“The Yerkes-Dodson Law*
The time-tested Yerkes-Dodson law developed by psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and J. D. Dodson in 1908 dictates that performance increases with physiological or mental arousal, but when the levels of arousal become too high, performance decreases. When a golfer gets too stressed out, the player might choke, as in the putting “yips.”
The Yerkes-Dodson law states that ‘the simpler the task, the higher the level of arousal required for success.’
The corollary to this law is that ‘the more complex the task, the lower the level of arousal required for success.’
On a scale of one (under aroused or not motivated) to ten (very tense or psyched up), professional golfers typically arrive at the first tee in the four to six range. Most amateurs, however, have an arousal level closer to the eight to ten range.
The balance between arousal levels and peak performance differs in different parts of the golf game. The optimum arousal level for driving and fairway metals and long irons on the one-to-ten scale is around a five or six—moderate arousal. As you get closer to the green, hitting wedges and putts, the optimum arousal level is closer to three or four—slight arousal.
What this law means is that the optimum level of arousal on a scale of one to ten for hitting your driver would be around the six level. This indicates it is a simpler task of swinging the driver with the large muscles of the body onto a twenty-five-yard fairway. When you are on the tee or hitting long irons or woods, you can be slightly more aroused than when you are playing scoring shots around the green. As you move closer to the green, your task becomes more complex as your target becomes smaller.
For less than full shots, such as wedge shots, putting and chipping, the optimum arousal is closer to the four level. Your optimum arousal level needs to be lower to successfully complete the more complex task of putting the ball into a four-and-a-quarter-inch hole because of the use of small motor skills, sharper visualization, precise rhythm, and increased focus.
Arousal Level Management
Let’s look at a typical situation to get ready for a round of golf. You go to the range and hit a few balls, starting with your wedges up through your driver to establish your rhythm. You feel relaxed and moderately aroused at the five or six level.
At the first tee, you find that several things are happening that are causing you to become anxious. There is talk about handicaps, the game you are going to play, the wager, who will be partners, and perhaps other personal bits of conversation. As you think about these things consciously, your arousal level begins to rise.
If you are now above the six level, you will begin to notice signs of nervousness and your confidence waning. This is the time and place to take several deep breaths to relax your body and slow down your mind so you can focus on preparing to hit the first tee-ball.
After you have hit your drive, you will probably once again engage in excited conversation that will boost your arousal level above its optimum level. As you approach your second shot, it is important to slow down once again by taking deep breaths through your abdomen.
Approaching the green your task becomes more complex as your target becomes smaller. This requires a lower level of arousal around the four level for continued focus. Once again take several deep breaths until you are totally focused on being committed to your target, visualizing the shot, feeling the tempo of the swing, and trusting that the ball will go where you have pictured.”
*Excerpts are from Chapter 6: The Arousal Levels; “THE HEART OF GOLF, Access Your Supreme Intelligence for Peak Performances”
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