Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Process and Spot

By Steven Pressfield | Published: August 6, 2014

Boredom alert: this post is about golf.

Rory takes home the claret jug

If your reaction is “Arrggh!”, now is your chance to bolt. I promise, however, that what follows will be extremely relevant to you and me and to our endeavors as artists and entrepreneurs.

Here goes:

Rory McIlroy won the British Open a couple of weeks ago. He was out front the whole way, dominating the field. Rory was kicking butt so totally that reporters began asking him, “What are you thinking about out there? Do you have ‘key thoughts’ that are helping you play so well?”

Rory confessed that indeed he had two specific words that he was repeating to himself. But, he said, he wasn’t going to utter a peep about these words until the championship was over. He didn’t want to shoot his mouth off prematurely and then lose.

He won.

Reporters clamored. “What were your two ‘secret thoughts’ this week?”

Rory said, “You guys are gonna be disappointed. My two thoughts are nothing sexy or profound. I just thought ‘Process’ and ‘Spot.”

Process and Spot.

What did Rory mean by this? He explained that “process” meant to him the consistent, repeated sequence of thoughts and actions (his “pre-shot routine”) that he performed before every swing.

Golfers do this. Watch Tiger or Phil. Before every swing, the player goes through his unique, personal, but identical routine. Everyone on tour does this, male or female. The process goes roughly like this:

Study the lie and the distance, take into consideration wind and other external factors, decide what kind of shot you want to hit (high, low, draw, fade), visualize this shot, select the proper club to play it, and so forth—including controlling your breathing, minding the speed at which you walk, adhering to the customary number of practice swings you take—up to the moment of actually pulling the trigger.

That’s what Rory meant by “process.”

His resolution at the start of the championship was, “When hitting from the tee or fairway, I will banish every thought except ‘process.’ I will go through my process and judge myself on nothing else.”

Next: Spot.

This was Rory’s thought for putts on the greens.

After studying whatever putt he happened to be facing and deciding how that putt would break (right or left or both) and at what speed he wanted to hit it, Rory would then pick a spot partway between his ball and the hole—a lighter patch of grass perhaps, something he could use as a mark to aim at. His entire focus would then be to roll his ball over that spot.

Thus, Rory’s second resolution: “When putting on the green, I will banish every thought except ‘Spot’. Pick a spot and roll the ball over it.”

There is tremendous wisdom in both these resolutions. Let’s examine what they accomplish and the mindset they produce.

1. Both resolutions detach Rory emotionally from the outcome of his play.

He is not thinking, “OMG, it’s gonna be so great when I win this tournament!” or “OMG, how terrible will it be if I choke and lose this tournament?” He’s not letting himself get excited about how well he’s playing or worrying about how well his rivals are playing. He’s not planning his getaway should he blow the tourney, nor is he rehearsing his acceptance speech should he win.

By thinking “process,” Rory has even detached himself for the outcome of each individual shot.

Ball in fairway? Fine, I went through my process.

Ball in rough? Fine, I went through my process.

In other words, Rory is limiting himself to attempting to control only those factors that he can control.

He can control the act of going through his process.

He has mentally let go of everything else.

There’s a word for this mindset. The word is professional.

“Spot” accomplishes the identical aim.

Standing over a twenty-foot birdie putt that could put him four shots ahead of his closest competitor, Rory is not thinking, “OMG, if I make this putt I’ll have the championship in the bag!” or, “OMG, if I three-putt, the momentum will swing to Rickie Fowler and he’ll defeat me and humiliate me.”

Rory is simply thinking, “Roll the ball over that spot.”

Again, he is seeking to control only that which he can control.

There’s a great book by a gentleman named Nick Murray called The Game of Numbers. I’m gonna write about it in this space next week. Mr. Murray’s thesis is this:

If we just keep taking positive steps toward our goal (and refuse to be discouraged if these steps don’t produce immediate success), eventually the law of numbers will start working in our favor, and the outcome will be success.

Of course Rory wanted to win the British Open. His aim was victory.

But he knew that to over-obsess about this ultimate object would not help him perform. His mind would be on the wrong target.

So Rory resolved to focus only on those actions that he could control. Maybe Dustin Johnson or Rickie Fowler were going to outplay him. So be it. In that case they would win and Rory wouldn’t.

That’s life.

We can’t control the outcome. We can only control how we play the game.

Process and Spot.

If you and I are plunging into a first draft of our novel, we can’t let ourselves think, “OMG, this is gonna be better than Tolstoy!” or, “OMG, how the hell am I ever gonna write 630 pages?”

Those are amateur thoughts. They are the thoughts that our own Resistance wants us to think. Resistance wants us to read over our first day’s work and hate it (or love it). It wants that because then we’ll start trying too hard (or not trying hard enough.) We’ll choke. We’ll flame out. We’ll crash.

But if we’re smart, if we’re professional, if we’re thinking like Rory, we will resolve to ourselves, as he did:

1. I can only control what I can control. I will not try to control what I can’t control.

2. I can control the time I put in.

3. I can control how hard I try.

Therefore:

As Rory did not judge himself by whether his drive ended up in the fairway or the rough (because his resolution was simply to go through his Process), we will not judge ourselves on how good or how bad yesterday’s pages were.

We’ll control what we can control.

We’ll produce pages.

Process.

As Rory did not judge himself by whether a putt went in the hole or rolled three feet past (because his resolution was only to roll the ball over his Spot), we will likewise resolve not to get ahead of ourselves and start obsessing over Outcome, i.e., “Will I be published? Will this book pay the rent? Will my spouse/parents/school chums finally respect me?”

Nobody can control the outcome.

All you and I can do is stick to our process and roll our ball over the spot.

That’s enough.

It worked for Rory.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

21 Responses to “Process and Spot”

  1. Sharon
    August 6, 2014 at 5:48 am

    This had me LOL as I’ve been up all night writing wondering what the hell I’m doing. I have a prolific amount of material, unsure how it hangs together. So I’m therefore writing more for the woodpile but that is the only process/spot I could rendition toward this mess. I persist! Thanks.

    “If you and I are plunging into a first draft of our novel, we can’t let ourselves think, “OMG, this is gonna be better than Tolstoy!” or, “OMG, how the hell am I ever gonna write 630 pages?”

  2. Mary Doyle
    August 6, 2014 at 5:56 am

    Boring? Hardly. This is a liberating reminder to let go of the outcome and just keep at it. It’s so simple, but we make it so difficult by allowing Resistance to pull our attention away from the work. This is a lesson I need to revisit often, and I can always count on finding it here. As always, thanks!

  3. August 6, 2014 at 6:16 am

    Steven, I dearly adore this. If you have any enemies, I will help you smite them. The act will be one of thanks for being my Jiminy Cricket, but it will barely scratch the surface.

  4. Walter Trauth
    August 6, 2014 at 6:31 am

    Excellent Steven. Succeed at the process. Let the outcome take care of itself. Your Podcast(slow drip method) is the only one I can watch. The rest eat up too much time.

  5. August 6, 2014 at 6:39 am

    Steve, I’ve been applying these methods to my work for a long time. But now I’m thinking that I want to maintain this attitude when I market my work and when I learn the computer skills I neeed.

    Thanks!

  6. Kent Faver
    August 6, 2014 at 7:01 am

    Not as huge of a fan as I once was – but I saw this interview with David Feherty live – and loved it!

    Of course this looks easy when all cylinders are clicking. But, look at Tiger last week – wrenched his back and he looked terrible before finally withdrawing. Rest assured though, Tiger was back into his process this week (if the back allows) – never for a second questioning his horrendous results the week before. This is why I love pro golf.

  7. August 6, 2014 at 7:29 am

    There’s a book called “The Mental Game of Baseball” (maybe it’s “Aspect” instead of “Game” – I haven’t read it in a while.) It lays out, in detail, the baseball equivalent of “process and spot.” It talks about how Tom Seaver (I think), had a routine he never varied: Every day, he’d pitch 100 baseballs. (After practice.) No more, no less, rain or shine. The book talks about separating process from outcome, controllable goals vs. desired results. (It talks about swing, stance, etc., as you talk about golfers’ routine.) Blocking out distractions, concentrating, being in the moment, or “zone.” One of the paradoxes of performance, as you’ve noted repeatedly, is that good, professional, performance takes us out of ourselves. “We” are not there. Only afterwards does ego return to take “credit.”

    I saw this when helping coach Little League, and when I played tournament chess. As hard as it is to master technique and craft, it’s harder to “turn pro” – to focus only on “process and spot” and live in that world. Indeed, for the true professional, at the moment of performance, there is no other world. He or she is only in that world. The “roar of the crowd”? It’s background noise, perhaps a silent battery unnoticed, like what stage managers do.

    The other part of “process and spot” that struck me is that in a way it’s different than say karate or martial arts, where the visualization takes one through the object. Rory McIlroy focused on pre-goal performance: he didn’t visualize where the ball would land; he didn’t visualize the putt going through the cup (and therefore, landing in it – parallel to a karate kick through the plank which shatters them.) Rather, he focused on a point midway, allowing his “process and spot” to carry through – do the follow-through. I think in “The Mental Game of Baseball” they talk about the same thing: the process is not where the ball will go, but where the swing of the bat ends. In other words, the “carry-through” (through-put in literary terms?) has to be allowed to be the automatic consequence of the “process and spot.”

    That may be because being a professional, as you’re defining it, requires visualization. It’s visualization, that comes from routine and practice, that takes the professional into his or her “private world,” the zone. (We need a word for “private world,” that place uniquely our own from which we share our vision (pre-visualized) with the world.

  8. BING
    August 6, 2014 at 8:14 am

    WOW, great responses. I LOVE this kind of information. Control what I can control. I have an extremely hard goal I want to acomplish which I do not want to talk about at this time. My lizard brain is alive and well. If I DO what I can control I will see my goal come true.
    I’m not a writer, my passion is building.

    Shalom – Bing

  9. August 6, 2014 at 8:15 am

    Love it. You also speak to this in “The War of Art”, only being entitled to the labor, not the fruits of our labor.

    I also love that. Humility is not *yet* (obviously an optimistic adjective here…) an intrinsic characteristic in my makeup. Not even close. The sad truth is I have lived mostly in a dichotomy of ‘superior to’ or ‘not worthy of’ for most of my life.

    Staying present, focusing only on the actions I can control, is an act of humility. It is a willingness to do my part in the larger drama of this world.

    Kelly and I completed our race on Sunday. I had nothing left. I was empty. I slept about 15 hour in total the 5 days until the race, in fact we only slept about 90 minutes the day before.

    Every fiber in my being was thrown into it. If anyone of the 452 registrants (YAAAAAAA! We only had 200ish last year!!!!) didn’t like the event…then I am not your guy. That was all I could do. It was my absolute best effort.

    Saturday night when Kelly and I were attaching bib numbers to printed registration forms and waivers–it was late and I was exhausted. I was fighting with myself to not get angry. We made a bad decision earlier on how to conduct registration. We were going to be up very, very late–and tomorrow was game day. In the past, I have let circumstances dictate my mood. I would lash out in anger–and of course hurt anyone within spitting distance of me. To include my lovely wife of almost 22 years. Not humble. Not even close. Jack Assery.

    I sat there attaching these bibs knowing we had so much to do, sensing the anger, frustration. I refused to look at my watch. I did not want to give Resistance any purchase. I told myself, “Work through this. You will survive. You chose this. Now do it”.

    Even with a level of exhaustion I have not felt since combat–I had my own PR during the race. I also thought of another Pressfield quote, “Athletes know they have to play hurt.”

    I played hurt. I did not lash out in anger. I took the labor for what it was. An opportunity to serve. To do my best. To be naked before the Gods, and go all in.

    It felt great. I know what it feels like to have completely given everything I have. It is the only feeling I want to chase again. I was fully alive. I loved it.
    bsn

  10. August 6, 2014 at 8:56 am

    Thank you Steve,

    I wrote this on the white board by my writing desk.
    “I can control the time I put in.I can control how hard I try. Process. Spot.”

    Now back to writing.

    This is not the time to plan the food to serve at the book signing. The book isn’t finished.

    Sincerely,
    Pamela

  11. August 6, 2014 at 9:09 am

    Process & spot, excellent! Adapting key elements of the mental game from other disciplines including sports is a great source of inspiration, process and spot. Years ago, Vic Braden’s “Tennis for the Future” and Tim Gallwey’s “The Inner Game of Tennis” did that for me, with application to design and leadership(As a side benefit, they helped my tennis game, too!).

  12. August 6, 2014 at 10:17 am

    “Spot” on post. Pun intended. Perfectionism, be gone! All I need to remember is: process, spot.

    Love the golf example.

  13. August 6, 2014 at 10:36 am

    Dear Steven,
    Thank you for all your non-stop hard work to help aspiring writers, artists and entrepreneurs. After finishing Turning Pro I’ve been meaning to also thank you for the white pages at the end of that book. As you can imagine – the reader of Turning Pro will often go through some soul searching, there will be moments of doubt, of negativity. In one of those moments of self-discovery it became a bit hard to read so I paused and turned over towards the end and this is when I saw the white pages. At that moment I realized that not all is written and I get to have some white pages to fill too. Your message was clear and kind – you giving me the space to write in your book has worked as you giving me permission to write anywhere and on anything. It was liberating and it is a lasting feeling and I wanted to mention how extremely grateful I am to you for giving me these white pages.
    Thank you
    Vlad

  14. August 6, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    Your effort belongs to you. The result belongs to God.

  15. Barbara
    August 7, 2014 at 2:51 am

    Thanks for writing. It helps more than you know!
    Barbara

  16. August 7, 2014 at 7:06 am

    Steven, thanks for sharing these thoughts. I really like the use of the metaphor of a (serious) game against writing (or choose any other endeavor).

    As it turns out, I think I stumbled on this myself this year. I’m beginning to show some issues with my blood sugar — nothing serious, yet — and so decided to increase my physical activity and change my diet. In the process, I’m losing a bit of weight and increasing my physical strength.

    I cannot control the outcome of my labors. I can only own the process and make a commitment to continuing the process as long as I can.

    I’ve been talking to my older son about these things. I call it a “long view” based on so many things read over the last few years. But it’s real for me now, not theoretical. I show up, do the work, make measurements (one can only track what one measures), and then learn from the process. I make adjustments, show up the next day, and do it again. If derailed for some reason (any reason, really), it’s OK. I just show up the next day or week and start the process once again. The short term outcome is irrelevant; only the long view is important.

    “Spot and process,” the “long view,” “showing up,” and such terms define the professional. You’ve shown me several ways of looking at these things. Thank you.

  17. Danna Vitt
    August 7, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Why is this so hard to remember and put into action?
    I’ve got to control my mind, it seems to be one of the biggest things outside of my control :) That’s my big ah ha for the day. My mind is not outside of my control but I sometimes allow it to be. Thanks for the nudge today, Steve. You know and nudge so well.

  18. Sonja
    August 7, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    This is fantastic! What a great reminder, yet some days so difficult to remember.
    Michael Phelps, if you study him, has a similar process—hard rock music blaring in his headphones, and those long arm flaps performs before he dives in…,

    Thank you, Steven!

  19. August 9, 2014 at 9:57 am

    Wonderful!

    Adds another window to the act of being Pro.
    This window is panoramic and it encompasses every view.
    The only “view” one needs.

    Thank you.

  20. August 12, 2014 at 3:13 am

    One of the most profound experiences I’ve had was from a mentor of mine. At the time I couldn’t put two words together but my mentor friend broke writing down and made it easier. He took the fear away and made writing fun.

    His ideas went far beyond writing and he helped me see the bigger picture. He helped me improve my golf game. Although I never quite made it at the professional level I have made a career from writing and helping other golfers.

    It’s great to see a golf lesson helping writers. It’s funny how all this works.

    Thanks Steven for a great and insightful article. Hope the golf game is going well!

  21. Stephen Bermingham
    August 12, 2014 at 5:37 am

    Process and Spot. Good dog names. Although Claret Jug and Wanamaker aren’t too shabby either.

    Thanks for the advice Steve, mentally invigorating as always.

    Go raibh maith agat Stiofáin agus Leabhair na hÉireann dubh