Dopamine, Your Mental Game, and What That Means For Golf Improvement

Golfers are no stranger to frequent disappointment. One of the major problems with golf today as see from the perspective of the weekend warrior, is that the game is just too difficult.  There is nothing fun about slicing the ball out of bounds, having to throw the ball out of the bunker, and then having a further second putt than the first.

I happen to love competition, and golf is the channel in which I am able to express myself in that regard. This means the better I become at golf the more enjoyment I will receive. This is true for obvious reasons and can be said for just about any other sport or activity on the planet. However, don’t think for a second that as soon as you become a better golfer you will stop feeling the same emotions of frustration, anger, and disappointment that you felt when shooting 100.

In order for me to get better, I constantly have to evaluate myself and push my expectations higher. If I can pinpoint what the difference is between my stuck in the 90’s golfing and now expecting to shoot under par whenever I go, it is simply the expectations I have for myself. All the other technical swing changes are secondary and are a direct result of how I see myself internally as a golfer.

When I came in after shooting the best score of my life, I was thrilled but also disappointed at the same time. There will always be shots that I felt that I left on the table. No matter how awesome or pathetic my performance was, looking back my score could have always been better or worse. Depending upon the expectations you set for yourself, golf will always be like this. These expectations will also dictate your level of satisfaction you receive on the golf course.

After hitting a satisfactory shot (one in accordance with your expectations) you will immediately sense feelings of joy and pleasure. This is the neurotransmitter dopamine performing its job as a “teaching” signal. When a certain swing is followed by a positive dopamine response, the brain is wired in such a way to allow for similar swings to occur in the future. The more you practice this desired move, the faster and more efficient the activity becomes through the development of myelin that surrounds the axon of a neuron.

If I could venture to guess why some golfers, no matter how hard they practice seem to never improve is because of their inability to incorporate feedback into their practice sessions. With golf there are so many variables that affect the result of a particular shot. The swing may feel the same, but the ball reacts differently in the air. Now your dopamine is all messed up.

Taking a look at why some people excel at a rate faster than others, I believe  has everything to do with how they practice and their expectations. If you are interested in learning more about perfect practice as it relates to the brain I recommend the book The Talent Code.

As far as I am concerned there are two different perspectives someone can take.

Person “A” says “I always expect the worst. That way I will never be dissatisfied.”

Person “B” says “I expect to win. I constantly set high expectations for myself knowing that I can achieve the goals I set for myself”

There are pro’s and con’s to both of these state-of-minds. The similarity that both of these people share is that they give 100% effort into the task at hand. Person “A” is no less motivated than Person “B”.

Person “A” I feel will be more free’d up so to speak when competing and can let his true potential out without getting in his own way. If this person experiences defeat, they may be able to move on more quickly as past events will not weight them down as much. I see the main objective of this state-of-mind to be longevity and decrease the chances of burn-out. Any successes experienced for this person will be treasured and will surly be celebrated.

Person “B” on the other hand will ultimately experience a lot more failure than success as he see’s his situation. What allows person “B” to succeed is a conscious effort to place himself outside his comfort zone with the intention of improvement. Improvement may be hastened with this attitude as well as burn-out.

I tend to identify more with person “B”. So as I constantly up my expectation my dopamine will not be happy. It’s this discomfort that allows for improvement knowing that my brain is searching for the outcome that will deliver results that will match my new expectations.

So, are you currently comfortable with your results? If so, I invite you to step out of your comfort zone and find comfort with emotions of frustration, anger, and disappointment as you continue to reach for your true potential.



Compete against the best



Money List
Strokes Gained