Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson


     Most of us have really serious plans to get in shape this summer.  Since we probably won’t – I’m not going to – how about if we exercise the mind a bit instead?  Think about it…nice late summer afternoon, big glass of tea with lemon and lots of ice, swinging in the hammock, while perusing a few good books.  Sound pretty good?  And who knows, we might even find one that could change our life.  Here are five that did just that for me…

(1.)    How To Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie.  Although written in 1936, still the best source of information on how to deal with other human beings.  If there was ever a skill we should work on every day, it’s our interpersonal skills.  I know of no college course on the subject – which is strange when you consider a substantial amount of empirical research shows there is only one key predictor of success in work and life – and that is our ability to relate to others.  And this book is a tremendous confidence builder.

(2.)    Psycho-Cybernetics – Maxwell Maltz.  In the fifties, a plastic surgeon began to notice something rather odd.  After repairing some unfortunate patient’s cleft palate, horrible scar, or disfigured nose, the person would return to Maltz complaining they still “felt the same way.”  Maltz would hold a mirror to their face explaining the unattractive feature had been repaired to perfection.  Still the patient believed others saw them the same as before.  Maltz realized we must work on repairing our “inner scars” as well as the face we show to the world.  Far from the usual “self-help-book” on wishing and chanting positive-thinking clichés, his words on believing in our God-given ability, having faith, and giving ourselves a chance, offer a refreshing drink of hope for us all.

(3.)    The Inner Game of Tennis – Timothy Gallwey.  About tennis on the surface and about life throughout.  As close to bedrock as anything I’ve ever read on how we truly improve performance.  Both Gallwey and Maltz speak of something inside that is more than we know – that makes us more able than we realize.  Gallwey points out this thing caused us to learn how to walk and talk, and no one told it how.  It learned on its own! 

(4.)    Zen In the Art of Archery – Daniel Herrigel.  An American professor travels to Japan to learn from the Zen master how to fire the arrow.  The subject concerns the sequence and steps necessary to truly learn a thing.  The learning of any task we choose to undertake may be arduous and slow…but it’s doable.  Another message of hope - that we can…if we are willing to do what is required.

(5.)    Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  A psychologist writes about the “zone” – the mental process he calls “flow.”  Why does this psychological event occur – and how can we become better at inviting it in? 

     Re-reading my words makes me think I sound like some LSD hippie reading such books.  I’m not.  I’m a washed-up calf-roper from Oklahoma.  The only difference between a hummingbird and me is that the red is on the front of his neck.
     The truth remains these books helped me more than any other in my life.  They aided in my transformation from Fs to As in my student days.  They helped re-tool the inner workings of my golf swing, and they offered more assistance in the roping arena than any other single thing.  Here are a few examples of how…
     When I’m working with students, be they in the classroom, or some young golfer, or beginning roper, my first assignment is always to have them read How To Win Friends and Influence People.  Why?
     Because if you go into the classroom, to the first tee, or in the arena with your head down, eyes on the ground, hunched up like a sick bug – worried to death about your ability to perform – you are dead, amigo!  We can’t do anything in life with mope all over our face.  You cannot perform with your head and eyes cast down.  They have to be up looking for a higher prize.  Search aggressively for the higher prize!
     If on the other hand, you enter those respective arenas with your head up, looking people right square in the running lights, and treating them – and yourself – with great dignity, then we take the first baby-step toward believing maybe God really doesn’t make any junk after all.  Maybe we are deserving of success…if we are willing to work and do what is required.  Developing style and grace with people is the first step to developing style and grace in your golf swing.  To do both you have to believe in who you are and what you have been given.
     I played competitive golf for over two decades – probably 200 plus tournaments.  In addition to the normal swing flaws we all have, something else plagued me.  I didn’t know what to label the thing, but it haunted me.  If I played well in a tournament during the first couple of days, on Sunday, I would find myself paired with really good players in the final round – sometimes former tour players.  I never had a good Sunday.  I denied being nervous…but I was.  The nervousness did not manifest itself in the form of shaky trembling hands or a racing heart, but rather in the form of extremely high expectations.  (I’ll have to play a career round to compete with these people!)  Precisely the same thing happened in the roping arena.
     When I made the short-go, I would “change my game.”  Come crunch-time, I put intense pressure on myself to rope faster than my normal style.  That caused tension - which causes rushing - which causes poor performance.  Then I would berate myself.  Poorest of methods – yet that is exactly what so many of us do.  We need to remember, lower stress results in higher performance.
     Both The Inner Game and The Flow speak directly to these areas, and the works offer rare and fresh insights about optimizing our performance by following a different path.  One being the direct opposite of the advice we have been given all our lives – that advice being to try hard!  According to both authors, “trying hard” is counter-productive.  This is not to be interpreted as an exemption from hard work and practice.  Nor does it mean we don’t want to win, but rather to work and practice, and allow our natural ability to come through – unfettered by performance anxiety.  To get out of our own way. 

    By re-visiting my five old friends, I have found some answers to certain performance problems that plagued me all my life.  I have not vanquished these problems, but I have improved at them.  They no longer hold as much power over me as they once did.  Gallwey refers to that as winning “the inner game.”  A small victory, but still a sweet one just the same. 

     As these books came into my life over the years, I assumed I would read them, and they would be on their way.  They would go to that mysterious place all books – once read – retire to.  Places like garage sales, used bookstores, or the local library.  But my old friends didn’t do that.  They stayed with me through a couple of marriages and two moves to new homes…and they are still here.  They have been sitting around on my desk and on my kitchen table for almost thirty years now.  Them with their dog-ears bent like Rowdy’s, and all that black ink on their worn and underlined pages.  In the beginning, I never dreamed I would read them so many times, or that they would help me so much, and still they continue to do so.  They helped me get through school, to shoot lower scores, and to realize it wasn’t my horse after all…it was always me.  I’m grateful to my five old friends. 

     Consider some summer reading.  You might find some old friends too.  You can have some nice cold tea with lemon and lots of ice.  And since you will be so busy reading and thinking about your life, you won’t have time to work out…and you won’t have to get all sweaty.



Michael's latest release, Reflections Of A Cowboy, is currently available in audio book form. The two volume set consists of articles, essays and excerpts from radio performances about good people and good horses in the life of an Oklahoma cowboy. Approximately 8 hours in length. Reflections Of A Cowboy in printed form is scheduled for release in the summer of 2005. Order from Michael's website.

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