The “Water Ball’ Phenomenon

By July 9, 2015Motivation

Why simply not giving ourselves the option may be the key to success.

“Alright Pops, look at the fairway and smack it out there.”

I said nothing about the water straight ahead, knowing my dad gets into his own head when it comes to shots where water is in play. His practice swing looked good and he stepped up to the ball.


“Dad, that water gets ya every time, doesn’t it?”

“Ah, don’t worry bud, that was my water ball. I’ll drop my good one up ahead.”

If you play golf, you know about the water ball, a term used for the old ball many golfers play if there’s a chance they may put it in the water.

This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to golf my first two rounds of the year. The first was with my dad, and he gave me a good run for my money. He basically imploded on the last 2 holes with a 3-putt and a ball in the water (he says he was being a good dad and letting me win).

The second round was with some good friends in from Calgary and we had another tight match. Something interesting that came up both days- and sparked an interesting conversation, was the idea of using a “water ball” on shots where water is in play.

Why do we do this? Are we expecting to fail?

Does this lead to us inevitably putting it in the drink?

More importantly, what if we just didn’t give ourselves the option to fail?

I never use a water ball. Whatever ball I’m playing, I step up and hit it. And, contrary to the rest of my golf game, I consistently steer clear of the water. Sometimes I choose the wrong club or misjudge my shot, but I almost never shank it into the water.

My theory is that because I don’t even give it a second thought or “give myself the option” to fail by using an old ball, I don’t fail as often. I play a water shot just like any other shot by focusing on where I want to put it, and hitting the ball. How often I put it there? That’s another story.

So what if we carried this over to the rest of our lives? What if, by not giving ourselves the chance to fail, we stopped or seriously curbed behaviours that got us off track?

The Story of Xiang Yu

In 210 BC, Chinese Commander Xiang Yu took an interesting approach as he led his troops into battle against the Qin (Ch’in) dynasty. As his troops slept for the night, Yu set fire to their ships and ordered that all cooking pots be crushed. He explained that without these necessities, his troops would have no choice but to fight their way to victory or perish.

How did they fare? His small army won nine consecutive battles , obliterating the main-force units of the Qin dynasty. (Source: Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely <– highly recommended).

How You Can Obliterate Your Bad Habits

Using the same principle, we too can eliminate our options and create an environment that breeds success. Let’s look at some habits that people generally struggle with in their lifestyle journey.

Snacking on Junk Food

It’s been a long day at work and you ate lunch 7 hours ago. Your stomach has been rumbling the entire torturous car ride home. To top it all off, there is NOTHING that you can cook in less than 30 minutes before your stomach starts eating itself. You start scrambling through the cupboards and in the top cupboard on the top shelf, there it is – a glorious, brand new bag of potato chips. You settle in in front of the TV, crush the entire bag and fall asleep before your show is over.

Sound familiar?

Here are two ways to stop the ongoing habit of snacking on junk food:

Stop buying junk food. Out of sight, out of mind. This will also make it damn hard to fill that sugar craving at 10PM.

Set aside time every week to plan, shop for and prep food. I do this on Sundays and the entire process takes about 2-3 hours. This means I never have to shop during the week and most of my meals and snacks are ready to go when I need them (and when I do not have time to prep them).

Skipping the Gym

You set your sights on getting fit and the best time to go is before work. Too many things crop up during the day and the kids need dinner after work. You have been hitting it religiously at 6AM, three days a week. But today is -40 degrees and your bed is just so damn warm. You can skip today, you’ll go tomorrow. Besides, you’ve been doing really well and deserve the day off. Slowly, your three sessions a week turn into two, then one.

I truly believe that just showing up consistently is far more important than what you actually do at the gym. Getting into the habit of doing it is the main priority. If a certain method isn’t working, then we can make changes. But you have to be there in the first place.

Below are 3 tips to stay consistent over the long haul:

Set a realistic goal for sessions per week and put them into your schedule as if they were meetings or appointments. These should be given the same importance as a meeting with your boss.

Lay out your workout clothes (or pack your workout bag) the night before, even if you don’t go in the morning.

Make sure the gym you go to is at least somewhat convenient based on your house and your workplace. This avoids the whole, “it’s too far” argument and makes it an easy stop on the way to or from work.

Staying Up Too Late

We are all guilty of staying up later than we should. I like to call it “Night Gavin” and “Morning Gavin”. Boy, does Morning Gavin ever hate Night Gavin some days.  It’s like I know I’m doing something that’s not good for me, but I just do it anyway.

“Ya, may as well watch Seinfeld instead of getting ready for bed.”

So here are my two “tricks” to keep this from happening (on a regular basis).

Get the TV (and all the screens) out of the bedroom and away from the bed. I do have my phone in my room but it is face down, just out of my reach. I also do my best to never look at it while lying in bed.

Leave 20-30 minutes to get ready for bed. While I’m brushing my teeth, etc. I start cooling down the engines, so-to-speak. When I’m awake, I generally have about 100 things going through my mind at once. If this is still the case once I get into bed, I have a notepad beside me and “brain dump” to avoid the racing mind. Set an alarm in your phone with the time you need to start getting ready for bed, and the time you need to be in bed. We all have a good idea of how much sleep we need to function optimally (I need 7+ hours), we just need to stick to it.

The Caveat

No one is perfect. So consider the following a RULE from a real, live fitness professional.

Use your “water ball” once in awhile.

Why? Because if we eat and act perfectly 100% of the time, life would be no fun. We would inevitably get sick and tired of being perfect and throw in the towel. Even worse, we would feel like a failure and the train would go right off the tracks.

Just be smart. If you buy junk food, buy it in the small, single serving packs. If you’re going to watch some late night TV, do it on the couch, away from your bed. If you’re going to skip the gym, you better not skip leg day!

Now, go forth and be healthy. But you might as well grab a couple water balls while you’re at it.

Just in case.

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Gavin McHale

Author Gavin McHale

Online training and nutrition coach, retired semi-pro hockey goalie, and ex-skinny kid. Currently a beer league superstar, and lover of lifting heavy things, Gavin will help you reclaim that athletic, dead sexy body, and shrink your clothing budget. Because tarps are always optional.

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