Dan McLaughlin has undertaken an experiment to test the 10,000 hour rule and see can he become a professional golfer after 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Here's an interview with him by Robbie Dunne
Follow Dan's journey at http://thedanplan.com/ https://www.facebook.com/TheDanPlanGolf?fref=ts and https://twitter.com/thedanplan
Follow Robbie Dunne at https://twitter.com/bobdonadini and https://www.facebook.com/robbiedunnewriter
Interview with Dan McLaughlin by Robbie Dunne
RD: You've undertaken this experiment of trying to become a professional golfer by dropping everything and testing the 10,000 hour rule. Would you consider it an experiment?
Dan: It's more like a life choice as opposed to an experiment or a project
RD: It was a talk with your brother that started this whole thing? How did that come about?
Dan: Actually, it began in 2009 in June, I was visiting my brother in Nebraska and we were playing a par 3, 9 hole course and I was completely terrible at it. I shot a 54-57 and afterward we were just talking about how far you could actually go if you were willing to drop everything and dedicate yourself to a completely new field and I figured the only way I would ever know the answer is if I went out and did it. I thought about it for a long time and decided to do it and 9 months later in April 2010, I quit my job and wanted to give it a go.
RD : We've all done some things enough times to be pros if you were to consider the 10,000 hour rule but it is more about deliberate practice as opposed to just doing it as a hobby, is the deliberate practice something you found difficult to get to grips with?
Dan: I find it difficult and rewarding. Deliberate practice is something, by definition, that is not fun. It's kind of working on your weaknesses and what I did in the past was go out and do something over and over and you just basically engrained the same habits by doing that but you don't actually improve.
RD: Good and bad habits?
Dan : Yeah, most people, say you play golf or whatever you do, you throw darts or play pool, you just go out and enjoy it and play it but you're not actually trying to improve yourself. There's a difference between doing something and deliberate practice, you're consciously working on improving your weaknesses
RD: What sports did you grow up playing?
Dan: I played tennis up until I was probably 13 and then I ran cross country and track but I was a hobbyist. I'd go out and play with friends. We'd play basketball or touch football, whatever. I never really got deep into anything.
RD: 90 minutes per practice session is the recommended amount; you have some pretty intense sessions on your blog. Do you find heavier sessions more fruitful?
Dan: Like anything, there are peaks and troughs and ebbs and flows. There's time where nothing seems to be working as it should be and then there are times when something clicks and you kind of jump to the next level. The real magic is sticking to it and allowing yourself to go through those lows in order to hit the highs.
RD: So it's important to know that when you plateau that you will eventually break the barrier?
Dan: The important thing is that you never know when that's going to happen. That's the important thing about the 10,000 hours. It's about forcing yourself push through those plateaus.
RD: One of your goals was to shot your own age or lower. You're 34 and you just did it four months ahead of schedule. How did that feel?
Dan: I turned 34 last year and I just wanted to shoot 2 under on a 9 and it just became a barrier. I had shot 1 under a handful of times, even more, probably 15 or 20 times but I'd never been able to shoot the 34 and I finally did it and it felt really good. Now my next goal is to do that on two nines in a row. 34 34 to shoot a 68 would be pretty special.
RD: You've even got all the lingo down; you're already talking like a pro. Do you find yourself thinking like a pro already too?
Dan: Well, it is my profession now so, when you get really deep into something, you just naturally start talking and thinking like that because that’s eventually what you want to be.
RD: Would you consider coming to play in Ireland? We've got the K Club (Home of the 2006 Ryder Cup) and some other really nice courses or do you have any other courses in mind around Europe?
Dan: Yeah, I'd love to. I was hoping to make it over to Ireland this year. I've been trying to make it there but I don't have a massive budget because I'm doing this all on savings so it makes it quite difficult to travel internationally. The only courses I have played are in the states like Southern California, Georgia and every course up in Oregon. Eventually, I'd love to play all the courses in Ireland because there are just so many amazing ones.
RD: We've got plenty of green grass so it is kind of natural. Lots of rain but plenty of golf courses too.
Dan: I think the weather in Ireland is very similar to Oregon. We get tonnes of rain and it's windy and it's the turf capital of America so we have tonnes of grass.
RD: Lots of turf around here too. Dan, you've mentioned human potential and progress several times in other interviews. Do you find it very liberating to break off all ties with your job and just go and do something like this?
Dan: Yes, it's very liberating and it's the most amazing experience that I've ever had but at the same time it can be very scary because when you leave something that has the security of a regular pay check in order to go off on your own exploration, there's a lot of uncertainties, it can be both exhilarating, thrilling and at the same time very overwhelming.
RD: It must be frightening in good ways too but have you ever had moments of real doubt as to what you were doing?
Dan: I've had some questions when it comes to the financials of it all. Just doubting whether or not I will be able to survive through the entire project but I've never had any doubt about my progress and what I've been working on and pushing myself towards
RD: Would you recommend it to somebody who was doubting what they were doing with their life?
Dan: Yeah, I wouldn't necessarily recommend golf but I'd definitely recommend keeping an open mind and not pigeon holing themselves into certain things just because they've done it for 5 or 10 years. I just think the modern world is pretty open and once you have drive and imagination, there's a lot of possibilities in this world.
RD: I've just been doing some work with goal-setting and I never knew how much of a science it actually is, your goals must be very specific? How strict are you with your goals?
Dan: I've been working with a guy who has helped me set goals and his name's Stuart and he's from the UK. He's been helping me establish the goals and make sure I stay on track because that's the most important thing as far as progress is concerned is just making sure that you have goals and you stick to them. I like processed goals and not necessarily outcome goals, like shooting 34, that's more of an outcome goal but the process goal behind it is becoming better with the driver, more consistent putting and more and all these other things that eventually lead to the outcome goals.
RD: So the goal "I want to learn Spanish" is great but that's more an outcome goal and you need processes to achieve it?
Dan: There has to be a very defined skeleton or system to get from point A to speaking Spanish, for example. It can’t just happen instantly; you have to be very specific with your steps along the way.
RD: What do you do to relax when you're not trying to achieve these goals? A lot of people use golf as a way to relax, surely you can't do this or is everything just golf 24/7?
Dan: For me, I treat it just like a job. It's what I do from 9 to 5 and afterwards, I stay pretty busy with it until really late, usually. I have a pretty normal life like hanging with friends and family, catching up on shows and stuff.
RD: Do you do a lot of reading as a way to figure out this project or do you try and read less about that to separate yourself from it?
Dan: I try to not read anything about my golf swing theories and mechanics because I rely on my coach to tell me that but I read a lot of books about the mental approach and focusing like how to control your emotions and how to approach a game like golf because the mental game is crucial so I try to read books in that field.
RD: Any books in particular?
Dan: Yeah, I really like "The Inner Game of Tennis", it's a great one and it was written in the 70's but it's something special and I think you can learn a lot about life in general by reading it.
RD: You've got so much time on the golf course to think about life. Do you think that the whole quitting of your job and doing what you want to do have given you an element of freedom you didn't have before?
Dan: Definitely, it's one of those things where I can just get out there and do my own thing. I practice a lot on my own so I have tonnes of time to think whether it's positive or negative and it's definitely mentally involved so once you stay positive, it can really be a positive, invigorating thing.
RD: You've been working with K Anders Ericsson (The Doctor responsible for the 10,000 hour rule); do you speak to him on a regular basis?
Dan: We don't necessarily talk on a regular basis but when I have any questions I either call him or email him, we probably catch up about once a month or so.
RD: The Book "Bounce" by Matthew Syed talks about that too and...
Dan: That's a really good book and I'd hope that when I make it over there, I'll catch up with Matthew in London
RD: K Anders Ericsson was saying how helpful it is to have a case study like you to watch right in front of him. Does he support your project or is it very objective?
Dan : He is a numbers guy and he is all about the research so he supports me and he is very encouraging and at the same time he is very interested in the data that is collected along the way and basically seeing my progress along the way. He has also helped put me in contact with a lot of people along the way too that can help my progress.
RD: How have you found online support? You have a decent online presence; do you enjoy the interaction with fans?
Dan: The best thing is the email. I get people emailing me every day about how I've inspired them and they are going to follow a passion of their own and it’s not necessarily about golf. It might be someone who always wanted to be a writer and they'll say, "I'm going to practice writing" or it can be piano or trumpet or I want to be an architect and there is all these people who see the site and it encourages them to pursue their own loves in life.
RD: What's your plan today, are you going to hit the course?
Dan: Yeah, yesterday we had 35 MPH winds so I just practiced chipping and putting because it didn't make any sense to hit any balls. you'd just hit it and it's whip to the left or right but today it looks really nice, there is just a light rain and it's about 48 degrees which, to me, is perfect winter golf.
RD: Who will you play with? Coach or friends?
Dan: My coach works down in the desert for 6 months in the winter and most of my friends have jobs so the only time I actually play with people is on the weekend and during the week I just work on the swing or go out on the course and bring 3 balls and just work on different shots and stuff like that.
RD: Your plan is to finish in 2016 and you said you want to travel to Europe but is there anything set in stone this year?
Dan: Everything is up in the air right now. I have plans to go to Germany in April and play in a pro-am tournament in Switzerland in June but it depends on whether or not a few things work out by then like sponsorship but aside from that, I am going to play in as many tournaments here in the Pacific Northwest and Oregon and Washington as I can this year just to continue gaining pressure experience.
RD: If you're ever in Ireland, we live about 5 minutes away from the K Club
Dan: If I do make it over, I'd love to get out and play a round!