Roger Federer is widely considered to be the greatest tennis player of all time. He’s held the world’s No. 1 position for a combined 302 weeks, he’s won 17 Grand Slam singles titles, and he won his 1000th career match earlier this year. Add to that his incomparable grace, graciousness and style on the court, and it makes sense that he’s so revered.
Yet despite his obvious dominance in the sport, he’s recently been surpassed in the rankings by the likes of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. He hasn’t won a Grand Slam event since 2012 – though he’s gotten close – and returning to the top of the pack has been an ongoing struggle.
I think we can all relate to what Roger Federer is going through. There are times we feel like world-beaters who are clicking on all cylinders at the top of our game. And there are other times when, no matter how hard we try, we keep coming up short in the end.
To return to our winning ways, we need to consider the little things that give us an edge. It all starts with developing a winning mindset that helps you reassess life and gain a renewed mastery over your world.
Here are four ways to get back on track:
Focus on imagery.
Imagery warms up the brain’s movement centeres, allowing you to reach your goals more effortlessly. In particular, cognitive-specific imagery involves taking a component of your game – whether it be your tennis serve or your sales pitch – and envisioning yourself doing it perfectly. If you practise this over time, your confidence and performance will skyrocket.
If someone is standing between you and your goals – like a business competitor or Novak Djokovic himself – be sure to specifically include him or her in your imagery. Watching yourself defeat the person in your brain before you take him or her on in reality will pay off handsomely on game day.
Disengage your distractions.
Roger Federer has faced a lot of criticism lately for his less-than-optimal performance, and former tennis star Boris Becker – while stirring up attention for his recent book – has attacked him from a few different angles. Becker’s book reveals some private bad blood between Federer and Djokovic, and he recently called Federer’s playing style “disrespectful.”
Is there someone in your life who is criticising you too much, making assumptions about you, or perhaps offering more advice than you need? When these kinds of opinions enter your head, they activate your brain’s conflict centre and occupy you with feelings of distraction or even anger.
Suppressing these feelings will cause your brain to store this information and make the negativity a part of your overall being. So rather than bottling it up, train yourself to outwardly address misconceptions as if they were simply inaccurate. Assume the best in the person who’s causing these negative feelings, calmly express your counter view, and disengage your distractions.
Embody your passion.
Does your desire for success show in your thoughts and your actions? If someone looks into your eyes, will he or she see a burning passion or a timid lethargy?
On many occasions, tennis great-turned-commentator Chris Evert – one of Federer’s biggest fans – has questioned his desire to win. Just recently at the US Open, you could see it when he emerged from the tunnel following a rain delay: He looked tired and disconnected from himself. Federer’s cool disposition is one of his signature traits, but sometimes he seems to let it stifle his passion.
“Wanting to succeed” is not just a strong thought; it is a full-bodied sensation that you carry around with you. Testosterone plays a huge role in improving your performance, and losing a match (or a business deal, or a relationship) causes our levels of this valuable hormone to drop. When rebounding from a loss, if you allow your passion to flow beyond your mind, your levels will spike back up. Your mood will improve and so will your future performance.
Feel serenity in the spotlight.
Both success and failure lead to additional attention – whether it’s people lauding your greatness, people revelling in your downfall, or people sympathising with your hardships.
All eyes are on Roger Federer as he reinvents his game and tries to regain his greatness – and this can be problematic. When the spotlight is on you, it’s easy to lose your self-connection. Your brain subtly starts to pay attention to what is outside of you, and you begin to lose your bearings.
When the stakes are high, you can’t allow yourself to be distracted by other people’s expectations and reactions. You need to free up your brain resources and devote them toward the task at hand: winning. You can’t assume your brain is optimally conditioned; it needs to be trained to stay on course like a rolling magnetic ball on a metal track.
These are just some of the strategies people like you and Roger Federer could use to up your game and regain your greatness. Like Federer, you have all of the physical tools you need to get there. But without mental coaching, it’s next to impossible to deal with any level of adversity.
When you fall from the top, you don’t need to become somebody else in order get back up; you just need to know how to reactivate your brain. If you focus on doing rather than doubt, you’ll be standing atop the rankings again in no time.
Dr. Srini Pillay, founder and CEO of NeuroBusiness Group, is a pioneer in the brain-based personal development arena and is dedicated helping people unleash their full potential. He is also a master executive coach and serves as an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He teaches in the executive education programs at Harvard Business School and Duke Corporate Education.
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