Why Clarity of Focus is the Key to Growth
We all have constraints that are potentially hurtful and sometimes dangerous. What about a parent who isn’t nurturing enough to his or her children? Or a parent who is too nurturing and continues to enable inappropriate behavior by not setting adequate boundaries? What about a boss or a spouse who is defensive and not open to feedback? It is easy to minimize the threat that our constraints pose, but even constraints that appear to be harmless sometimes play themselves out on a larger scale. How do we find out what those constraints are? What can we do about them?
I have called these things that hinder our performance personal constraints because that is how they function. They constrain us from moving forward, from rising higher, and from seeing the world from a fresh perspective.
The truth is that we all have constraints. And we all have more than one, or two, or three. The key is to identify and change those constraints that have the biggest impact on your life. Remember the story I told about the hot-air balloon? You can throw out either the one-pound weights or the twenty-pound weights. I can assure you that throwing out the twenty-pound weights will give you the greatest lift. If we want to remove the weights, or personal constraints, that hold us back, we must identify and take steps to break the constraints that have the greatest impact on our lives.
In my work as a psychotherapist, I have two important tasks I must accomplish for every patient: first, I must make a diagnosis and second, I must prescribe the proper treatment. The diagnosis of any situation is critical. If the diagnosis is wrong, then it is difficult—if not impossible—to prescribe the correct treatment.
In life we frequently fail to make the connection between the pain or frustration we may be experiencing in a given situation and the true source of that pain, which is often a hidden behavior or set of behaviors.
I have a colleague who has diagnosed many of his patients as having bipolar disorder. He was great at treating bipolar issues, and after a while, it seemed that every patient he saw had bipolar disorder. But many of the diagnoses were wrong. At that point it didn’t matter how good he was at treating bipolar disorder—the diagnosis was wrong, so the treatment was useless at best and damaging at worst. Diagnosis is everything when it comes to assessing a problem. Wrong diagnosis leads to wrong treatment.
So how do we identify the problem correctly and begin the process of change?
One Saturday morning as I was putting on my work clothes and preparing to take my horse, Mikey, to check on things at the ranch, Susan asked if I would sit and talk with her for a moment. I really didn’t like the thought of losing time, but I could see that she had something on her mind, and I adore her, so what could I say? As we talked Susan began to share with me that I really do work too much. She felt that I needed to do something to relax and take my mind off business and work. I was resistant at first because I enjoy the things I do, but I also knew she was making a good point.
Then she shocked me.
“Why don’t you start playing golf?”
That was the last thing I expected her to say, and I sat there with a seriously dumb look on my face. “Honey, I haven’t played golf since I was a kid. Where would I begin, and why would I do it in the first place?” She had already thought of those questions before she brought up the subject. She answered each of my concerns, then closed the deal.
“The next time you’re in Florida, why don’t you take a lesson from one of the pros and see if it’s something you would enjoy?” she suggested. I thought about it and agreed that I would.
Within a few months I found myself standing on a driving range in Florida with a well-known coach. This pro had worked with some top golfers and great athletes. . .and he was giving me a look that suggested I was neither! After they filmed my swing (I’m sure they recorded it for others’ entertainment), we went through the next (and most humbling) part of the lesson. He started telling me all the things that were wrong with my swing: I needed to change my grip on the club, I should bend my knees more, and I needed to turn my hips more on the follow-through part of my swing. I wasn’t following the same arc with each swing—this had to be fixed, or I would never be consistent. Then came the discussion about my wrists and how “wristy” (whatever that is) I was, which was, of course, messing up my arc even when I had it right because I was letting my wrists act “independently,” something they apparently weren’t supposed to be doing.
“There were also comments about keeping my head still while swinging and, at the same time, keeping my back straight. With each new instruction I was forgetting the other things I was supposed to do. I was so confused at the end of the lesson that I didn’t know what was going on. Too much stuff. I felt like Charlie Brown on the football field, paralyzed and unable to do anything.
I was glad to get on the plane and fly home. A few months later I was taking another golf lesson, but this time it was from Jeff Hunter, the head professional at Miramont Country Club in Bryan, Texas. Jeff is a great teacher. As we stood on the range, he watched for a while as I hit a few balls.
“You need to swing through your strokes more,” he said, demonstrating his point as he let the club come all the way around so that he finished in a picture-perfect pose at the end of the swing. I tried a few practice swings myself, experiencing how different this slight adjustment felt. After a minute or two, I was surprised to see Jeff turn his back to me and start walking back to the clubhouse.
“Whoa. . .wait a minute! Where are you going?” I called to him.
“That’s all you need for now,” he replied. “Work on that, and we’ll talk when you get that down.”
That was it—that was all I had to do. I was impressed. An hour later he was back. As he walked up he commented, “You need to keep working on that. There’s more, but that is the one thing that will give you the most gain for now. Just keep practicing that, and we’ll talk in a few weeks.” And off he went.
One thing. Just do this, and we’ll talk later after you have it down. Those words were sweet to my ears because he had found the starting point for me. This was something that I could really work on and see improvement. There weren’t ten things that I had to think about—there was one thing. Swing through with the club and stand there. I have to admit I thought I looked pretty good standing there with that picture-perfect finish. Not that I had any idea where the ball was going, but I sure looked good.
Still scoring well up in the nineties, I was ready for my next lesson. It was even better. His next point was that I needed to add to my “great finish,” making good contact with the ball. And off he went again.
With each succeeding lesson he added one more point. Of course there were more comments than I am including here, but the point was always the same: “Flip, you can’t fix it all at once. There is only so much you can work on at one time. You need to know what changes will actually give you the greatest gains. That’s what you want“to work on—the thing that is holding you back the most.” What a smart way to go. I’m still not where I want to be as a golfer, but I am doing a lot better and am always ready for the next lesson and game.
There is another thought I want to throw in at this point. Would you say the biggest reason for my inability to score in the eighties was my clubs or my lack of experience? Of course it was my lack of experience. But how many golfers do you know who are constantly changing clubs only to find that they still don’t shoot any better? If you are changing things that don’t make any difference at the expense of ignoring the ones that do, you are wasting your money and your time, not to mention the frustration you will feel when all your efforts fail to produce greater gains.
Jeff showed me how to focus on a single thing—one step at a time—in my quest to improve my golf game. There is one thing and one place to start for every challenge we meet.
Overcoming Personal Constraints™ (OPC) is no different. First, you identify your biggest constraint—the one thing that will give you the highest payoff—and you go to work to change that. After you have broken through that one, then you go to work on the next most significant constraint. This is the process, and it focuses on the one thing that you need to be doing at that particular time.
Keep in mind that this is a process. If you are truly growing, then it is a never-ending process. You will work through the first constraint and then go on to identify the next one. With each additional step you will find that your life is truly improving and that you are performing at a higher level.
It doesn’t matter if your most crucial personal constraint is that you talk too much or don’t talk enough. It isn’t important if your greatest constraint is that you are lazy, or shy, or that you have low self-control, or that you spend so much time organizing your life that you never live it. What is important is that you don’t have the same level of personal constraints next year that you have this year. That is growth.
The goal for anyone seeking to improve his or her performance is to remove the top constraints in their makeup. To do this you must “diagnose” or identify your constraints, then “fill the prescription” and execute a plan to break or overcome your constraints.