From Setbacks to Comebacks: The Secret to Being Good on Your Worst Days

I was recently watching Tiger Woods give a master class on his approach to golf, and one thing that struck me was when he said, “Golf is a game of misses. It’s all about minimizing your bad shots, not maximizing your good ones. We all know that out here, everyone’s good is good. But how good is your bad? That’s the difference.

Tiger knows he doesn’t have to play a perfect round. In fact, Tiger Woods, perhaps the greatest player in golf history, said he’d be happy if he hit only one or two perfect shots in a tournament, not per round, but per tournament, which means 72 holes and around 150 swings that aren’t putts or chips. He’d be happy pulling off just one shot exactly as he envisioned.

Plenty of people are good at their jobs, but bad days are inevitable. Some days you wake up, and you just don’t have it. You try to give a presentation you’ve given dozens of times, but something isn’t clicking. Something’s off.

So, how do you minimize the damage?

We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.

Baseball players are notorious for going through slumps. Derek Jeter knew that slumps were an inevitable part of the game that everyone had to deal with at some point. Regardless of how well he was hitting on a given day, week, month, or season, statistically speaking, he knew a slump was always waiting just around the corner. Given the volume of at-bats in a 162-game season, it was only a matter of time.

Jeter was a legendary shortstop for the New York Yankees who had an exceptional ability to stay focused and not let a slump affect his confidence or approach at the plate. He understood that baseball is a game of averages, and a player’s performance over the course of a season is more important than what happens in a few games or even a few weeks. He also knew that slumps were a natural part of the game and that it was important to remain patient and trust in his abilities.

To combat slumps, Jeter would often make adjustments to his swing or approach, work on his mental game, and stay disciplined with his training and preparation. He also relied on his experience and past success to help him stay confident and focused during tough times.

In the end, Jeter’s approach paid off. He had a long and successful career, earning 14 All-Star selections, five Gold Glove Awards, and five World Series championships. Jeter’s ability to persevere through slumps and stay focused on the bigger picture is a lesson that can be applied not only in baseball but in life as well.

I heard from James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, the other day, and he said, ‘When determining the size or complexity of a new habit, ask yourself, “What can I stick to – even on my worst day?” Start there. Master the art of showing up. Then advance.’

While Clear was applying this to habits, the sentiment holds true for any profession or vocation. Start with the controllables.

The other week, I played my first round of golf of the year. My driving, chipping and putting felt better than ever. I couldn’t miss it.

But I couldn’t hit an iron shot to save my life. I was spraying 5-irons left and right, and I had no idea where they were going to land. By the 8th hole, I knew there was no fixing it. It was just going to be one of those bad days.

So I had to reframe my golf round. How was I going to get through eighteen holes with my worst? Instead of trying to force my swing to magically improve, I remained patient. Like Jeter, I made adjustments to my swing and stayed disciplined with my pre-shot routine. I also relied on my past success. I knew I could shoot in the low 80’s. I’d done it before. I reminded myself to stay confident.

I still shot a 91, but hey, it could have been worse.

So when you feel like shit, or maybe you’re hungover and you need to perform, just remember – Tiger Woods won a US Open on a broken leg so… What’s your excuse?


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