A life coach’s 5 tips to finally achieving your goals on the course

golfer celebrating

Setting tangible goals gives you a much greater chance for success.

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Let’s get this out of the way: I’m not a golf instructor. I’m not even a golfer, unless you count family putt-putt outings. I’m a life coach. My job is to help people set goals and achieve them. I know enough golfers to know that you probably have something you want to achieve. And I know that setting goals mindfully gives you a much greater chance for success. Here’s how.

1. Get smart

Setting a goal is as easy as putting pen to paper. Setting the right goal, in the right way, takes thought. For a solid foundation, golf coaches preach the importance of GPA: Grip, Posture, Alignment. (Remember: I know golfers.) For solid goal setting, life coaches have SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound.

Specific means very specific, not “I want to get better.” Measurable means quantifiable. Attainable? It will be a challenge but within your reach. Relevant is something meaningful to you. Time-bound means a hard-and-fast deadline. Golf, like all sports, is clearly well suited to goal setting.

2. Check your alignment

You tee up your ball. Do you immediately hit it? No. First, you step back to align and gather yourself.

Life coaching does this too. We review specific areas like mental and physical health and spiritual wellbeing to answer the questions “How’s my life going?” and “Is this really the goal I want to work on now?” We want to be sure the new goal makes sense.

Let’s go back to “relevant.” If you say you want to lose weight but “only because of my nagging wife,” that won’t work. Likewise, say you want to get your handicap to zero. My first question is “Why is that important to you?” If the answer is “My brother’s scratch and I want to stick it in his pompous face!” well, your motivation isn’t coming from the right place.

Now, it’s not the coach’s job to judge the goal or the motivation. It’s that reflecting on one’s own desires is important. Sometimes, people will talk themselves out of something once they realize why they want it. More often, they’ll deepen and solidify their commitment to the goal.

Similarly, not only do you need to be honest about the effort you’re willing to put in, you also need to figure out, with a coach or without, how much that goal is bolstered by your values. You want to play 100 rounds this coming season? If you’re newly divorced, an empty nester, or just need something to feel good about yourself again, knock yourself out. But if you’re a dedicated, soccer-coaching dad, there might be a misalignment. Maybe something else is going on? You might want to think or talk that goal through before embarking on it.

3. Look back and around

You want to break 80. Great! So how did you break 90?

We sometimes forget that you can be your own role model. You’ve accomplished hard things before. A good coach — life, golf, whatever — will remind you of this, help note what tools you used and figure out how to reuse them.

It’s also useful, if painful, to look at past goals you failed to achieve and apply those lessons too. You binge-dieted to reach a weight-loss goal but then couldn’t keep the pounds off. Maybe three-hour daily range sessions won’t be sustainable. Let’s find a way to reach the destination in a more measured way.

Golf is a social sport. You won’t need six degrees of separation to reach someone who’s already achieved your new goal. Want to be a single-digit handicapper? You probably know dozens, among them people you respect and can talk to. If you don’t know any, someone you know does; use your network for contacts.

Guaranteed, these achievers are happy to talk about their accomplishments. Pull up a chair, ask “How did you do it?” then settle in for the long haul, taking notes, mental or otherwise. You don’t have to DIY everything: Stand on the shoulders of giants, or at least Tyler who consistently breaks 80.

4. Play the mentor game

How many hours did I log with a Rubik’s Cube in the ’80s? Many. Did I ever come close to completing it? Never.

Today, I go online, wade through dozens of relevant videos, find the person who speaks about the algorithms in a way I understand and follow his lead. Presto — Cube solved!

Sports are no different. My colleague Steven Kotler coaches and studies extreme-sports athletes. He’s found that the levels of achievement, mastery and complexity have gone ballistic over the last generation, and he attributes much of the gains to the unprecedented, Internet-driven sharing of tips and methods.

Anyone with a Web connection has access to elite training. (Hello,!) Again, talk to friends about their training, then look into appealing programs and teachers. Maybe your coach at the local club is great—just remember that nowadays, you can choose almost any mentor. Coaching isn’t a loyalty program; it’s a shopping trip.

5. Don’t sweat changing course

I had a client whose goal was to get back her pre-baby body. With discipline and a training program, she did it superfast — almost. There she was, after two months of radical weight loss, dillydallying for a month at the last five pounds. Why? She realized that dropping those final five, and staying there, would mean no wine, no dessert — the little rewards she felt she’d earned as a mom. Suddenly, the original goal was no longer exactly what she wanted … so she pulled the plug.

Maybe you get to the precipice of scratch golf and think, I like my post-round beers with the fellas more than I want to practice chipping. That’s fine, as long as you’re honest with yourself. Stop at your 5-handicap. You wouldn’t be the first person to find that the thing you thought you wanted isn’t all that. Don’t be a slave to your goal if you’ve outgrown it. More likely though, if you’ve set your goal well, you’ll stay the course — and reach the end of the rainbow.

Allison Task is the author of Personal (R)evolution and a professional certified coach with the International Coaching Federation.

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