. This was an old ball you had in your bag for just such occasions as teeing off on hole #5. You didn’t want to play one of your good golf balls because with our limited skill level we were very likely going to hit it in the small creek. There were two different penalties for hitting it in the creek. First, you had to add a stroke to your score for hitting it in the water. Secondly, you lost a valuable golf ball and you didn’t want it to be one of your best. It didn’t always happen but it certainly was more often than not!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote Part 1 of Ambition Neutered by Self-Doubt. Playing a water ball on hole #5 is the perfect example of ambition being neutered by self-doubt. We wanted to hit the ball over the creek but self-doubt was high as we didn’t think we could so we reached for a “water” ball. We played it safe. Having that negative mindset that you might hit the ball in the creek became a habit and a self-fulfilling prophecy. KERPLUNK!

Sometimes, if I had a couple of extra quarters when I went to play I would splurge and buy a brand new Acushnet Club Special golf ball. Just one. That’s all I could afford. Holding that ball was like holding gold to me. You can bet that when I got to #5 that ball was going in my pocket. I didn’t have the courage to use it on that hole because it likely was going to splash shortly after I hit it. Self-doubt put the ball in my pocket.

As I write today’s post I am currently reading Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit. The New York Times Best Selling book outlines the power of the habits in our lives, both personally and professionally, that lead to either success or failure.

In an early chapter in the book Duhigg shares the story of Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy and his philosophy on bad habits and replacing them with good habits.

So much of anything we do becomes instinctual and habitual in our lives. Dungy knew this was true of his football players. He knew if they had bad habits they would likely lead to poor performance on the field and coming up short on the scoreboard. The coach worked tirelessly in getting his players to replace their old, bad habits with new good habits.

The challenge with doing this is true for us in our lives with our bad habits. We tend to go to the default of our bad habits. They are, after all, habits. They are instinctual. When we are challenged or face obstacles we take the easy route to our old habits.

As I walked up the hill to hole #5 I instinctually reached into my golf bag for an old ball. Habit. Negative mindset. Habit. Ball in the water. Habit.

For Dungy’s teams it always took a few years for them to change their habits so their default became the new habit and not the old habit.

Duhigg and Dungy both state the key to replacing the old habit with the new habit. This key is also the key to no longer having your ambition neutered by your self-doubt. This is one of those things that is an incredibly simple concept but living it out can be incredibly difficult.

The key to overcoming your self-doubt is BELIEF, belief that you can overcome whatever your bad habit might be or belief that you can accomplish your dream. Duhigg outlines how Dungy’s players began to believe and eventually won a Super Bowl. He shares dramatic stories of others who overcame addiction or other obstacles by believing in themselves and surrounding themselves with others who believed in them as well.

Somewhere along the line in my growing love of the game of golf I was playing with a man named Jim. Jim was probably in his thirties at the time. He had some wise words for me as I teed off on number 5. He saw me reach into my bag to pull out my safe ball.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

I told him my story of self-doubt and my habit of hitting the ball in the creek.

“What creek?” he asked. “Pretend it’s not even there.”

Jim reminded me that I had teed off on the first four holes with plenty of distance to get it over the creek. He told me I was good enough to hit it over the creek without any problem. He believed in me more than I believed in myself.

“Put that old ball back in your bag. If you hit your good one in the creek I’ll give you one of my Titliest balls,” Jim declared. “You can do it. I know you can.”

Slowly, I reached down and placed my Club Special onto the tee. I stared out onto the fairway where I wanted my ball to land well past the water hazard. I started my backswing and then picked up the pace as my club head connected with the ball. The ball took off like a jet slowly rising into the sky. It cleared the creek with plenty of room to spare.

“I did it,” I screamed as I looked back at Jim.

I never hit an old ball on hole #5 again.

I can’t remember if I read it somewhere or heard it from someone but a quote that has stuck with me for many, many years is this; Keep your eyes on the reward and not on the obstacles.

My old habit was to keep my eyes on the creek. My new habit became looking at the fairway where I wanted the ball to land.

Self-doubt looks at the obstacles.

Belief looks at the rewards.

Do you have the courage to believe in yourself?

Hebrews 11:1


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  • Anthony Verderame

    Brilliant!!!! I love it brother! Thank you so much for writing this! You are speaking my heart. It is a message that must be spread. 😉