Golf offers lesson on emotional payoffs

The red flags go up and a hush settles over the crowd.

Golf offers lesson on emotional payoffs

The red flags go up and a hush settles over the crowd. Even the cars on the roadway come to a full stop. This is golf at its best—and this happened every time the young LPGA players teed up at the CP Women’s Open at the Vancouver Golf Club last month.

Four years ago Michelle Wie won the same LPGA tournament, held on the same golf course. However, then classified an “amateur”, she took home none of the purse. She returned after turning pro to take a large piece of the $2 million-plus prize.

Brook Henderson won the Cambia Portland Classic by eight strokes a week earlier and became the third-youngest champion in LPGA Tour history. She finished this tournament 4-under-par.  At 17 years, Henderson had earned $195,000 US and $661,818 in 10 events this year.  Last year, this young golfer could have played at the Vancouver Golf Club for free.

According to a recent NAVICOM study, there are close to 5.7 million golfers in Canada.  There are perhaps, 20 really, really good, professional Canadian players.

The frustrations of golf are well known. Mark Twain is quoted as having said that golf is ‘a good walk spoiled’. Sportswriter Jim Murray once said, “Golf is not a game, it’s bondage. It was obviously devised by a man torn with guilt, eager to atone for his sins.” Their humour notwithstanding, one has to scratch their head and ask ‘why, just why do people keep doing things that bring such frustration, anguish and in some cases, harm?”

Behavioural psychologists believe ‘psychological payoffs’ hook people into repeated behaviour patterns. Providing some sort of reward, these rewards can be positive, however, eventually a downside may appear.

Common examples of these types of behaviour are: problematic ways of interacting with people, overeating, procrastinating, excessive spending, exercising, TV and/or Internet.

In psychology speak; ‘payoffs’ come in two varieties; getting more of something wanted and experiencing less of what is not wanted.  These experiences, ‘pay off’ to different areas: emotions, thoughts, physical being and situations.  What is important to recognize is that unwanted behaviours are often associated with a mixture of wanted and unwanted results. And that unwanted behaviour will have multiple and different types of payoffs.

There is no one simple answer.

A good example of this is when a person breaks their steadfast diet and overeats. They might feel guilt or shame while also feeling excitement for rebelling against self-imposed rules.  At the same time, they may also be craving ‘sweets’ and after all, they think,  they deserve to enjoy the party.

Emotionally, one of the most important payoffs associated with unwanted behaviour is reduced anxiety, tension or stress. There is a large variety of different types of unwanted behaviours to help people reduce these uncomfortable feelings. Unfortunately, the reduction is temporary and thereby hooks people.

Thought payoffs come in many different types and are at the root of most unwanted behaviours.  A predominant type of thought payoff is distraction from thinking about something that is difficult think about— needing to ask for change, making a change and believing change will actually occur.

People numb themselves out with distractions to keep from thinking about aspects of their life/ relationships and become stuck in negative thinking.

Physical and situational payoffs deal with what happens after the unwanted behaviour. Does doing the unwanted behaviour ‘get you out of’ something you didn’t want to do or something that would be difficult to do?

Does sabotaging relationships mean avoiding closeness and commitment issues that seem too difficult to bridge?

Learning about what psychological needs are entangled in a person’s unwanted behaviour can lead to alternative coping strategies and more personal satisfaction in life.


Pamela Ana MA & CCC, owns Wellness Matters Counselling and Psychotherapy.  Phone 778-419-3300.

Alberni Valley News