THE DAN PLAN / Dan returns to Australia to talk about failure

The Dan Plan project has been abandoned due to injury and Dan is only just starting to deal it.

A few years ago we had the pleasure of meeting, talking and playing golf with Dan McLaughlin from The Dan Plan. You may recall that Dan had set out at the age of 30 to spend 10,000 hours of deliberate practise to see if he could become a professional golfer.

The idea, proposed by Swedish psychologist Dr K. Anders Ericsson was that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an over-achiever in any specific field. So Dan decided to take up the challenge with golf.

With little experience playing golf this was going to be a difficult task; not just to achieve the goal but to stick with the plan and ignore the critics along the way.

Dan recently returned to Australia as a guest on SBS’ Insight program that aired last night titled “Bouncing Back”. And the topic of conversation had shifted away from the plan itself and towards the way people deal with failure and how one bounces back from it.

Over halfway to his goal, Dan had a handicap of 2.6 and things were looking good. But in 2015, and at just over the 6000 hour mark his back gave in.

Dan played through a twinge of pain in his back during the first round of a three day tournament. But by the end of the last round, specifically after his last drive that went straight down the middle, Dan found himself on the ground. He could barely get up. With severe back pain he stumbled off the golf course without hitting the approach shot to the 18th green and didn’t return to the golf course.

“So I made it five years, 6,000 hours and I was playing a tournament and my back had been aching and it got worse throughout the day, and it was a three day event,” McLaughlin said.

“The next day it kind of got a little worse and by the end of the third day I took a swing and just fell down and I couldn’t bend over, walk up and down stairs or pretty much do anything for six months without pain.”

Dan has battled to come to terms with the failure of the project that was so widely publicised, but was forthright when it came to the reasons for the injury.

“I had a good physical therapy work out and routine going for at least the first four years and then I started doing less of the preventative aspects and more of just swinging so it’s just one side and the repetition.,” McLaughlin said.

“So I think I slowly went from an all incorporated kind of healthy pursuit of it to just going and just doing the actual game itself.”

As this program went to air Dan has finally updated his blog with a heart-felt article on what he has been up to since the injury trying to come to terms with the situation and getting on with life.

I was lost for a long time, coasting through life trying to figure out what my purpose was.  Since the injury I have had times of depression, elation, hope, doubt and confusion.  The first 12 months I was in what I call optimistic denial about the state of my lower back and dealt with it both by being proactive at times and sloughing off the severity at other times.

I would take a week off of even thinking about holding a golf club, filling my days with whatever I could occupy the time with (which far too often was taking advantage of the micro-breweries in Portland and watching movies.

The whole thing is a great read and it’s easy to see why Dan has had such a rough time trying to deal with the failure to complete what an extraordinarily difficult challenge he has set himself. The difficulty in coming to terms with his own failure sounds almost as difficult as dealing with everyone else’s expectations for the project. At least to see it through to completion.

As mentioned at the beginning, I met Dan in 2014 and played a round of golf at Bonnie Doon Golf Club with him. I was surprised just how grounded and unassuming he was considering the publicity and giant task he had set for himself.

It’s easy to see why this project has come to an end and could be considered a failure, but to me he just seemed like a good guy. And that it probably enough. I wish him all the best.

Especially with his current craft beer career.

One thought on “THE DAN PLAN / Dan returns to Australia to talk about failure

  • Dr K. Anders Ericsson’s research was actually misinterpreted. His research showed that in a particular group of violinists, the best of the best had spent a total of 10,000 hours practising by the time they were twenty. The 10,000 hour rule does not apply to anything. It was just a number he observed in a few violinists.


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