A few weeks ago, I found myself back in Egypt -- because who doesn’t love 110 degree weather and the potential to experience more food poisoning? While always excited for the opportunity to compete, I can’t say that I was thrilled to be returning to the desert. But this is how tennis works sometimes, and I have to embrace every moment I can get.
Before my first tournament, my coach sent me a text: “You’re ready.” For whatever reason, that text really pumped me up – thanks, Parsa. I was ready. I really believed it. Three matches later, I had made my first semi-finals. Looking back, my mindset leading up to this tournament was completely different than in the past, and this is what allowed me to be successful.
What about my mindset had changed? Before this tournament, my mind had always been focused on winning. Of course, as a competitor, you want to win. Winning makes you successful. And without success, you are probably going to hang up your racquets and send in your resume to get your big kid job. In the past, I was never able to focus on anything except the result. Looking back, I realize this “results-based mindset” cost me a lot of matches. When you are entirely focused on the end result, it is almost impossible to do what is going to make you successful.
You can’t think in terms of wins and losses -- or the results. Every athlete has wins and every athlete experiences losses. Defining yourself and your worth through this mindset is incredibly draining, and allows far too much room for negativity. Being consumed with results will thwart your ability to make changes to improve and grow.
This concept has been tough for me to grasp, not just because I’m a bit neurotic, but because I have always believed that since I want to win so badly, even if I focus on the result, I am going to do whatever it takes to win. So, a results-based mindset, in my mind, was totally fine. I’m beginning to learn, however, that focusing on the result doesn’t allow your brain to focus on the process. If you can’t focus on the process, then you can’t focus on doing what is going to make you successful. Wanting to win is important, of course, but it is also tied to emotions, and having a results-based mindset does not allow for separation between your brain and your emotions. If anyone has ever had or known a crazy significant other, I’m sure you can imagine why allowing your emotions to control decision-making is like juggling a ticking time bomb.
With this tournament, I came in believing in myself and my game, and while I still wanted to win really badly, I was okay with whatever happened as long as I did what was going to make me successful. With this simple change – it only took me ten years to figure out -- I was able to keep a grip over the gremlin (my thoughts) and win the mental battle by focusing on the process. In each match, I was faced with moments where I could have allowed my results-based mindset to take over. In those moments, when everything was telling me to give in, I was able to use my belief in myself to continue to make decisions that would lead me to success, instead of choosing the path that was controlled solely by emotions and focusing on the result. By focusing on what was going to make me successful – my game -- instead of the result, I was able to recognize moments where my emotions would normally take over, and check myself before I wrecked myself.
It’s cliché, but every day is a new day, and you have to continue to prove yourself. This thought embodies the next step of my journey -- learning how to have the mindset of focusing on the process over and over again. Unfortunately, I was not able to make this change for all of my weeks in the desert. While I earned points in every tournament, I allowed myself to worry about repeating my results after the first week, and my game suffered as a result. I began to want to win more than I wanted to focus on what was going to make me successful, and I was not always able to separate my brain from my emotions in key moments of matches.
And so the journey continues – literally, to far off lands, and figuratively, in building a stronger mental game. A great or horrible performance one week doesn’t determine how the next week will go. You have to prove yourself each week, and so does everybody else in the tournament. While it’s great to repeat good results week after week, it is repeating the process that is crucial. Expecting a result means you are focusing on the result. Every day is an opportunity to better yourself, and if my second trip to Egypt taught me anything, it was that focusing on the process is going to get me farther than any mindset I have held onto in the past.
While I learned a tremendous amount from my matches in Egypt, let’s hope that the desert and I have said goodbye for awhile. I don’t need third reunion with the heat anytime soon.
Former Hawkeye now playing tennis professionally; Journalism major.