Self-Consciousness And Its Effects

The writer and novelist David Foster Wallace was an avid and successful junior tennis player, and he wrote regularly about tennis. In his review of Tracy Austin’s auto-biography, using his own youth tennis game as the point of reference, he described what separates great from ordinary athletes as follows:  I would “get divided, paralyzed. As most ungreat athletes do.  Freeze up, choke. Lose our focus.  Become self-conscious. Cease to be wholly present in our wills and choices and movements.” 

I became serious about golf as a 12 year old, and that year began playing nearly every day from April through October. My best tournament scores from age 12 to 13 improved from 99 to 77. I started to gain attention from people at the course I played at, and others in the Seattle journey golf community. I possessed what people described as a natural swing, and I certainly practiced a lot. Others began to have high expectations of my potential, with my own expectations being higher than theirs. But, ultimately, Foster Wallace’s description of his tennis game is a pretty good summary of my golf game. His sentences above are both beautifully written and, for all but the select few, painful truth. The common narrative is that elite athletes worked harder than everyone else to get there, and what separates the great from the ungreat is a combination of determination, will and physical gifts dependent on the sport (strength, quickness, hand eye coordination, etc.). I think Foster Wallace’s description of what separates the elite from the rest is more accurate. For example, a golfer who at the start of a round is scoring below her or his normal range, soon finds her or his pulse quickening, body tightening and mind racing about a great score at the end of the day. The golfer knows the key to continued good play is simply letting go and trusting the same form that caused the fast start, to “stay in the moment”. But, as we all now, that is (far) most easily said than done. 

If you think about it, the present moment is all that exists. The past is gone, the future does not exist. Our lives are lived entirely in the present, but our minds have us “living” in the past and the future a lot more than the present. I played a golf tournament yesterday.

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