Christopher Smith, Part 1: Context Specificity, Rewiring Your Emotions
By Brad Kearns
I travel to beautiful Eugene, OR to meet with my Speedgolf mentor and most excellent podcast guest, Christopher Smith. We had an intense all-day podcasting binge, interspersed with a long run around Eugene, including a stop at the Prefontaine Memorial high above the Willamette River. Christopher is a longtime PGA professional and the all-time king of the great sport of Speedgolf. He holds the official Guinness World Record for the lowest round of Speedgolf, when he shot 65 in 44 minutes at Jackson Park in Chicago in 2005. Yes, this guy can break par in under an hour! Can you? No, because he is the only person in history to do so in official competition. On YouTube, you can witness one of the greatest golf rounds in history, when Christopher shot a four-under par 68 in 53 minutes at the legendary Bandon Dunes course while shooting a promotional video. You can watch the entire round in only a few minutes on this entertaining high-speed video and it will absolutely blow your mind. Christopher is much more than a Speedgolfer. He is one of the top-100 ranked golf teachers in America and travels the world as a teacher/consultant for both the PGA of America and Nike Golf. Christopher gets to beta-test the coolest shoes before anyone, and yes Nike is coming out with a Speedgolf shoe (Sssshhhh)! He is also a lifelong student of health and peak performance, with a particular interest in the psychology of optimal training and competition. This first podcast covers many thoughtful topics about how to overcome fears, manage emotions, ask the right questions, and pursue true peak performance. Christopher is a passionate guy with an evolved perspective, and he has no problem calling out the many examples of bullshit in hectic modern life, whether it’s overhyped and misdirected golf instruction or the forces of consumerism that disconnect us from our appreciation of the natural and simple pleasures of life….such as his 22.5 year old cat whom he cares for intently. Golf is understandably the backdrop for Christopher’s philosophical observations, but his message applies to any and all peak performance ambitions in daily life. Sign up for his newsletter at ChristopherSmithGolf.com and you’ll see that’s is far more weighted toward life lessons than optimizing your swing plane. Christopher calls his teaching method, Train2Trust. Accordingly, you will get exposed on this show to topics like: More is not better, working smarter and more intently is better. Whatever you are doing, ask yourself, “are you getting better?” Maybe it’s because you are comfortable with the status quo and fear the unknown. Sports psychologists talk about thinking positive and so forth, but Christopher asserts that thoughts are triggered by emotions, and we must reprogram ourselves from an emotional standpoint to achieve real breakthroughs. He quotes a favorite book, “We are feeling creatures who think, not the other way around.” The most profound takeaway from Christopher’s approach is that for practice to be effective, you must have what he calls context specificity. Say that three times quickly so you never forget it! This means practice must resemble your competitive circumstances or your learning literally will not transfer over to a competitive environment. The concept of sinking ten short putts in a row on the practice queen is not very relevant to sinking a short putt on 18 to win the big bucks. Yes, you have to hone technique in practice so it becomes automatic (Christopher says you can do this very effectively in front of a mirror at home—don’t even need a club!), but you have to simulate competitive pressure in practice for maximum impact. For example, hitting a drive on the practice tee, walking around the parking lot, returning to hit a 6-iron, then walking over to the practice green and stroking a long putt, then a short putt, as if you were playing an actual hole. Context specificity is a vastly more profound concept than my aforementioned breezy example. Functional MRI studies reveal that different parts of the brain light up when you are on the practice green versus trying to make a putt under pressure. Maybe this sounds familiar if you practice your presentation in front of a mirror and then feel a little different when you are called to the podium in a packed lecture hall! Furthering this concept, functional MRIs show profound changes in brain chemistry for people who are asked to go from an angry state to list things they are grateful for. If you get a triple bogey on the golf course or something similar in daily life, express some gratitude and you will calm down! Regarding emotions, Christopher suggests that even anger is okay if it energizes you, but if your emotions weaken you then it’s time to do some hard work rewiring. This is a show of deep content that will really get you thinking, and with more coming in part two!