Tiger’s Baby Steps

DSCN6338Check out these rare snapshots from Tiger Woods’s early childhood. (Located in the lobby of the Tiger Woods Center on Nike’s campus in Beaverton, Oregon, where they reside like holy artifacts at the Vatican.)

These photos are good symbols for the skills that Woods is going to spend the next few months trying to learn – the ones he missed out on while he was growing up – the skills of managing emotions and controlling impulses.

Managing emotions and controlling impulses are skills. That’s a strange and surprising thought, but it’s true – they’re neural circuits like any other, and in order to work fluently, they need to be fired over and over again, with intensity. (In a profound sense, that’s what cognitive-behavioral therapy is.)

The Tiger Woods story isn’t just moral — it’s neural. Therapy is Woods’s new driving range: where he will have a chance to build up these puny, underdeveloped skill circuits he should have grown a long time ago: how to treat people, how to build and sustain relationships.

Will it work? Well, Woods is at a disadvantage because he’s working against time (like a golf swing, these skills are developed far more efficiently when you’re younger). He’ll also be working against the reality-warping power of his fame, which colors every interaction with other people. Not to mention the presence of an entire world eager to magnify his every move into a Big Definitive Story.

I think it’s safe to say that Woods will never be as good at navigating emotions as he is at navigating a golf course. But can he put in a few thousand hours of hard work and get good enough?

For now, we can only say one thing: Tiger’s work ethic is going to come in very, very handy.