Resolve: How Sticking to the Game Plan Can Pay Dividends

Resolve: "to decide firmly on a course of action"


A few weeks ago, the mecca of beauty and perfection (here on earth) took center stage for the world to see. With every blade of grass and flower petal in perfect place, the meticulously manicured magnificence of spring colors in full bloom lit up hundreds of thousands of tv screens around the world. Standing in poignant contrast to the green grass were the white jumpsuits representing one counterpart of the tandem duos in pursuit of the most coveted sports coat in the world - the green jacket.

Yes, I am talking about The Masters.

This year held no shortage of drama, with some of the biggest names in golf all vying for the title come Sunday. When all was said and done Patrick Reed claimed victory, donning the green jacket - the fulfillment of all his childhood dreams.

Although I wish I could convince you of the greatness of Augusta National and all that The Masters stands for, the topic of this post stems from what was said upon the conclusion of the tournament. In listening to post-round interviews, both Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler (placing 1st and 2nd respectively) used an identical phrase in discussing their round, so eerily similar you would almost have thought it was scripted.

“Sticking to the game plan”

In reflecting upon their performance, the key attributed to both of their successes was found, simply, in: sticking to the game plan.
 

Game Plans and Golf

Golfers on the PGA Tour all go through a similar weekly schedule during each tournament they play in. Typically, they will arrive at the location of the tournament by Sunday night or Monday morning. This allows for 2-4 days of practice and preparation before the tournament begins on Thursday. The tournament itself is almost always four rounds (18 holes), Thursday through Sunday of that same week, with a cut to the low 30-40% of the field after two rounds have been completed.

This schedule helps shed some light on the context from which these players are speaking from. During the work that they did Monday through Wednesday (and sometimes with additional days of preparation), they developed a game plan - the strategy by which they were going to attack the golf course in order to maximize their performance and produce the lowest score possible. So, if you have the ability to develop a good game plan, the key to success is, simply, sticking to the game plan that you have developed for four consecutive rounds in a row.

Sounds easy, right?

If it were easy, then everyone would be a champion. And we all know that is never the case.
 

Not Just a Golf-Thing

This concept isn’t isolated to the realm of golf. If you scour the inter-webs for interviews from professional athletes throughout the spectrum of professional sports, you will hear the same verbiage being used. From college basketball, to boxers, to motocross racers, to endurance runners, to tennis players, and more: success is always a derivative of following the predetermined game plan.

Beyond the realm of athletics, this is a principle adopted and used by the masses in all forms of business and creation. One prime example is the beloved “business plan”. When starting any venture or business, the first step is always the creation of a game plan, mapping out the ins and outs of what this future business entails. Writing a book follows a parallel process, usually beginning with some form of a book proposal that depicts what the future pages will hold.

From athletic endeavors, to creative works, to business practices, and more, sticking to the game plan is a strong indicator for the success that follows.
 

Elements of a Game Plan

Since golf parallels life, I am going to stick with the gentleman’s game as the primary illustration for our purposes here.

Stated simplistically, a game plan is: a predetermined plan, and, more often than not: a plan of attack. Both parts of this simplified definition are of equal importance in understanding the game plan’s importance.

Predetermined - This means you determined the plan before you were in the action, delineating the steps before you’ve begun moving, choosing the route to take before you have started the journey.

Plan - This shows that it isn’t a whimsical pursuit. It isn’t a “shot in the dark”, a random act that hopes to hit the mark. A plan shows intention and effort put into projecting the path to come and the steps to take once you’re there.

Without a plan, we are left to the mercy of circumstances, the environment, and the other people who are involved. With a plan, we move back into the drivers seat and take control of the steering wheel, proactively choosing our path uninhibited by what the environment and circumstances may bring.
 

Why Detachment Matters

These two parts highlight the importance and strength of creating and committing to a game plan. Choosing the right path to take is best done from a detached position. When we are detached from the immediacy of any situation, we are able to see it more clearly, both in perspective and in emotion.

One of my favorite illustrations of perspective is found in L.A. Los Angeles is one of the largest metropolitan city-centers in the world. It is a never-ending jungle of buildings, vehicles, and humans, all ebbing and flowing in a chaotic mass of existence. When you are in the middle of Los Angeles, the chaos is felt by all of your senses (imagine yourself walking through a busy street in the middle of the day). But, when you elevate above the madness of the ground floor, and transport yourself to, say, the Griffith Observatory overlooking Los Angeles, you suddenly experience a serene calmness that brings a whole new outlook on the chaos below. This is the power of perspective.

Having a game plan allows us to determine the optimal path for what we are building/working towards from a place that is “above” the whirlwind often felt along the way. While you may not have the 20/20 vision found in looking back on the journey, you will definitely have clearer vision planning before the journey than in the middle of it.

Detachment is especially important in the realm of emotions. Emotions are powerful, and like any source of power, we must be careful to not let the power take control of our motivations or desires. Emotions are like money - when either becomes the focus of our heart, self-destruction is sure to follow. The balancing perspective is that both money and emotions are incredible tools and essential realities in life. Emotions can be used as fuel, and they can also be used as a weapon. Mike Tyson’s trainer - Cus D’Amato - described this delicate balance well, using one of the most common emotions we experience - fear:

“Fear is like fire. It can cook for you. It can heat your house. Or it can burn you down.”

But again, when we are committed to sticking to the game plan, we can overcome the distracting or damaging emotions and encourage the helpful ones. This takes setting the intention before the situation demands it.
 

How it Goes Bad

Golf is such a great example for illustrating how we often fail to stick to the game plan.

A good example to illustrate this is the 12th hole at Augusta National (hint: the par-3 that Jordan Spieth lost the 2016 Masters by making a 7). The pin location they use every single year on Sunday (the final round) is back-right. If you miss your shot too short or just right of the pin, you will likely end up in the water. The shot you should hit is 10-15ft. left of the pin and a few paces short of the pin - where you have the most room for error.

But, if you just bogeyed the last two holes, and your “commanding lead” is now whittled down to a few strokes, you begin to think differently (eh-hem, Jordan). Instead of playing it safe, you start feeling the inward pressure to attack the pin and go right at it. Even though you know what your game plan should be, you make a different choice and choose an aggressive line because you feel like you have to make something happen. Or, even worse, you start allowing doubt and fear to creep in and can’t stop focusing on where you don’t want the ball to go, ultimately guiding it into that exact spot - the water. Emotions can’t always be trusted…

The point is, very rarely do we fully stick to the game plan we’ve laid out. Let’s face it, we’re humans not robots. The point isn’t to force ourselves to try and become robots, but rather to get better with sticking to the plan that we know will produce our best results, regardless of what our inner-voice is telling us in the moment.

With that being said, there are some common pitfalls to be aware of:

Pitfalls:

Pre:

  • Not creating a game plan (not believing in the value of it)

  • Trusting in fads more than principles

  • Having too much confidence in ourselves (leading us to stop having a gameplan)

  • Not feeling like doing the work we know we need to do

  • Losing sight of our “why"

During:

  • Allowing prior situations to change our game plan

  • Trusting our emotions more than our preparation or knowledge

  • Forgetting the lessons we’ve learned from similar game plan deviations in the past

  • Losing sight of the big-picture perspective

  • Succumbing to the bombardment of distractions competing for our focus and time

  • Not slowing down and allowing yourself space to think


What to Focus On

Laurence Gonzales wrote a great book on human irrationality called Deep Survival - a book about who lives and who dies when accidents happen, and why. Fascinating. He said:

“Rational (or conscious) thought always lags behind the emotional reaction.”

This succinctly highlights the reason why we must stick to our game plan, especially in the moments when our emotions are saying something else. At the very least, we must force ourselves to slow down and reevaluate our process in order to give us time for the conscious mind to catch up. There’s a reason the most common advice we hear for regaining control of our mind and body is to: “just breathe”.

While this post has been narrowly focused on the game plan itself, there are always more factors than just one in determining any success that’s had. A game plan is only as good as the abilities to execute on it. The Greek poet Archilochus encapsulated this well by saying:

"We don't rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training."

Game plan’s can encapsulate both sides of this argument - containing our future expectations but also providing the focus for our training, preparing for what’s to come.


Take Action

So what do we do?

There's three Simple Steps:

  1. Create a game plan -- Just do it

  2. Stick to it --  Commit, commit, commit!

  3. Evaluate the results  --  Learn from what transpired

Is it really that simple? Yes, it really is that simple… but simple doesn’t mean easy.

One of my favorite golf quotes is from the legendary Ben Hogan who said:

"The most important shot in golf is the next one.”

Sticking to the game plan means that you, first, have a game plan to stick with, and second, you are committed enough to it to move past the prior shot(s) (aka distractions) and stay on the predetermined path forward.

Simple. Not easy. But, worth it.

Stick to the game plan.