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How to Develop and Harness Compulsions

The 33rd Secret

In order to become skillful at anything, the great requirement is persistence. In order for persistence to maintain itself, emotional drive is necessary. Some people have more of this drive than others. Some have it so highly developed that they are possessed by the drive instead of possessing it. One form this takes is that of the compulsion.
A compulsion can become pathological and senseless when patients feel that they can ward off evil by not stepping on the cracks in the sidewalk or when golfers become superstitious, or it can be harnessed into productive channels. A harnessed compulsion often leads to spectacular achievement. I have had compulsive patients who were only passably bright make straight "A" marks.
Whenever I have wanted to complete a task that appeared to be arduous, I have deliberately made a compulsion out of it. This is the simplest way I know to provide maximum insurance for success. A compulsion is not difficult to understand if we think of it as a very powerful interest. Any interest can become compulsive. The more we do something, the more interested we are in continuing it. This is true of the hardest and most menial of tasks.
I read recently of a barber who had become nationally famous and wealthy as an after-dinner speaker. He still continues to barber!
During the depression, there was no work available. Under the WPA program, an unemployed street sweeper received a weekly relief check. He bought a broom and swept streets for nothing.
During World War II it was found that captured doctors would collaborate in cruel experiments on fellow prisoners if only they were permitted to practice medicine.
In such cases, we must suspect that interests had become compulsive. The trick, then, is to harness proper compulsions.
A proper compulsion can be generated by first overcoming inertia, then establishing correct habits of practice, and finally making these habits so strong that they drive us automatically to learning. It is said of Hogan that he has often practiced in bad weather. By this manner he prepared himself to handle the special variables that surround play in rain, wind, or cold. It is also likely that his habits were so strong that he could not keep from practicing even when the weather was bad.
The compulsion must be controlled, for it can lead to the error of the "fixed idea." This is a common underlying error which perpetuates poor form when a golfer adopts an idea so strongly that it restricts his ability to make alternative decisions.
One instance of this occurred in the 1954 Masters. Billy Joe Patton, the long-hitting amateur, had decided before teeing off that he would not play it safe but rather would "go for broke" along the route. With some excellent play and some luck, he came to the final round leading the field with a few holes left. At this point his lead was such that he could have won the tournament with conservative shooting. Playing with the attitude he had carried with him throughout the tournament, he elected to play for a birdie by gambling with a long wood to reach a par five hole in two. He put the ball into the water and lost to Hogan and Snead by one stroke.
Another instance occurred in the Ryder Cup matches in 1959. On a water hole, when the American team and one British player had missed their second shots, the British team would have won if the final player, Weetman, had played safe. (They were one up with one to play.) Instead, Weetman shot into the water, resulting in the loss of the hole and tying up the match. When he was questioned about the costly mistake, Weetman said, "The only way I know how to play golf is to always shoot for it."
Fixed ideas—no matter what the source—often lead to persistent errors. In giving lessons, the professional would be wise to stimulate the learner to give expression to such ideas.
There is only one good fixed idea: do what the situation calls for. The problem is to develop a useful compulsion to improve but to guard against trying to solve all problems with one solution.