Psychologically speaking, here’s the reason we’re drawn to this frustrating, exhilarating sport

Provide me with a one-word description of golf?

This is a common question that I often pose to my clients. The array of emotion-based responses are fascinating, as clients weigh in with such adjectives as frustrating, exhilarating, peaceful, fun, maddening etc. But the most accurate and refreshing response received so far has been ‘addictive’!

And if you think about it clearly, what better one-word description encompasses all that we know about Golf.

There is no description more encompassing for this exhilarating sport. And this is best described by a psychological principle referred to as “intermittent reinforcement”. Intermittent reinforcement is the formula foundation for all forms of addiction. Take gambling with a slot machine as an example. You lose, lose, lose, lose and suddenly you win! And yet, despite the guaranteed repetitive loss and the incidental win, people love to play slot machines for hours. Why is intermittent reinforcement so powerful?

In its simplest translation, the reinforcement pattern that blooms into addiction must entail high levels of reward and amusement without the predictability factors which can trigger boredom. It’s the unpredictability of when the reward arrives that draws and engages people into the activity. The rewards that are distributed intermittently trigger and release significantly higher doses of a pleasure inducing hormone known as dopamine, than the same rewards distributed on a more consistent (predictable) basis.

Can you think of another activity that features more intermittent reinforcement than golf? No matter what level of golf you are playing, it is guaranteed that you are going to hit more shots that feel miss-struck than well-struck. Some may argue that the pros hit the ball well on almost every shot, but on the contrary the better you are the higher the standard to what constitutes a shot that delivers maximum satisfaction and reward. To a highly skilled golfer, maximum satisfaction is gained through a perfectly struck and executed shot. While by the same token, for the double-bogey player, a drive that is struck decently and stays in the fairway is also a cause for celebration.

The complex addicting aspects of this sport may begin with individual shots, but it certainly does not stop there! Let’s not neglect to take into consideration the array of challenges that every golfer faces with their two primary clubs: the driver and the putter. One involves an explosive movement that results in whacking the ball as far as humanly possible, while the other requires the delicate touch of a surgeon’s hand. And let’s not forget the long irons/hybrid shots and short-iron shots, along with chipping and pitching. The never-ending faculties and challenges to master excellence in this game will never fail to cease. Intermittent reinforcement is in every facet of the sport of golf. How often do you catch yourself reminiscing on that one epic round of golf or golf season where your performance was nothing short of excellence? That round of golf or the season which you simply have not managed to duplicate as of yet?

Fortunately, golf does not pose the same mental health challenges as other forms of addiction. On the contrary there are obvious health benefits such as exercise, social engagement, mindfulness, and time spent in nature.

Have you gained a clearer understanding to the many ways golf can be considered an addiction through intermittent reward? It’s the sport that requires a temperament unlike any other, and there is no surprise that it is also the activity with the highest number of participant’s worldwide.

Now consider the concept of the Mental Side of your Golf swing, and the strategies you gain through furthering your understanding on what occurs internally to the masses as they commit to 18 holes, and furthermore what happens to you personally as you move through the game that never stops rolling in your head. Knowledge is key no matter how you look at it. Personal knowledge on who you are, how you play, and the mental tendencies that you carry forward into every round is undoubtedly determinant of the quality of performance you unveil. Your thoughts move in accordance with your actions, hence the phrase ‘energy in motion’, it’s just a matter of how much you are willing to invest towards each department to gain the balance required to achieve greatness.

Stay tuned for more interesting facts on the Mental Side of your Golf Game.

Mahsa Durbano
Mahsa S Durbano is a mental skills coach who operates under the Limitless Performance team of professionals. The organization assists athletes, professionals and high performers in achieving their goals, surpassing their challenges and learning how to turn up the dial on performance.

2 thoughts on “Psychologically speaking, here’s the reason we’re drawn to this frustrating, exhilarating sport

  1. As I started to read Mahsa’s article it reminded me how much I hate golf but by the time I reached the second last paragraph, I love the game again. How the hell did that happen?
    Call me Mahsa!

    1. LOL – Dave thank you for sharing your thoughts. Tough to fully embrace all the shifting parts when it comes to the ever moving human mind – especially as it relates to golf. I’m just happy that despite the roller-coaster of emotions one may experience when reading this piece, that inevitably we all reach the grand finale falling right back in love with the sport that keeps drawing us back in – no matter the experience that was had – moments, hours, days ago 🙂

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