The Wimbledon semi-finals are today. Andy Murray vs Roger Federer. Most people acknowledge this is a battle of skills as well as mind.
What have the Federers and Samprases of the world got that our British tennis champions haven't at the moment?
I was wondering whether it has anything to do with being British at all. Because that would mean our National culture plays a part in our conditioning about success. Why wouldn't we want success amidst us?
Have we not learnt to manage our own insecurities around successful people or is it simply that when we are winners we haven't learnt to marry success with humility? We quite like winners with the latter traits but we are not so fond of overt winners that rub our faces in it.
Still, as other nationalities are winning, does it mean they have more comfort around success? Can British players have a winning mindset and still be liked? We loved the Rugby 2003 world cup winners, but they nose-dived. Do we think it's not compatible to be liked and be a winner, so either one is a winner and disliked or one falls off the pedestal.
Before going further, the fact that Murray is in the finals means he is a pretty good winner. He's won all the games before. So his skills as a player are proven. His expert coaches train him on that, which includes mind preparation. In terms of the internal battle, the question is also whether his mindset and conditioning allow him to be a world champion. It's a loaded status and it is significant what that means to him: Parties. Acceptance. Possibility of humiliation in defeat next time. Proving others wrong. Proving people right. Newspaper press. Those wanting him to fail. Possible reactions to his win. If only it was simply the next step and we could de-couple the rest of the picture from the immediate challenge.
Murray's coaches could have guided his internal state of mind to winning the championship or they could guide his internal mindset to states beyond the win, through to the speech and celebration, newspapers responses, next matches, etc. A player's anxieties connected to winning are the ones to resolve. It is necessary for Murray to have an internal landscape that supports a win and implications of that win. He needs to feel what it would be like being comfortable in his skin as a world champion.
Comfortable with being a winner is not about being complacent. It is about respecting and accepting one's work and skill and acknowledging that opponents also have the same tools at hand so the bar is constantly being raised. But Murray has his own battle against his odds to get the win and still to be accepted, by himself or others or both.
Being accepted is a fundamental human need, an instinct that might well be in our DNA. After all, without acceptance within a social group, our ancestors' chances of survival would have decreased. But when we are not up against physical survival, why is acceptance still important? Well we just talked about not liking winners in our midst. Perhaps we like them to represent us but not be our friends as their success shines an ugly light on those who haven't achieved similar wins. So there might be a human instinct to protect from that type of possible reaction. Or what if one has not found comfort in praise, ever? Or feels that one is a fraud when classed as a winner.
Have you ever stood in front of a large audience, chosen to speak, but tongue-tied, and then feeling as if you have moved out of your body and were watching yourself? (If not public-speaking, a similar failed challenge). Animals seem to play 'dead' when caught by a predator only to spring up and run off if laid down. Their instincts take over. In humans, this out-of-body experience could be seen as a response to trauma, which threatens one's emotional survival. Shock is a protecting state. In our example, our minds understand the implications of 'dying' in front of the audience watching you. We have different levels of survival. Not only physical. Your body learns in those moments the dangers you are facing. Humiliation is difficult to recover from. It then avoids such situations in the future. You may even physically feel yourself pulled away from situations that are 'read' by your whole self as a potential cause of trauma, challenging your survival at some level.
However, it's important to see this in perspective. Some work and lives are significant because of their fight against potential failures and societal acceptance. Their aim is still about breaking scary barriers, acceptance of oneself and one's own ideals and goals. There are drivers for this but that is another subject. However, pushing through barriers requires a management of the mind. Why aren't we taught this in school? People look up to those who risk rejection to make big changes in the world. And champions risk failure and rejection all the time, from themselves, others or both, and they have to keep going.
Failure after failure until one succeeds is generally seen as a completion of the path by world achievers. They have the drive to push through each failure. In fact, the failures are possibly the meeting of each internal barrier, experiencing it, attaining the insight that it hasn't actually ended up in 'death' at some level, and then doing it again and meeting the next barrier. Creative visualisations are used and work well with sports challenges because they facilitate the athlete to meet such hurdles in a safe environment. They mean failures are experienced in the mind, and states are resolved before moving on to the next stage of the visualisation. Repeated exercises of this means barrier after barrier is faced in the mind (not on the field, court or pitch). Working through each barrier with the mind and body's reactions mean that there are fewer such barriers and instincts that will hinder the next stage towards a win.
Murray has failed many times in getting the world championship. Maybe it's enough times to now have his path cleared of internal barriers. Let's hope so. Good luck Murray. We're rooting for you.