It was 1984. I was watching one of my favourite tennis players, Ivan Lendl, struggle against John McEnroe at the French Open Men’s Final. Lendl was down 2 sets and it looked like he was about to hand McEnroe the match. But two things happened in that third set: McEnroe’s concentration broke and Lendl dug in his heels, fought back and won the match. It was one of the greatest comebacks in tennis history.
That tennis match left an indelible mark on me. What had been going through the minds of both men and what made one of them a winner? It’s a question I have been trying to answer ever since. Subsequent interviews with McEnroe and Lendl never revealed what had been going on in the minds of both men when the changeover happened. Another tennis player who also made an impressive comeback said that during a water break he envisaged himself winning the match, one shot at a time and then holding the championship trophy.
Is it really that simple? Is a technique called visualisation the reason why some people are able to propel themselves to the top of the ladder while others are perfectly content to languish somewhere at the bottom and feed on if onlys?
There is increasing evidence that mental practice can improve physical performance and many sports coaches work with athletes to train their brains as well as their bodies. Muhammad Ali spoke at length about seeing himself victorious before he entered the ring; when he was a struggling actor Jim Carrey pictured himself as the greatest actor and Michael Jordan envisaged the last shot before he took one in real life.
Can this translate to other aspects of life? Yes, according to Forbes.com: here are their five tips for manifesting the life you want:
Step 1: Know what you want
Step 2: Describe your vision in detail
Step 3: Start visualising and create the emotions
Step 4: Take daily actions
Step 5: Have grit and persevere
What does success look like to you? Is it a new car, a better job, starting your own business? If you can’t picture yourself achieving a goal, there’s a good chance you won’t.
On that fateful day in 1984, Lendl clawed his way back to win not just the match but his first major tournament. It took him four hours to defeat McEnroe who had lost only three matches that year. The victory was sweet but it was very evident that the battle Lendl played out on the clay court paled in significance to the battle he won first in his mind
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