The greatest sporting achievements come when the mind is as still as a stone. The mind is calm and the action flows freely like a river. In this state we feel spontaneous and alert and have an inner certainty that we can do what we know how to do.
Calming the mind means less thinking, calculating, judging, worrying, fearing, straining, regretting, controlling, agitating, or even getting distracted. The mind is still when it is in the here and now and you are one with your actions: when it’s almost effortless.
Quieting the mind is a gradual process that involves learning several inner skills. Want to know one? You must learn to let go of judgment. Judging your performance as good or bad, and judging yourself. Only when you forget to judge yourself can you play spontaneously, fluidly and with focus.
Judgments are expressed verbally: “What a bad blow”, “I don't know how to receive”, “I suck”. The tone of voice that’s used also makes you aware of judgments (by using the same sentence you can encourage or humiliate yourself): “I kept my arms attached to my body again”, “Move your feet”, and even the body language can be judgmental, like when you are frowning or have a contracted expression on your face, or a contemptuous grimace.
Judging yourself and what you're doing triggers a chain of thoughts that stiffen your muscles, making your strokes and actions more awkward and less fluid. When negative assessments continue with increasing intensity, they create a vicious circle: those “simple messages” you give yourself, after being repeated over and over again, turn into expectations, perhaps even convictions.
And you could start behaving exactly according to these expectations by triggering a process that plays against you. For example, if you tell yourself, “What bad service!” and then you make mistakes, the judgment expands to “I have a bad serve!” You keep telling yourself that you were defeated badly, and what happens in your mind is that you convince yourself and finally generalize: “Today I can't win!" rather than “I can't be defeated!” By stopping self-judgment, you don't avoid seeing things for what they are.
Stop self-judgment means not adding or taking anything away from the facts that happen before your eyes. Things appear as they are, without distortion. Thus, the mind becomes calmer. Do you understand how much the mind makes a difference to your competitiveness?