Anger

 

Anger is considered one of the six universal emotions expressed throughout the world (surprise, disgust, enjoyment, fear, and sadness being the others). Anger most often boils to the surface when we are either prevented from getting something we want, or when we perceive that we are being treated unfairly. Anger can be dangerous leading to violence and aggression, and it can be physiologically harmful to the individual experiencing the anger. Anger, hostility, and grumpiness increases your risk of heart disease by threefold. (Kawachi et al., 1996). Anger can have a negative effect on performance as well. When we get angry, our heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rates increase. Our muscles tense, blood recedes from our extremities, and we lose our sense of “feel”. Our visual field narrows and we are unable to fully take in the world around us. We get defensive, impulsive, and irrational. Our thinking becomes rigid, negative, and pessimistic. We expect the worst, lose confidence, and close ourselves off from others. All of these effects make it extremely difficult to perform at our best and if the anger is not dealt with, your chances of achieving your goals will greatly diminish. Importantly, anger in itself is not a problem. Anger is an incredibly useful emotion that has helped us survive for thousands of years. When it comes to sports performance, it’s not necessarily the anger we are trying to get rid of, it’s the negative effects of the anger that interfere with our performance we don’t want. If you are someone who is familiar with anger, here are some ways to alter your relationship with anger to help you play your best:

#1 BREATHE! What yogis and Buddhists have known for thousands of years, we can now validate with science. Slow, smooth, and rhythmic breathing will counter the negative effects of anger. When you experience anger, take a moment and breathe slowly, at an interval of a 5 second inhale and a 5 second exhale. This type of breathing, also called coherent, or resonant, breathing, will bring your nervous system back in alignment, reduce your anger and put you back in a better mindset to perform. 

#2 Reframe it! Instead of accepting your anger as truth, question it, and come up with an alternate and more positive explanation. For example, if you’re angry that an important putt lipped out, and as you cock back your arm to heave your putter into the woods exclaiming, “I am the worst putter on the planet!” consider a different interpretation. A more rational, accurate, and positive reframing of that thought would be, “It makes sense that I’m angry that putt meant a lot to me. I don’t suck and I hit a good putt. I can’t control what happens after I hit the putt, but what I can control is my mind. I will work hard and compete on every shot and whatever happens, happens.” This is called “cognitive reframing” and it can not only reduce anger but provide genuine relief as well. 

#3 Express it!  When all else fails, it’s okay to express your anger. In fact, research has shown expressing anger, or any emotion for that matter, helps us to process it rather than allowing it to fester inside us.  Expressing your anger is a great way to release yourself from its grasp—this especially true for anger. However, how you express anger is important. Make sure that your expression of your anger is appropriate for the situation. Yelling, screaming, swearing, and throwing things might be okay in some circumstances, but generally speaking, those methods aren’t appropriate on the golf course. Walk by yourself to “cool down”, yell into your towel, or try progressive muscle relaxation, where you intentionally tense your muscles and then relax them. 

#4 The Ten Yard Fence: The ten yard fence is one of my favorite ways to deal with anger on the golf course. It comes from the work Earl Woods did with Tiger. Supposedly, Earl told Tiger that any time he got angry on the golf course to imagine there was a fence surrounding him. The radius of the fenced circle was 10 yards and Tiger had ten steps in any direction to feel, express, and deal with his anger. However, when Tiger reached the edge of the imaginary fence on his tenth step, Tiger had to let go of the anger and not let it interfere with the next shot. I love this idea and strongly encourage you to give it a try.

Remember, there’s nothing wrong with anger. Anger is a normal evolutionary reaction. What we chose to do with the anger is more important. By learning how to more effectively manage your anger you will put both your mind and your body into a more optimal state to perform.