First I discovered darts - then archery

First I discovered darts.

We were chatting about the next day’s archery session during this week’s NLP Practitioner training and, as can often happen in such conversations, I had a personal insight – I made a link between archery, darts and my life in general.

But, first let’s back up a bit – a few decades, in fact.

When I first came to England in the late 60s I discovered the game of darts.  It was a great way of spending an evening at the local pub (The Fighting Cocks in Kingston upon Thames) while enjoying a relaxed pint or two with friends.

Yes, they did have darts in some Irish pubs but not nearly to the same extent as here in the UK where, at the time, virtually every pub had a dartboard.

Beginner’s luck?

Despite having no experience in the game I discovered I had a ‘natural talent’ for playing darts. I was pretty successful… for the first few weeks.

And then things went awry.  I gradually became quite hopeless at the game – almost to the point where hitting the dart board at all, let alone hitting the spot I wanted to hit, was a success.  My natural talent quickly evaporated – and this had nothing to do with the number of pints of beer I was drinking.

So I gave up darts and have never returned to the game.  I decided ‘I’m no good at darts’ and, in doing so, created a new belief, for and about myself…

Archery and darts

There are a lot of similarities between the two games or sports – darts and archery.  The archery target is bigger but then you stand much further away from it.  In archery you have a bow and arrow instead of a small dart.

In both games the objective is to hit a small section of the target with a limited number of arrows/darts per round. The skills are similar, too. After your first shot you adjust your aim to get nearer to the bull’s-eye.  And, if you over-adjust, the dart or arrow goes too far in the other direction.

It’s because of this skill and its parallel with how we approach targets and goals in our daily lives that we integrate Archery sessions into our NLP Practitioner Certification courses.

Trying too hard

So, back to the link I made in that chat about the following day’s archery session…

When I first took up darts, and much later took up archery, I was delighted with my initial skill in both, my beginner’s luck.

So much so that I was determined to replicate it – especially with darts.  So I began trying really hard to hit the right spots on the target. But I wasn’t playing anymore. I was working hard at it.

And the harder I worked at it the worse I got.

So I concluded:

‘I’m no good at this’

instead of

‘I had beginner’s luck because I approached the game with a sense of relaxed fun – let’s replicate that state and attitude and I might just be able to return to my initial skill.’

So my new belief (and negative) was about my personality – I’m no good at it – rather than about my attitude to the game and my need to practise.

Don’t make stupid mistakes

Trying too hard makes us mentally and physically tense. And it’s usually driven by that ‘get it right – don’t make stupid mistakes’ attitude.

On the other hand people who approach projects with a sense of fun and experimentation – and who focus on the activity rather than the result – seem to develop their skill easily and quickly.

My darts’ future?

Now that I’ve made these connections I could start playing darts again, I suppose…

If I could find a pub which still has an accessible darts board.

The snag is that darts isn’t good for business in today’s pubs.

Dart playing customers aren’t profitable. They are there to have fun rather than to get drunk. They linger too long over each pint. And the game takes up too much profit-making floor space.

As a result, the few pubs which still have a dartboard now attract dedicated players and it’s not easy to have a go if you’re just a casual, not-very-good player.

Me? I’m no longer ‘no good at darts’ – instead I’m someone who became too serious about a game, and therefore gave it up too quickly.

More importantly I’ll now be watching my approach to other project, as in, ‘am I approaching this with fun and experimentation – or trying too hard to get it right?’

So what about my archery phase?

Much the same thing happened. Got too serious. Tried too hard.  But… I still have a go now and again… and just for fun.

That 10,000 hours myth

In his book Outliers Malcom Gladwell claims we need 10,000 hours practise to become an expert.  I think I’ll invest my 000’s of hours elsewhere. And, in any case, Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hours claim is disputed by the team which did the research!

First posted 18 March 2012  and revised 9 January 2023. 

9 thoughts on “NLP, archery, and darts…”

  1. Hi Reg,

    As I was reading this blog entry I realised that when I am genuinely interested, fully present and enjoying my interaction with my clients, I seem to get a much better outcome than when I “try” too hard to get a result.

    A valuable lesson re-learnt and bought back to my attention, so thanks for the reminder to enjoy what I do rather than view it as a just another job. And if it’s any consolation darts isn’t my best game either…or could it be with the right attitude?

    Thanks again Reg.

    Kind regards


  2. Hi Graham

    Funnily enough, your comments reminded me of when I used to see clients: I sometimes sometimes had exactly the same experience…

    If I relaxed and let things happen we got into a loop which worked perfectly for both of us. But if I “wanted to help them” too much then I tried too hard and things just didn’t gel.

    So thanks for that reminder.

    Yes, I agree, it is about enjoying what we do. And I think it’s also about trusting that we are good, both consciously and unconsciously, at what we do – no need to over-egg the pudding, so to speak.



  3. Brilliant blog Reg! How I love this stuff. Its amazing how ‘trying too hard’ can impact my performance. I too have been learning a lot recently in terms of adapting my attitude. Having started to learn ‘mindfullness’ and other aspects of just being present in the moment, it’s amazing that by starting to consciously trying hard, it then very quickly turns to getting frustrated, which then results in some pretty unpleasant self-talk. Comes back downtown lowering the bar. I have started using this technique in my squash matches too, being consciously present, clear head, just having a curiosity, kind, fun attitude. I certainly do not start to think about my game plan whilst playing, I don’t ‘ try’ to do a good shot, I and definately do not focus upon winning the game. Since ‘letting go’, my average of winning has increased substainlly, and I’m enjoying the sport more than ever before.

    The same applies to my work. Since recovering from my illness last year, I have a much more relaxed attitude to life, lowering the bar certainly has improved things work wise,mi also enjoy it more, tending to be more productive, etc. what’s interesting is noticing when I start to ‘try too hard’, and understanding how I managed to do it!

  4. Thanks, Jonny

    Yes, ‘trying’ and meditation are mutually exclusive – the more you try to still the mind the more you move away from serenity/calmness.

    Interesting how so many of us need a shock to re-assess our values – and lower the bar. Even though lowering the bar can simply be making achievement more enjoyable rather than stressful…


  5. Took me nearly 10 goes before I could read and enter the funny recaptcha characters in order to post to my own blog 🙂

  6. When you ran your charity event a few years ago, Archery was one of (many) options which Rose and I participated in. Rose had never tried Archery before, she loved it and she was a natural archer, she still talks about the whole event “but” especially the Archery. 🙂

  7. jordansequillion

    Great blog… I personally run into issues with trying too hard, and this is compounded on the international level when the pressure is extremely high.

  8. Thanks for the ‘thanks’, Jordan. Glad you liked the article, especially in view of your experience and level of play.

    (By the way, I would highly recommend your blog as a great source of information about the art of archery (inner and outer). I especially liked the information about Instinctive Archery (which I’d never before even heard about – it sent me off on a fascinating YouTube exploration. It seems to be similar to the ideas in a book I read years ago: ‘Zen and the Art of Archery’. Do you think so?)

    “Trying to hard”? It’s almost a necessity at your level of the sport, isn’t it?

    I would guess that the issue is the ‘mind set’, especially at the international level of the sport. Yes, this tournament is very important to me. But if I focus on the end (winning) rather than on the process (enjoying my skill) I’ll miss the point…

    .. and get myself too tense to be to my best…

  9. Onundreeeeedaneeeeeighhhteeeeee!!!!

    Interesting post.

    Despite being neither an Englishman nor a sports fan, I love watching the Worlds Series. In more ways than one, the game is a celebration of the secondary strategy process: the tension between opponents (gladiator-like signs of victory when winning a leg), the ref announcing the score in a varied emphatic way, changing the formulation: “Raymond **requires**”, which would act as an anchor for letting the player know that s/he can win in that round.

    Darts could be perceived as an unintentional celebration of David Gordon’s point that, to be good at something has more to do with sustaining and adjusting the skill with the many things that can get you “off centre”.

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