A huge shout out to one of the subscribers to this blog for suggesting the book Confidence Gap by Russ Harris. You can find it on one of the resources pages found on my home page or click here. I have a read a lot of books that help with mental strength with tennis and all fell short with one big problem that many people have; negative thoughts. This book goes about this issue with a much different approach than any other book I have read. If you have any suggestions on books please feel free to connect with me!
Let's dive in.
Let's Be Honest
The self-help industry is worth billions of dollars. There are so many "professional" happy people out there offering advice to help less happy people be happier. The problem is their approach. For example, a common tactic used is to get people with low self esteem to say positive things about themselves. "I'm beautiful!" "People love me!" With each statement it is believed to make the person feel better about themselves. The problem is that "happy" and more confident people give this advice because it works for happy people, not ones suffering with low self confidence. In fact, it is well known that performing positive self affirmations do more harm than good! For every positive statement a person says with low confidence, there is a voice telling them "no you're not!" This is a vicious cycle of compounding the problem rather than helping it. This is just one of many examples of how we have failed people in becoming more self confident. There's got to be a better approach!
The Problem Is The Solution
Zen masters are considered the best practicers of controlling the mind and being at peace with themselves. If they say they have negative thoughts like everyone else, then obviously trying to stop these thoughts is a worthless battle! The approach that Russ Harris offers is more of an acceptance rather than a battle. If we all have negative thoughts and we cannot stop them from happening, why not use this problem to create a solution?
The next time you get a negative thought in your head (For a lot of you, I bet it's right now!), consider giving it a name and identifying it as truly what it is, a thought. Many would argue that "these thoughts are actually true though! People don't like me!" This is not the argument I would advise you to go with. There is plenty of evidence for both sides of that. For me as a teacher, I have students that do not like me at all as well as some that do. That's not the argument to have though. Filter your thoughts into this one question, "is the thought helpful?" Meaning, does that mindset get you to move forward in your life in a productive manner. I'm willing to bet that many of you are having negative thoughts right now about what I said as being "stupid" or "dumb." This is perfectly normal and other than thanking your brain for that thought, move on.
So how do you exactly "move on?"
Self acceptance is the end goal for anyone wanting to become more confident. The self confidence comes after you let go of your self judgement and accept who you are. Without doing this, you only will act confident but not actually feel confident. To work on self acceptance, I recommend you to be mindful of your negative thoughts. In fact, try to name your negative thoughts when they come to mind. For example, if you have a thought that comes in to say how you are going to blow this tennis match, identify that thought, name it such as "the match killer," thank your brain for the thought and detach yourself from it. This is the only way to get out of the rut that many are in with being unhappy and unconfident. The more you can depart from your negative thoughts, the more your mind will be in the present and able to focus on your surroundings at a much deeper level. Your senses will all be used to get a full appreciation for what is around you rather than getting stuck up on the unhelpful thoughts that come into your mind. Another way to put is that you cannot be fully present and focus on your thoughts at the same time. Consider which one would be more helpful and most likely it is being in the moment.
How This Relates to Tennis
Having the ability to identify and disassociate yourself from negative thoughts is a very important skill to have in tennis. The sport requires an immense amount of concentration on the ball, movement and strategy during every point. The more you get hooked up on the impending negative thoughts, the less likely you can be fully present in your tennis match to function at your best. Having the mindset that you will miss and not be perfect will allow you to be ready for those negative thoughts. Identify them and thank your brain but then move on. This goes for any sport but also in life. The more we can handle the negative thoughts that will for sure come into our heads the more confident we will become!
Like I mentioned above, unplugging yourself from negative thoughts is a skill. It needs to be practiced. The more you can be capable of identifying these unhelpful thoughts and move on, the easier it will become. It is uncomfortable and hard to do, making it more likely than not that people reading this will not try it but with all the given research, this is the your most effective way of gaining self confidence and becoming happier with your life. For more information about this, buy the book The Confidence Gap.
I wish you all a very "mindful" weekend :)
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