We tend to believe that if we can control our inner life – meaning our thoughts, feelings and emotions – then we have the opportunity to perform well.
We tend to believe that if we think positively, we will be able to deal with cheaters, if we are high in self-confidence, we can use our forehand aggressively as a weapon, and if we have the perfect tension level, we can stay close to the baseline and take away time from our opponent.
There is absolutely no doubt that when you are having positive thoughts and emotions, it is easier to perform well. But there are two reasons why you cannot depend on having the right emotions and thoughts while performing.
First of all, thoughts and feelings are not easily controllable.
Second, you will use a lot of energy simply trying to reshape the thoughts and feelings.
In the following paragraph, you will see how 3-time Grand Slam Winner Stanislas Wawrinka describes the time right before he went out on court for the US Open Final and beat the World No. 1 Novak Djokovic to secure his 3rd Grand Slam Title.
“A lot of people are asking me how I was able to take the court, nonchalantly, when five minutes prior to that I had a stress attack and I was trying to hold back tears. I tried, but I wasn’t able to.”
“So, how did I do it? I’ll tell you. I hurt myself. I tried to extend rallies as much as possible — one more shot, and then another — to make the legs churn and not the head. I pushed myself until I ran out of breath.”
“I’m telling you this with a smile today, but you can’t imagine to what extent those voices can sometimes be overwhelming.”
The lesson here is that sometimes we simply need to do what is important for us no matter our internal condition. Stan managed to follow his game plan and stay close to the baseline keeping Djokovic under extreme pressure with his groundstrokes. He focused on moving his feet as much as possible whenever he was under pressure, and he was able to execute successfully even though he had an immense amount of unpleasant thoughts and emotions inside of him.
In other words, even when we are doubting ourselves and are without confidence, following our game plan and our values will very often lead to positive emotions. But we should never just go for that forehand winner down the line to achieve that positive feeling. As long as you are acting in accordance with your plan and values, you are doing the right thing.
It is a huge myth that you can’t be nervous and perform well at the same time. Being nervous is not necessarily a problem in itself, but if you, as a consequence of nerves, act in a different way and do not follow your game plan or live out your values, then it becomes a problem.
The point here is that you want to accept the fact that you are nervous. But only to the extent to which you can still focus on executing your game plan and hitting the shots necessary to perform well.
As Stanislas Wawrinka demonstrated, you can be nervous but still do all of the right things maximizing your opportunity to perform well.