Look Wide, Focus Narrow

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Look Wide, Focus Nar­row — learn­ing to shift your focus means you auto­mat­i­cal­ly see a “big­ger picture”

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Not long ago, I was root­ing around in some old pho­tos, and I came upon one of me play­ing golf. In Scot­land, in 1986. I stopped play­ing golf many years ago, para­dox­i­cal­ly after 2 great years of final­ly being able to break 90 every time.

Here’s a thought: A wide focus or a narrow focus isn’t enough. What we need is a divergent focus. In life as in golf, we need to create multiple foci.

Anyway, here are two golf stories.

I start­ed play­ing golf in High School, and got seri­ous about it dur­ing Seminary. 

One of the guys in my class had been a semi-pro; he’d tried the Cana­di­an Pro Tour, but couldn’t han­dle the stress and pres­sure, so he decid­ed to be a Min­is­ter. (I’m grin­ning as I write this–talk about “out of the fry­ing pan, into the fire.” 😉 ) 

He and I would go golfing regularly.

Me, I was an aver­age hack­er; I thought it remark­able when I final­ly broke 100 on a reg­u­lar basis. 

Like most “hack­ers,” I had a wicked slice. I often played on the adja­cent fair­way, so off track were my fair­way shots.

I bought golf books; I bought golf magazines. Over and over, I read that I should correct my slice by adjusting my grip.

This involves rotat­ing your hands on the han­dle of the club, so that the swing-through puts a spin on the ball to counter the spin that caus­es the slice. 

In prac­tice, what this meant was that no mat­ter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get dis­tance. All of my swing’s ener­gy was lost as the counter-spin fought for con­trol of the ball.

And accu­ra­cy was out of the question.

A cou­ple of decades lat­er, Dar­bel­la decid­ed to take up golf, and booked lessons. (She’d seen my slice, so she did­n’t ask me… 😉 )

Lessons had nev­er occurred to me, as “Real men don’t need no stinkin’ lessons.” I was self-taught, and proud of it.

But a little voice inside that I trust piped up and said, “Can’t hurt.”

Dar and I had simul­ta­ne­ous lessons, and Susan, the woman who instruct­ed us, was “up there” in the ranks of Cana­di­an pros. 

She instruct­ed me to tee up, take a 5‑iron, and hit a green 150 feet out. I gulped, teed up a ball, grabbed my trusty 5‑iron, and gripped the club in my choked, “cor­rect the slice” grip.

She fair­ly flew to my side. “Whoa! Relax! Take a neu­tral grip!” 

I demurred, say­ing that if I did, some­one stand­ing to my right was going to have a golf ball in his/her ear. She insist­ed, and backed up, let­ting me swing. Sure enough, the ball took off, turned 90 degrees to the right and land­ed 150 feet out and about 50 feet to the side of the green.

I won’t bore you with the con­ver­sa­tion, but Susan walked up to me and said, “OK. Swing slow­ly and stop at the top of your swing.” I did. 

She told me to hold the club at the top. She then pro­ceed­ed to com­plete­ly alter my pos­ture at the end of my swing.

She piv­ot­ed my hips, re-set the posi­tion of my club and oth­er­wise fid­dled with my anato­my until I was in an com­plete­ly unfa­mil­iar and, of course, uncom­fort­able, pos­ture. 

As is typical of new things…

She said, “Mem­o­rize this pos­ture with your body.” Hav­ing done Mar­tial Arts for decades, that direc­tive actu­al­ly made sense.

She then direct­ed me to swing at half speed (no ball, just a tee for a tar­get) and be sure each time I swung that I end­ed up in the new posi­tion.

I start­ed, and she went to work on Dar. 

After 50 swings she yelled over and told me to practice swing at full speed.

After anoth­er 20 min­utes of air-ball, she saun­tered over, teed up a ball for me, and told me to hit the green. I start­ed into my, “But you saw what hap­pened last time; I have to cor­rect my grip” whine. 

She looked me square in the eye, and said some­thing I said to clients for my entire career (except for the golf part…): 

If you focus on the results you want, and fin­ish the swing in the end­ing pos­ture you’ve been prac­tic­ing, every­thing will take care of itself.”

As I said, I recognized the idea, and thought, “Well, that might apply to life, but it can’t apply to golf.” 

But I’d paid my mon­ey, so I decid­ed to risk it. 

I took a swing, forced my club to end up where I was “sup­posed to,” and my ball sailed out 175 yards, dead straight, and past the pin. I real­ized that, for years, I’d been hit­ting 25 yards too hard, to com­pen­sate for my slice.

No wonder a round of golf was so exhausting–Screwing up takes energy.

I was going to write that Susan smiled; she actu­al­ly smirked.

I hit a suc­ces­sion of balls, and 90% went straight. If I “lost” the end posi­tion, I sliced. If I “found” the end posi­tion the ball went straight. My game dropped into the low 90s imme­di­ate­ly, and with­in a month or so, I was hit­ting the occa­sion­al 88.

My “problem” was that my entire focus was on my slice. Everything I did, every shot I planned, every approach I contemplated, had as it’s goal, “How can I do this and minimize the damage of my uncontrolled slice?” 

What this meant, in practical terms, is that I was spending so much time compensating for my slice, that I never allowed for the possibility that I didn’t have one!

Susan came along and reset my entire game by teach­ing me to fix my presuppositions.

As soon as I stopped act­ing like I had a slice, and then com­pen­sat­ing for it, I no longer had a slice.

By focus­ing wide (see­ing myself as a golfer, not a golfer with a slice) and then describ­ing the behav­iour and actions I want­ed to achieve (the set­ting up of the end pos­ture,) I could “focus nar­row” on the actu­al tar­get. (Of course, then I actu­al­ly had to con­tin­u­al­ly do the new behaviour!!!)

Notice how much bet­ter this is than sim­ply accept­ing my fate as a “slicer,” nar­row­ing down my game to com­pen­sat­ing for that, and nev­er, ever being able to pick a tar­get for my ball.

This Endless Moment

Note: If you want to learn more about this top­ic, and want to look at it from a West­ern per­spec­tive, have a look at my book, This End­less Moment.


The other golf story is shorter.

The idea of look wide, focus nar­row applies in oth­er ways. 

There were many occa­sions where I’d march up to my ball, look at the pin, grab a club, adopt my stance, visu­al­ize the shot, remem­ber my end­ing pos­ture, gauge the dis­tance, and swing the club. My con­tact was per­fect, with exact­ly the right swing speed.

Off the ball would lift, head­ing dead for the pin, only to col­lide with the branch stick­ing out into the fairway.

My nar­row focus was per­fect… if only that damn branch wasn’t there.

Had I looked wide, I’d have seen it, but then I couldn’t blame the tree 😉 

I was talk­ing with a friend who is nar­row­ly focussed on his rela­tion­ship fail­ures. He is expert at see­ing what he does wrong, and focussing on that for… years. As a result, he’s often shut down, sad, etc.

He is nar­row­ly focussed on his own mis­tak­en belief (like my years of think­ing I was slicer…) about his abil­i­ty to relate with ele­gance, despite the fact that he does… with almost everyone. 

But he is heavily invested in being the “one to blame.” His focus is on that, and that alone.

I reg­u­lar­ly invite him to look wider. To see the games every­one is play­ing… it’s not just him. As he widens his gaze, he might actu­al­ly notice the things he was push­ing out of his viewpoint–like that he’s actu­al­ly a pret­ty good “relater.”

From there, from the wider view, the hard work begins. He needs a clean swing and a focussed belief in him­self… and that flies in the face of what he con­tin­u­al­ly tells himself.

Life situations are always bigger than we perceive them to be, and never more so than when we are setting ourselves up to have a problem over something or with someone.

When in con­flict, we let our­selves be pulled into the dra­ma (the inef­fec­tu­al sto­ry,) and all evi­dence of “things to the con­trary” fall by the wayside. 

Like the branch over­hang­ing the fair­way, they are there, but unno­ticed, because we sim­ply refuse to look for “sur­pris­es.”

Get­ting past this requires new think­ing, fol­lowed by new behav­iour. Every time. To beat the golf anal­o­gy to death, I had to give up my grip cor­rec­tion for­ev­er, and swing in a new and ini­tial­ly uncom­fort­able, unfa­mil­iar way. If I went back to cor­rect­ing, I lost control.

The new behaviour does become habitual; it just takes a ton of practice, and no excuses.

And then, we play a hard­er course, or a branch sticks out. 

If we stay com­plete­ly focussed on tech­nique, we miss sub­tle changes and set-ups that will lead to missed shots or bad lies. The only hope is to learn to focus nar­row, THEN look wide — and with prac­tice (again!) see the lit­tle things that have arisen “this time.”

But then, it’s right back to the new way of doing things, PLUS an adjust­ment to com­pen­sate for the thing you’ve spot­ted. You turn your feet a bit, and swing.

Notice your “com­pen­sat­ing behaviours.” 

  • What are you doing to jus­ti­fy cling­ing to a dys­func­tion­al view of yourself? 
  • Who are you blam­ing for your dramas? 
  • Who are you look­ing for to res­cue you? 
  • What would hap­pen if you stopped whin­ing about how tough your life is, and sim­ply looked wide, noticed how “per­fect” life is, and then focussed nar­row on choos­ing to live your life for a posi­tion of com­fort and assurance?

It’s your game. Maybe it’s time to choose to low­er your handicap.

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is known on the web as the Sim­ple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Pri­vate Prac­tice Coun­sel­lor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the lat­est being The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever.

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