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  • Dr. Lalit Chawla

E#17: How Golfing Makes you a better Doctor, Nurse, Teacher...


In this episode I share with you my conversation with a golf pro and why I felt afterwards that I should play more golf.

"It's not the 7th bad shot you hit that wrecks your game, it's all the thoughts that lead you to that 7th shot".

(This is the core of the transcript from the podcast. The Intro has been removed and some areas improved for reading ease.)


In this quick win episode, I want to share with you a quick message and something I learned from a golf pro that applies to the world of medicine and beyond.

I was recently in Hollywood, California, I wasn't there to play golf, but was at a private weekend event where I was learning to become a better speaker from the famous Roger Love; the voice coach to the Hollywood stars and top singers. I was fortunate enough to have been sitting next to a golf pro at dinner time, and one thing we talked about is golf.

I like to golf, and I'm somewhat reasonable at it, but I certainly would never quit my day job to pursue it. Now, Matt, the Golf Pro, who I was sitting next to, was interested in the work I did as a physician; I, on the other hand, was really interested in the work that he did as a golf pro and so I started asking him about golf.

"It must be tough, or you must need a lot of practice whereby you are playing par or lower than par golf.”

So I said to him, "It must be tough, or you must need a lot of practice whereby you are playing par or lower than par golf. (If you've never played golf, it means to have the least number of shots to get the golf ball in the hole and the least amount of shots overall in the round of golf).

I basically said to him when you're playing scratch golf (par golf) and playing golf at that level you must really have to pay attention to your technique, right?

He seemed not to hear me and then said

"let me ask you a question, what would be the top three things that you would advise another doctor to do to become better as a doctor or three things you would do personally to improve yourself as a doctor?"

"let me ask you question, what would be the top three things that you would advise another doctor to do to become better as a doctor or three things you would do personally to improve yourself as a doctor?"

I thought about it for a second and said:

"Well, first, I would say is increase your awareness of how you show up when you are interacting with the patient. Paying attention to your energy level, what are you focusing on, what is distracting you from being fully present. Are you, or am I checking my phone text or emails? So I guess increasing your awareness of how you show up in the doctor-patient interaction. I know personally if I give into the texts or unnecessary phone calls or tasks, that will distract me from being a good listener or essentially being a better physician.

Second, I would increase my attention to the way and how a patient is talking or behaving in front of me. Watching their body language and noting their verbal communication. Their pitch, pace, tone, and rhythm and what they are verbally saying to see if it is congruent with what's happening in their world. And does their description of their presenting medical issue or issues line up with the way they are speaking to me? I'm looking to see if there is something more in the background than just the primary reason they came in. In other words, if it's more than just merely a sore throat or something like an infection on the skin such as cellulitis. So I guess to increase my attention to how the patient is presenting themselves in that situation.

Then the third thing is that I would focus on where they are in terms of creating a change that they are desiring. To see if it's beyond something simple than taking an antibiotic or medication. In fact, as a doctor, you have to be mindful of their desire or wish even to take a medication. Does the patient have any preconceived notions, concerns or beliefs about the medication or treatment options. I believe the statistic is that about 30% of patients never take the medication that the doctor prescribes.

In terms of say trying to create a life change, say for example stopping smoking, exercising, or being a better father, mother, spouse, worker, etc; I'd want to make sure that whatever suggestion I give them, it is something that they can succeed at. In other words watching their environment and motivations. Bringing the advice or prescription to their level of acceptance and ability for them to carry it through. Asking questions like 'what kind of supports do they have? What are their motivation to make that change or new behaviour stick? I guess those would be the three things I would focus on if I wanted to be a better doctor or advice I'd give to another doctor."

"Right, you didn't mention to become a better diagnostician or come up with the lastest treatment plan or give them the latest and newest medication."

He said, "Right, you didn't mention to become a better diagnostician, or come up with the latest treatment plan or give them the latest and newest medication."

All those same three things that you mentioned are the same three things that require a person to become a better golfer. It's not solely about technique, it's not about the swing, as much as people think it is but it's really what's between our two ears. You used a word- mindful. Our brain and level of awareness determine how well we play better golf. Don't get me wrong, the technique is important, but not as much as people think it is to be exceptional at golf.

What hurts the golf player more than anything else is not the bad 7th shot that he or she made on the 3rd hole, but all the thoughts that lead you to that shot. "It's not the 7th bad shot you hit that wrecks your game; it's all the thoughts that lead you to that 7th shot".

So the first thing you said was increasing your awareness, the same thing applies in terms of how you are mentally when you step up to the ball and your surroundings.

The second thing you mentioned was paying attention; the same thing applies to golf.

The golfer has to pay attention to the environment and what the conditions are like and mentally to check in with himself:

'Which way is the wind blowing? Is it humid? Is the ball in higher thicker tough grass? That will change your approach to what club you will use and how you will strike the ball.

And the third thing, you mentioned: creating or implementing the change so that the person can succeed. This applies to golf too. Sometimes you have to hit a safer, shorter shot so that your next shot can be more impactful. In other words, what supports do you have to make you succeed, what club do you have in your bag? What hazards or environmental obstacles are surrounding you-so that you can send the ball to where it needs to go. Just because you can hit a ball 220 yards doesn't mean you should hit that every time, especially if there is a big lake that is 220 yards away. In those cases, it's wiser to hit a shorter shot then to sink it in the middle of the lake."

So I was like, "Wow, that totally makes sense."

So there you go, those were the three takeaway lessons I learned from a pro golfer. So to be better at whatever you do, whether it's to be a better clinician, golfer, tennis player, father, mother, friend, colleague, it's essential to think smarter and pay attention to those three things:

Our own awareness and presence we bring to the conversation, situation or task.

How attentive is the recipient to the situation?

What's their background or mindset?

How adaptable can you be to the environmental influences that exists?

Another takeaway I took was to play more golf so that you become a better doctor. I'm kinda of kidding but there is some truth to that at some level. Because the skill of improving our awareness and attention is a skill that's very attainable and reachable because it's a skill that we can enhance by practicing. And what you practice in one area of your life is very transferable to other areas of your life too. Some of the greatest communicators are the greatest musicians, artists and athletes because those are skills that they've worked on before in their art or craft.

So the question I ask you is:

"what is distracting you from being more aware in your important activities -whether its at work, home or play? What is your level of attention you bring to the interaction with a patient, a colleague, your partner or children? Are you paying attention to everything that is going on in their psychology and physiology?

Are you able to connect with them at the level where they are at? You wouldn't teach grade 12 math to a child in grade 3, and the same applies to the level of change we can expect in people we are trying to help. We need to meet them at their skill level and at their level in terms of their ability to understand and process information.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this quick podcast. It was meaningful for me, and I hope it may have been a reminder about some key fundamentals for you too.

Please email me at for your comments and what tricks and tips do you have to improve in those three areas I mentioned.

Thank you so much for listening let's together make a greater, more effective community and inspire people to live with Greater Harmony, Joy and Magic in their lives.

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I would love to hear any comments about this podcast and what would you like to hear in future episodes?

Hopefully you'll hit the greens to play several rounds of golf soon!

Lalit Chawla


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