Many athletes think that the key to getting better is to play and practice with more intensity. The answer might actually not be more intensity, but less.
It is very difficult, after spending so much time on training and technique, to be present in the moment during a match. However, this is exactly what we need to do to get better.
Life is available only in the present moment.
Thich Nhat Hanh
When the water reaches the neck
Stress can make one more vulnerable to injury. Without a doubt, I myself had a very stressful sporting life, even though I was surrounded by love and understanding. I created my own demons, or they were always there inside my head.
The best way out is always through
I do not know why, but we often find ourselves acting as if the water has reached our necks – as if overwhelmed by crisis.
Sooner or later we have to take the first step, and that is true both in sport and in life.
It may never be the "right" time to start. Indeed, often what prevents us from going forward is the fear of not making it, of making mistakes. So our thought process is, “why start if I will fail?”
But it is the small steps in the right direction which give the best results.
This is one of the simplest and most profound truths of life. We need to move with small steps at first, knowing that we can make mistakes and fall. If you do not start trying and falling many times, you will never learn to walk!
There is a great prayer that each of us should learn by heart and recite every time we panic: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change what I can change and the wisdom to recognize the difference."
So what can help us on this journey? Mindfulness, along with concentration, intuition, effort and trust!
These are the five superpowers you will need to achieve the best possible results in your journey! I would like to start a journey with you today.
What does Mindfulness mean?
The concept is simple: pay attention, with intention, to the present moment.
The moment our mind wanders, it is elsewhere, and we are not focused on the present moment. We can compare the mind to a monkey that jumps from branch to branch.
Daniel Smith writes in his book (Monkey Mind): "A person at the mercy of the monkey mind suffers from a consciousness whose parts do not stop bouncing from one side of the skull to the other... they jump...they bounce and fight against the walls, like howler monkeys among the lianas. Meditation is an aid to stop these monkeys and calm them down."
Only in the present moment is it possible to cultivate a coordinated conscious flow, to achieve optimal performance and to experience that magical and fantastic place called "the zone."
The zone is, in sport, a state that a player reaches when he is performing at his very best.
According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a leader in the field of positive psychology, being in the zone means "being totally involved in an activity that is an end in itself. The ego slips away: time flies. Every action, movement and thought springs in a serene way from the precedent. The whole being is involved and the skills are exploited to the full."
It describes the zone as something that "occurs when challenges and abilities are high but balanced."
Flow is the ability to remain in the present moment
This is possible when you channel and direct all your strength and energy in the present moment, starting from the mind.
If you focus too much on your victory or spectacular performance, you move away from what you need to achieve the desired results.
When you have fun and you are right inside what we are doing, then you are enjoying the tennis match without too much thinking about the final result or the shots. It is like playing in slow motion.
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Federer often says “I saw the ball big today, and everything took place in slow motion and I had no problem with my timing...I was just thinking about nothing. I was in the zone.”
I would like to compare this feeling to the eye of the storm.
What happens in the eye of the storm?
At that central point of a storm there is a zone of calm. There may be violence just outside the fringes, but inside the eye there is quiet and calm.
This refuge of calm and quiet is present in each of us!
Life revolves around the stimuli we receive in the world and the way we interpret them in the mind. We can react to the same stimulus impulsively (with anger, agitation, anxiety, fear, doubt, guilt), or we can respond by remaining calm, observing with "intention" and without judgement the thoughts and emotions that come from within.
If we react impulsively, we will remain blocked and will not act in a positive way. If we can remain calm and observant, we will start a process of personal transformation that will lead us towards the zone. If we do not find our center of calm, then every event will cause us to react like a monkey jumping from one branch to another in a frenzy of confusion, tension, stress and anxiety. In the end, our game will not be optimal. When we are too involved with what is happening around us, we lose contact with the present and move away from the center of stillness that is within us.
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A technique of mindfulness is rediscovering quiet through conscious breathing
During meditation, we must observe the thoughts (without judging them) and the sensations of the body in the present moment. For example, during meditation, we could observe a pain in our wrist. If your wrist is painful, first all the attention could be concentrated on this part of the experience.
By its nature, the mind has a strong tendency to wander, so it can happen that we begin to observe the wind, the memory of something, and then ask ourselves whether we left a light on or what we must fix...or any other thought. Mindfulness instead brings you back to the present moment. The way to bring you back is by breathing.
As we learn about mindfulness, we will be aware of some of our moods (anger, anxiety, happiness...) and we will observe them (without judging them) in a detached way. The intention is to let them flow without wanting to block them or experiencing them too intensely. We will not identify with those thoughts, those emotions, but simply let them pass by.
"Be like the water"
Water responds to stimuli. It literally flows. It is powerful, but yields to the form imposed on it by the river banks. It does not try to fight it. Its strength lies in this.
"What you usually think largely determines what you eventually become"
Only with an empty mind and going beyond what we think of ourselves are we able to achieve levels of performance that are above the norm.
Within us we have our ego, which acts analytically, is anxious and wants to show itself above all else. This determines our actions and in a certain sense worries the mind and gives it many thoughts. This concept of self moves us away from the present moment. Thoughts follow one another during a tennis match and this brings us to a frantic and anxious state of mind. We find ourselves not in the eye of the storm but right at the edges where the violence is the greatest.
If, instead, we let our thoughts flow, without hindering them, without wanting to channel them, without judging them or wanting to throw them away, we are entering a flow phase. We begin to be one with the ball, the racket, the court. We will begin to feel the sensation of moving quickly and the ball instead appears slow, almost still. Everything seems easy.
I advise you to practice mindfulness for a few minutes a day.
In those few minutes, free your mind, try not to think. Or even better, let the thoughts that flow float away. Help yourself with conscious breathing, then listen to the air that enters, stop for a few seconds, exhale and feel the air coming out. Try to breathe listening only to this movement of air. Try to enter a dimension of your own, without agitation but pervaded by stillness.
When you are on the court, you will then be trained in the art of a peaceful mind. Sometimes you can use a phrase or a word to calm the monkeys in your head. Repeat that phrase or word, listen to your breath and feel only the ball that hits the racket. Look at the seams of the ball, reset your mind, and let it all flow!
Be like water and not like ice. After all, ice is rigid and very fragile!
So before starting a match or training session, devote 5 minutes to meditation. Stop what you were doing and move your attention to breathing. Stay in the calm center. Remain in the eye of the storm instead of reacting to the chaos of the storm.