This is going to sound strange, which is why I am asking for your thoughts. I’ve been playing in a weekly foursome for a couple of years. When we began, we all played at about the same level. For the most part, we have all improved at a similar rate. However, in the last three months, I’ve been playing at a higher level than any of my friends. I’ve surprised myself, and I also feel guilty. My scores don’t seem like me. I feel like I should be playing at my friends’ levels still. I am thrilled at my improvement, and at the same time a bit uncomfortable. I also wonder when the “wheels” are going to come off my game. These feelings don’t make any sense to me. What do you think?
Your feelings do and don’t make sense. Logically, your feelings don’t make sense to you because you are engaging in a competitive sport where the goal is to win. The competition in golf can be with yourself, with the course, and other players who may also be your friends.
When you begin to improve and excel, you would logically think good thoughts about yourself and your progress. However, our brain doesn’t always provide us with logical thoughts and that’s where the “strange” feelings come in.
When that happens, it is the primitive section of the brain that is taking control. It has been part of human biology since caveman times and is wired totally to keep us safe. Safe from risks and danger, which can come in different forms including people and unfamiliar situations.
There are two possible explanations for your feelings that make sense. One is based on social conditioning and the other on evolution. The feelings of guilt come from social conditioning, which often teaches women to be nurturers and “take care of others,” including being responsible for the feelings of others, too. Women are taught it’s bad to hurt other people’s feelings, and that’s where the guilt appears. You want to feel good about yourself, but at the same time, at some subconscious level, you believe you are causing your friends to feel bad or jealous because of your improved play. An interesting part of this scenario, is that we cannot take feelings and put them in the minds of others. Everyone is responsible for their own feelings, which are created by their own thoughts. We are not in charge of what anyone else thinks or feels. It’s each individual’s job to take care of their own feelings. You cannot control others’ feelings, even when you try. In fact, it’s possible your friends are feeling inspired by your improvement, not disappointed.
The other explanation, which is based on evolution, is that humans are tribal creatures. The primitive part of the brain, which has been with us since caveman times, is wired to keep us safe. Throughout history, it’s proven safer for humans to hang out with other like-minded people for protection. Our primitive brain does not want us to go it alone or appear too different from others. When you are playing better than your usual group or “tribe,” there may be a subconscious primitive feeling that you will be judged “different” from your group, you will not be one of them anymore and may be ousted. This can give you a subtle feeling of aloneness, which your primitive brain is signaling as “danger.” In trying to protect us, a primitive section of the brain, the amygdala, often provides us with thoughts that do not serve us and sometimes thoughts that are not even true. You can question your brain by asking, “Is it true that I am in danger of being ousted or not liked because I am playing better than the group?” Your reasoning part of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex, will provide a more logical answer when you question your thoughts, which may help dissolve the uncomfortable feeling.
Regarding your thought about “the wheels coming off your game,” that can be another result of the primitive brain. To keep us safe, the primitive brain is usually looking for the negative in a situation, so we can be prepared to challenge it if it comes. It’s another thought that does not serve you. Instead of spending mental energy thinking about the wheels coming off, channel that energy into thoughts of what might be possible. You may think, “I have evidence that I can improve and it’s possible I will continue to improve to an even higher level than expected.” That thought, and other similar thoughts will provide you with different feelings, ones that can give you more mental energy for continued improvement.
I offer you create thoughts for yourself that will give you the mental momentum to continue improving. Perhaps you can think of yourself as an example for your friends, an example of what is possible for them, too.