All Articles Leadership Management What golf can teach you about mastering your motivation (even if you don't play)

What golf can teach you about mastering your motivation (even if you don’t play)

Learn from Ken Blanchard about learning your motivation, mastering it and living it.

5 min read



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Ken Blanchard was inducted into Amazon’s Hall of Fame as one of its top 25 best-selling authors for a reason. But I don’t think it’s just because he writes a lot of books.

Knowing Ken for over 25 years and having the privilege of coauthoring three books with him, I discovered one of the keys to success. I think we can all learn from and apply his secret in our own lives: Ken has mastered his motivation.

His skill has enabled him to write over 65 books, create one of the most prominent leadership development companies in the world and garner fans who adore him across the globe.

Every morning, Ken sends an inspirational email to his entire company. In one of his recent messages, I was struck with how his description of a weekend golf game illustrated how he practices the skill of motivation — and the science behind how you can master your motivation.

Ken wrote:

I played in my first golf tournament in “many moons.” The match was between members from two local golf clubs. I haven’t played much recently and when I have, I’ve “sucked.” But this weekend I read “The Mulligan: A Parable of Second Chances” that I wrote with Wally Armstrong, one of the great golf teachers in the country. Lo and behold, I relearned some important things about golf and life.

First, if you focus only on results as the basis for your self-worth in any activity, your self-worth is up for grabs because you are not always going to get great results. The important question is: Why are you doing what you’re doing? I remembered that the real reasons I play golf are for fun, camaraderie, and the beauty of the surroundings. When I have that attitude, I relax. And, I’m amazed at the results that follow. That’s what happened today. I played great and my partner and I won our match going away. Fun was had by all, even our opponents, because we laughed and enjoyed each other.

Ken’s golf game can teach you about mastering your motivation — for anything you do. Here’s how.

  1. Ken noticed that he had not been playing well and made a choice to do something different. Creating choice is the first of three scientific truths for achieving your goals. Even something as routine as expense reports can be annoying. If you hate doing your expense reports, create choice by realizing you don’t have to do them. You can choose not to be reimbursed, be penalized by the accounting department or make the effort to complete and submit your reports on time. Your choice.
  2. Ken realized that one of the reasons he wasn’t playing well was because he had been playing for the wrong reasons. He shifted the reason behind his motivation from an external outlook driven by winning to an aligned outlook based on values. Creating connection is the second scientific truth for achieving your goals. You can create connection by looking for deeper meaning in what you do, finding a way to contribute to others and seeking the joy in pursuing your goal. If you are motivated by tangible or intangible rewards, you are less likely to succeed or experience a sense of well-being. Maybe submitting your expense reports on time helps someone in finance do their job better or quickens the billing cycle so your company improves cash flow. You can create connection for any goal by considering how the goal is aligned to important values you hold.
  3. Ken learned from his experience. He reread a book on golf that he helped write! He continues to learn and grow through his life experiences. And, Ken teaches others what he learns — a great way to reinforce it for himself. Creating competence is the third psychological need for achieving your goals. What can you stand to learn? When it comes to expense reports, maybe it’s patience!

By creating choice, connection and competence, not only did Ken’s performance improve, but he thrived — and so did the others around him. We can all benefit from his example by focusing on our values and not getting distracted by winning for the sake of winning, gaining status or power, enhancing our image, or receiving tangible rewards.

After I shared my observations with Ken, he shared them with the company in his next morning inspirational message, closing with this question that we can all ask ourselves as we begin each day:

So, what are the values that guide your behavior at work, at home and in your neighborhood? Have a good values-based day and be amazed with the positive results that follow. God bless! Ken


Susan Fowler implores leaders to stop trying to motivate people and is on a mission to help others learn the skill of motivation. In her latest book, Master Your Motivation: Three Scientific Truths for Achieving Your Goals, due out in June, Susan helps individuals master their own motivation, achieve their goals, and flourish as they succeed. She is also the author of bylined articles, peer-reviewed research and eight books, including the best-selling “Self Leadership and The One Minute Manager” with Ken Blanchard and “Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work … And What Does: The New Science of Leading, Engaging, and Energizing.” Tens of thousands of people worldwide have learned from her ideas through training programs, such as the Self Leadership and Optimal Motivation product lines. For more information, visit

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