January 29, 2017 Roger Federer lifted his 18th Grand Slam Trophy at the conclusion of the Australian Open Tennis Tournament. He is a great champion because he exemplifies what great champions do – time and again they overcome adversity to rise to higher levels of performance.
Federer has overcome a lot of adversity. One significant example is his performance at the 2008 Roland Garros final against Rafa Nadal. Federer won only 4 games over three sets. In terms of the survival skills of flight, flight or freeze, he was frozen in terror during the match. He could not play. When he hit the ball, it would go all over the place because he was so tight. At the end of the match Nadal had a puzzled look on his face as he stretched his winning arms up in the air and walked toward the net to shake Federer’s hand. At the final ceremonies, during his speech, Federer apologized for his level of play and promised to perform better next time.
I don’t know what emotions Federer felt during and after that match. I can only guess he felt frustrated, bewildered, shock, shame, bitter disappointment, out of control and more.
He experienced another devastating loss at the 2009 Australian Open when he lost to Nadal again. This time he was going for a record breaking 14th Slam title to equal Pete Sampras. He was expected to win because Nadal was tired from playing a long grueling 5 set match in the semi-final. Again, Federer played badly. His emotions were evident during the final ceremonies as tears streamed down his face and he struggled to speak. Nadal, his friend and tennis arch enemy, put his arm around Federer’s neck, expressing caring , warmth and friendship. I’m guessing it felt bittersweet for Federer.
Most people tend to avoid bad experiences. No one wants to experience painful difficult feelings if they can help it. It is common for people to try to avoid any situations where they might feel awful feelings, especially the sensations of the feelings. They become invested in avoiding. They try to control the outcome. By doing so they behave differently than they would behave if they didn’t try to control the outcome. They do behaviors, which limit their abilities. The byproduct – their performance level drops and they are more likely to fail. For many people, the fear of feeling the difficult painful sensations of failing become more important than the exhilarating sensations of winning and success.
How has Federer overcome these (and many other) difficulties? He is not afraid of feeling difficult feelings. (That does not mean that he likes it.) Somehow he processes the emotions so that if they happen, he knows he can get through them and survive – well. It takes courage and strength to process emotions.
As well, he has enough successes in his career and in his life that make the risks worth it. He knows the best way to win, and win big, is to play at his best. That means not controlling the outcome. The answer mostly lies in his attitude –
Quote from Roger Federer at the pre-match interview at 2017 Australian Open: “There’s only one match left. I found it’s so great already. Just like – Let it [the ball] fly off your racquet and see what happens.
He let go of the outcome.
Most people have the mistaken idea that emotions are to be managed. When you process your emotions, they do not need to be managed, they naturally shift and change in healthy ways.
To make this shift, you need to understand the physiology of emotion. The brain and the body are complicated. The following is a simplification of the mind/body connection in regard to emotion.
The right-brain, limbic system and the body create the emotions we experience. The left-brain analyzes emotions, but it does not create them. We express emotions from our right-brain; we talk about emotions from our left-brain.
Emotions come in waves. When emotions are pleasant, such as experiences of contentment, satisfaction, happiness, and joy, people tend to breathe normally, rarely noticing the waves. Feelings do not stay the same – they come and they go.
What goes wrong?
When emotions are uncomfortable; such as experiences of high excitement, fear, grief and loss, people change how they breathe, often without realizing it. As the emotion wells up, people tend to hold their breath and then shallow breathe. They shift into their left-brain and start to question what is happening (What if ? What’s wrong? OMG, Etc) Holding the breath blocks processing of the emotion so the wave cannot crest, it cannot recede, and therefore, it cannot dissipate. Now the emotion has to be managed. Unprocessed emotions tend to build over time, like a stack of coins, as other situations create similar feelings. There is more and more emotion to manage. There is less and less energy to manage or wall off the emotions.
When emotions are distressing, such as intense love, fear, grief, and rejection, people get into the habit of trying to avoid them. What they are trying to avoid are the sensations of the feelings. The actual situation that created the distressing sensations, usually gets lost. Now life becomes about avoiding the awful sensations. This complicates life because people become so focused on trying to avoid, they cannot live freely. Also, by trying to avoid feelings, people often behave in ways that actually create the very feelings that they are trying to avoid.
The breath is the key to processing emotions.
As an emotion wells up, breathing through the emotion allows it to crest and recede. At first the waves may be intense. By breathing through the waves they dissipate and get smaller and smaller until, like waves on a beach, they are gone. There is nothing left to manage or avoid.
By facing a feeling and breathing through the sensations of an emotion you will learn that you can handle it. Knowing you can tolerate and handle difficult sensations, will free you up to make the decisions that you want to make. You are less likely to experience difficult feelings and, because life can be difficult, when you do, they won’t last as long.
Embrace all the moments of life. The capacity to experience the full range of emotion, from the depths of despair to the heights of ecstasy, creates a sense of being fully alive.
With care & concern,
We stop for lunch in Ajijic for lunch. That’s me, looking at the menu, deciding what to have.
Behind me there are a small group of people swimming in the lake. We can hear them laughing and having a great time.
I wonder what will happen to them – will they get sick? Now? Later?
“Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink” From The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
With care and concern,