Aldo Civico Ph.D.

Turning Point

Champion Novak Djokovic Reveals the Power of Visualization

How to achieve mental fitness

Posted Sep 17, 2015

"Djokovic is the One," was the New York Time's title after the top-ranked tennis player defeated Federer and won the U.S. Open. If we want to achieve peak performance in our own life, it's a good practice to model ourselves after the champion. So, what's Djokovic's secret for excellence?

The world-class player has been emphasizing how his mental excellence is responsible for his success no less than his physical one. Novak grew up in Belgrade, in Serbia, and went through adolescence experiencing the NATO bombing of his hometown. Djokovic had started playing tennis when he was only six years old. Tennis became his obsession and he found a way to practice even as bombs were falling around him. "Growing up in wartime taught me another crucial lesson: the importance of keeping an open mind and never ceasing to search for new ways of doing things," he wrote in his book Serve to Win.

A few days before his match against Federer, I read an interesting profile in the New York Times about this world-class tennis player. To the journalist, Djokovic mentioned meditation as a key tool for peak performance. Here is what he said:

One of the ways is to kind of meditate but not meditate with the intention of going away from those problems, but visualize. 

Visualization is a big part of everybody's life, not just athletes. I strongly believe in visualization. I believe that there is a law of attraction: You get the things that you produce in your thoughts. Life just works that way.

In his book, Djokovic gave concrete examples of how the practice of mindfulness has been supporting his world-class performance:

I've done so much mindful meditation that now my brain functions better automatically, even when I'm not meditating. I used to freeze up whenever I made a mistake; I was sure that I wasn't in the same league as the Federers...

Now, when I blow a serve or shank a backhand, I still get those flashes of self-doubt, but I know how to handle them: I acknowledge the negative thoughts and let them slide by, focusing on the moment.

That mindfulness helps me process pain and emotions. It lets me focus on what's really important. It helps me turn down the volume in my brain.

Visualization, which can be done through meditation or by inducing a state of trance through self-hypnosis, is the ability to use one's sense to create or re-create an experience in the mind. It's a key mental skill for success, essential to maintaining the high motivation that is the fuel to achieve one's goals (If you are interested in the topic, you can get my weekly tips here).

To develop their mental toughness, coaches prescribe the practice of visualization to their athletes. Novak Djokovic's experience with meditation confirms the science. In fact, research has shown that using visualization during pre-performance routines and immediately before performance helps athletes to perform better. 

Visualization practiced during meditation or self-hypnosis enhances motivation, focus, and self-control. 

So if someone has the tendency to get anxious or to be held hostage by negative thoughts before performing at an event (a job interview, a presentation, an exam, etc.), the practice of visualization, done consistently, will have a positive effect, enhancing performance and, over time, leading the way to peak performance.

If someone is not familiar with this practice, even just a few minutes a day, at the beginning, will bring great benefits. 

Here is some basic instruction on how people can begin practicing mindfulness and visualization to strengthen their mental toughness and enhance their performance:  

How to Practice Visualization

Choose a quiet space and sit comfortably...

... Close your eyes and bring the attention of your mind to your breath.

... Inhale and exhale, slowly, naturally from your diaphragm, as if you had an inflatable balloon under your lungs and on your stomach.

... Once in a while, when you inhale, hold the air, just for a few moments, and observe how your mind becomes calmer.

... Exhale slowly and deeply, always focusing on your breath, on the gentle movement of your breath.

... You will notice how bringing attention to your breath will also bring your mind, soul and body in alignment; they will become one and you will start experiencing the oneness of your own essence.  

... Now let go of your body and time completely. Allow yourself to fall deeper and deeper into relaxation.

... When you are in state of profound relaxation, recall a time when you performed perfectly. Bring the vividness of that memory to your mind.

... See, hear, feel that fulfilling experience. Bring that memory alive in the now. Enjoy it, fully.

... Abandon yourself in the images, sounds and feelings you have.  

... Now think of a word, a phrase, or a symbol that captures that experience of perfect performance...

... Once that word, phrase or symbol is presented to your mind, thank your unconscious for suggesting that word, phrase or symbol to you...

... And now think of a future event when you will need to accomplish a goal, when you'll need to excel...

... Experience that future event as if it is happening right now, in the present...

... Experience your performance now endowed with the energy and the power that the chosen word, phrase or symbol are providing to you...

... Make the visualization as rich as possible in every detail (shapes, colors, environment, sounds, etc.)

... Don't worry if your mind at times begins to wonder. Without applying effort, gently bring the focus back to your visualization as you continue to focus on your breath.... Inhale and exhale...

... Repeat the visualization several times. When you feel the moment is right, choose what insights, understandings, images, sounds and experiences you would like to bring back from your deep relaxation and visualization...

... Then come slowly back...  

Even if you just stop reading this post for a few seconds and bring the focus to your breath, you will immediately feel some peacefulness, the alignment of mind, body and soul. Such is the power of just sitting and just breathing.

As you practice visualization, even if initially just for a few minutes daily, you will experience the benefits of increased calmness and focus.

Isn't it nice to know that we can practice mindfulness and meditation getting the benefits and the mental excellence that contributes to the peak performance of world-class achievers like Novak Djokovic?

Aldo Civico is an author, anthropologist, and conflict resolution specialist. With 25 years of experience in conflict resolution work around the world, he is committed to help individuals, organizations and business to upgrade their leadership potential teaching the tools, principles and strategies used by high-end negotiators and mediators to turn around and resolve tough problems.

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