3 key financial lessons I learned from playing golf

I took up golf about five years ago, and I have been surprised by the many lessons I've learned. Foremost, I never dreamed I could find time to play, or would even enjoy the game if I did play. But isn't it amazing, the capacity we all have for a real paradigm shift? Today I don't know what I would do without golf to occupy a significant portion of my leisure time.

As a wealth manager, I quickly discovered many parallels between golf and managing personal finances and investments. Like golf, investing and personal finance can often be an elusive challenge for many people, but it doesn't have to be. Consider the following guidelines and you'll have a much greater chance at success with both.

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Be patient and persistent. Consistent improvement with your golf game takes time, and it's not a linear process. I can't count the number of times I'd practice diligently on my swing and start to see improvement, only to be followed by a series of bad rounds. Believe me, I wanted to bail on the whole thing, but players who really improve don't blow up the strategy after a few bad shots.

Just like the markets, there will be lots of ups and downs, and you may want to quit. A really bad day of putting can be quite humbling. Just remember, you can't grow if you don't play the game. It will be worth your while to stick it out.

Take lessons or hire a coach. Is it possible to learn golf on your own? Absolutely, but the quicker route to success is typically by consulting a professional who can better educate you and help you avoid some disastrous mistakes.

"I think the most important lesson that golf teaches is to play your own game, not the game your neighbor is playing."

You see where I'm going with this. As an advisor, I routinely help my clients by educating them about the complex world of finance — offering strategies to reach their goals, while navigating potential challenges and obstacles. When you land in a hazard, you need to assess your options: Do you try to hit out or take a drop and penalty stroke?

You might not even know the right questions to ask. A coach will help identify where you are at now and develop a plan to improve your short and long game. They will also help you maintain the discipline to stick to your plan. I know that after seeking professional guidance, I made significantly more progress in my game than I would have been able to achieve on my own.

Play your own game. I think the most important lesson that golf teaches is to play your own game, not the game your neighbor is playing. Everyone is an expert these days, especially when they seem to be winning big with a strategy they swear is the secret to their success. Too often, people let the performance of others affect how they play their own game.

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Yes, we definitely can learn from great players, but adjusting our approach to imitate theirs often leads to problems. Investing is just the same. Your friend's appealing stock tip may not be the right fit for your risk tolerance or time horizon. Your financial situation, your goals, your plan are all uniquely yours, so it's imperative that you stick to your own strategy for achieving the best outcome for you.

(Editor's note: This guest column originally appeared on Investopedia.)

— By Lisa LaMarche, certified financial planner and co-founder and president of Milestone Wealth Advisors