Sports teach us a lot about the power of the mind. What sets two equally skilled players apart is often different mindsets and beliefs. Same goes for life. Whether we achieve something is often determined not by our skills or knowledge but by what we believe we deserve or what we can do. In other words, when we don’t achieve what we set out to do, it’s often because we limit ourselves.
That’s what happened on Monday night, when I lost a singles tennis match that lasted nearly 2.5 hours. I’m mainly a doubles player, and have never played singles as part of a competitive team. However, my team was short on singles players, and I didn’t want us to have to default on one of the five lines in the match. So, I traded my doubles spot in the lineup playing with a familiar partner for this new experience. I did so happily; no one pressured me to do so.
My opponent and I were well matched skill-wise. Even though she had more competitive court experience than I had, I knew what I needed to do to take that match—if I could construct the points accordingly and hit my shots right. It was definitely a winnable match, even if by a tight margin. In the end, I lost the match because I lost the mental game.
Here are the reminders about the power of the mind I got from this loss.
Reminder #1: Always focus on one step at a time
After losing a tight first set that lasted almost 1.5 hours, I wondered at 8pm if I had it within me to come back and win two sets to win the match. With that doubt in my mind, I lost my concentration and willingness to engage in more long rallies, and the unforced errors came one after another. If I had stayed focused on one point at a time—instead of the daunting thought of a long night ahead with strong winds and chilly conditions—I actually had a fair chance of a comeback. That’s because, when I was focused and believed I could win the match, I was able to produce winners instead of errors, and was able to execute on the strategy I knew could yield a win.
I find that this mindset reminder most certainly applies to life. We need to have a clear idea of the big picture and our end goal, of our dreams. However, we can’t focus on how far that goal or dream is from where we are right here, right now, or how daunting the task is of getting from here to there. That’s when we psyche ourselves out, and the limiting thoughts start shutting us down. Instead, if we know what we need to do and focus on one step at a time, one stage at a time, we minimize self-doubt, and give our abilities and talents a chance to take us to the finish-line.
Reminder #2: Be mindful of self-pity
By the time we started our second set, all the other matches around us were done. It was dark, and the courts felt deserted to me, a very different feeling than when the match started. Then, several of the players from the opposing team gathered outside our court to give my opponent moral support. None of my team members were in sight. I felt abandoned and out-numbered, and that further fed my desire to finish the match quickly. Of course, that was all just makings of my own mind. I had a choice not to construct that story and let it further erode my concentration and fighter instincts.
How often do we construct stories of self-pity or “woe’s me” that unnecessarily limit ourselves? At any given moment, under any circumstance, we have 100% control over our own inner resources. Yes, it’s nice to be cheered on and have external moral support. But, in the end, the best cheerleader we have is ourselves, and what we need to remember is that we have what it takes to get the job done. To focus on what’s going on outside ourselves is to give away the magnificent power we have to achieve what we set out to do.
Reminder #3: It really is about the experience, not just the outcome
My opponent was a truly gracious lady, and I really did have fun playing that match, even though I lost. It could easily have been a very different 2.5 hours if my opponent wasn’t as nice. Throughout the match, we complimented each other on great shots we hit and how we both had pretty good wheels on us. After one particularly tough point, I told her that I was there for comedic purposes as well, not just to play tennis, and we had a good laugh. One of her team members even commented later that she could tell we were having fun. Sure, we all want to win, but it’s more important to have fun. Otherwise, what’s the point?
I feel that’s a good mindset for life, too. Yes, we want to challenge ourselves. Of course, we want to win for our team at work. Who doesn’t want to have results to show for our efforts? However, if results are all we care about, life would be pretty dreary and empty, don’t you think? After all, isn’t most of life objectively spent in the process of getting to the next desired outcome? If we don’t enjoy the process, the full experience, but only the outcome (however long that may last), how much joy is there really in life?
So, the above are the mindset reminders I gleaned from my loss on Monday night. Whether or not you play tennis or any sport, what do you think about the three reminders above? Have your own mindset reminders to share? Would love for you to do so in the comment box below.
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