Jack Nicklaus is widely regarded as the greatest golf player of all time.
During his career, he racked up 18 major championships, 19 second places, and 9 third places over a period of 25 years (1).
When asked what makes a golf player great, Nicklaus gave a fascinating answer:
“I have always felt that the mettle of a player is not how well he’s playing when he’s playing well, but how well he scores and plays when he’s playing poorly.” (2)
No matter what your goals are, this is a key idea to keep in mind. Let me explain why.
The Importance of Playing Poorly Well
We all know what it’s like to work on our goals when we’re feeling inspired. And it’s pretty awesome.
Without much effort, we find ourselves doing the required work day after day.
There’s a feeling of effortlessness as our burning motivation carries us through each task.
Unfortunately, we’re all also very familiar with what happens when that initial inspiration goes away.
Suddenly, we have to muster up a ton of willpower to get anything done.
What previously came together pretty much all by itself now requires a ton of discipline.
It’s in these moments that it’s crucial we learn how to play poorly well.
The Power of Momentum
The team at Coach.me (where I’m one of the coaches) build all their coaching training around one core principle — momentum (3).
The reason for this is that when a client is sitting on their couch doing nothing, it can be very hard to spark a change.
But when someone is actively moving toward a goal, suddenly there are thousands of opportunities to do it.
With consistent action comes greater confidence and optimism. You can measure what’s working and make continual refinements. And you have constant opportunities to celebrate small wins to reinforce good habits.
Momentum is a super important principle in behavior change. And it’s also one of the most overlooked.
Momentum First, Results Second
We tend to think about our habits in a vacuum: “If I skip the gym today, it won’t make much of a difference in my long-term results.”
And although this is true, we’re forgetting about the importance of momentum.
If you skip one day, you might as well skip two. If one day off doesn’t affect your results, two won’t either.
Once you’ve skipped two days, you might as well skip the entire week. It still won’t affect the results much, and you’ll get a fresh start on Monday, right?
Well, not really. With all of your momentum gone, it will be much harder to get back into your routine.
It might take you weeks, months, or even years to get going again.
And this is why, on any given day, it’s not your results that are important.
What’s important is that you keep your momentum going.
Keep Big Mo Happy
Author Darren Hardy refers to momentum as his friend “Big Mo”:
“You can’t see or feel Mo, but you know when you’ve got it. You can’t count on Mo showing up to every occasion, but when it does – WOW! Big Mo can catapult you into the stratosphere of success. And once you’ve got Mo on your side, there’s almost no way anyone can catch you!” (4)
In my experience, it only takes a couple of missed occasions to scare off this precious friend.
If you miss one day, Mo gets cranky. If you miss two days, he’s packing his bags. If you miss three, he leaves and won’t return for a LONG time.
So, how do you develop the consistency to always have Big Mo by your side?
You learn how to play well when you’re playing poorly.
Minimum Daily Quotas
We all have days when we’re not on top of our game. And it’s crucial for our success to be prepared for these occasions.
The most effective strategy I’ve come across for playing well when I’m playing poorly is minimum daily quotas.
Whenever I find myself particularly tired and uninspired, I forget about the results. And instead, I focus on getting the absolute minimum done so I can keep Big Mo happy.
- Instead of writing 1,000 words, I write 100.
- Instead of going to gym, I go for a run or a brisk walk.
- Instead of meditating for 10 minutes, I sit for 2 minutes.
I find a way to do something, no matter how small, to move me closer to my goal.
By doing this, I ensure I make some progress every day and keep myself from having to start over without Mo.
And as a very nice bonus, once I hit my minimum daily quota, more often than not, I’ll find that I’ll WANT to keep going.
Almost always, getting started is the hardest part. So by aiming for a smaller goal than usual, you can often “trick” yourself into what becomes a great performance.
And that’s a very powerful tactic for playing poorly well.
How to Consistently Make Progress on Your Goals, In Summary
- You never know when inspiration will go away. Therefore, you need to know how to play poorly well.
- Momentum is a super important principle in behavior change.
- On any given day, your results aren’t nearly as important as keeping Big Mo happy.
- If you miss one day, Mo gets cranky. If you miss two days, he packs his bags. If you miss three, he’ll leave and not come back for a long time.
- When you’re not at the top of your game, use daily minimum quotas to keep Mo happy.
- By aiming for a smaller goal, you can often “trick” yourself into what becomes a great performance.
It’s okay to have days when you’re not on top of your game. We all have them. What’s important is that you still show up every single day and make some sort of progress.
Play poorly well and keep your momentum going. If you can do this, the results you want will show up as a natural side effect of your consistent efforts.
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” – Confucius