Step 3: See Every Effort as an Opportunity to Relax

One of my favorite fictional characters is a parrot from Tom Robbins's Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. The parrot speaks words only once in a great while, and he says just one thing: "People of the world: Relax!"

The parrot doesn't need to include "dogs of the world" because they're relaxed already. Cookie, for example, is now writhing on his back in the grass, emitting small grunts of pleasure, without the slightest hint of concern that his chubby tummy and exquisite enjoyment are on display. I know people who've spent thousands of dollars on sex therapy trying to do that. Meanwhile, Cole is chasing a Frisbee, leaping into the air to make his catches more spectacular. I notice that when he's getting ready to run, his body doesn't tighten—it loosens. At full speed, his muscles seem as fluid as running water.

Here's one of the very few generalizations I believe unconditionally: There is not one useful thing we can do that we don't do better when we're relaxed. The harder, scarier, and more important the task you're undertaking, the more you'll benefit from relaxation. Are you speaking before a crowd of thousands? Relax! Sitting in a job interview? Relax! Being physically attacked? Any black belt will tell you that the first thing you should do, against all instinct, is relax, relax, relax!

One day—a day that has lingered in my memory despite countless attempts to repress it—I went skiing with a group of expert athletes in blizzard conditions. My friends wanted to ski runs with names like Panic Attack and Months in Traction, while I preferred Pokey Li'l Pony and Easy Does It. At first, my friends ribbed me good-naturedly. Then they realized I was serious, and became silently ashamed for me. Of course, I tensed up. After my third face-plant, the best skier in the group told me gently, "Martha, every scary obstacle is just an invitation to relax." I wish this invitation came with horse tranquilizers, but I took it to heart. Breathing deeply, I pictured my dogs dashing along the golf course. The image helped me relax enough to get my body down the mountain intact. If I could've relaxed like a Labrador retriever, my pride might have survived, too.

Step 4: Get the Ball on the Green

Please understand: I do not golf. I don't know why the music for televised tournaments sounds like the score for a film biography of God. I can't tell the difference between a putter, a chipper, a whacker, or whatever. However, as I walk the fairway, even I end up thinking in golf metaphors.

Most of my clients focus all their dreams on hitting one fabulous hole in one. If they could just get their novel published, or nab a role in a movie, or find true love, they tell me, they'd be set for life.

It doesn't work like that.

You could hit a hole in one and still lose a golf tournament, and you could win without ever hitting a hole in one. A great golfer is someone who usually gets the ball somewhat closer to the hole than most other people. Almost everything in life functions this way. No break is big enough to end all your problems, but consistently getting reasonably close to your objective, task after task, will put you far ahead of most other people. So dream of the hole in one, but know you can be a champion just by getting it on the green. On all 62 holes. Or whatever.


Next Story