Today I am going to explore one of my favourite topics – habits. In this article I will walk you through the steps I took to create a winning habit for winning at my favourite sports – tennis.
In 2019, after I moved to a new neighbourhood, I joined a local tennis club. I have always been into tennis, but it is so hard to keep playing the sport when you are moving all around the world. But this time, I was set upon becoming part of the community. I signed up for all events, which included playing as a sub in the C-team for the local inter-county doubles league. Now, three years later, I am member of the board and I continue to play on the C-team team.
Playing tennis competitively, even as an amateur, is very different than playing tennis for fun. In 2021, inspired by reading about Michael Phelps (in the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – link to Goodreads), I created a small routine for myself to repeat before every point. It worked! This year, as soon as the inter-county started, I happened to be reading another book on the same subject (Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg – link to Goodreads) and I decided to create a full match-wide routine for playing tennis.
Here, I will show you how I did it. I hope that you will be able to extract the learnings and apply it to your personal life.
According to BJ Fogg, a behavior has three components: motivation (i.e., your aspiration or the outcome you want), ability (i.e., how well you can do it), and prompt (Charles Duhigg called it the cue). It happens when the three components come together. Most people usually concentrate on the motivation part when adopting new habits and this is why they fail.
When I started forming my tennis habit, my outcome was clear. I wanted to win more decisive points and have fun playing those points. I knew that if I concentrate on winning more matches this would be a daunting motivation, which would most probably fail.
Click here for more articles about habits.
BJ Fogg defines the term golden behavior. It has three criteria: it realizes your aspirations, you want to do it, and you can do it. There are several steps to follow when defining a positive habit: clarify your aspiration, define specific behaviors, start with tiny habits, find a good prompt, and celebrate successes.
The golden behaviors which I defined were:
- Do not pay attention to the current score, only focus on the upcoming point.
- Get to a calm and concentrated state before every point.
- Remind yourself to watch the ball (this is probably the most important skill for an amateur tennis player).
- Remind yourself to have confidence on the first touch with the ball (i.e., the serve or the return).
Adding emotion to the habits
Feeling good about your successes is an important step in adopting a habit. But doubles tennis is a multiplayer game with unreliable feedback look. You can play great and still lose a point (e.g., because your opponents played better, or because your partner made a mistake). And you can play lousy and win.
This is why I embedded a celebration aspect after each point, regardless of the outcome. What mattered for my celebration was only if I did my golden behavior or not.
The only final touch which I added at the end was a small “it is OK” cheer when I actually made a mistake. After all, one of my goals was to forget every point (and forgive myself for mistakes).
Habits for winning at tennis
I ended up with the following routine of habits. Again, I hope you will use them as inspiration to solve the challenges in your lives.
Step 1: Before the match
Before the match I put on a music song in order to get me to a concentrated state. To my mind this is the moment, when I leave the previous days behind. I start visualizing the match and how I am doing all my habits. Prompt: When I park my car on the parking lot in front of the tennis court. Celebration: I start singing along.
Step 2: Stretch
At some point in time, I go to the court to start preparing for the match. As soon as I take out my racquet, I do a stretching routine. This is a signal to my body that it starts soon. I also want to signal to my opponents that I am ready for a fight! Prompt: When I take out my racquet from the bag. Celebration: Jump and get to the court.
Step 3: Warm up
After the stretch, I go to the court and start warming up. Every time when I hit a ball, I remind myself to breathe and watch the ball. Prompt: I hit a ball during warm up.
Step 4: Before every game
Before every game (and inspired heavily by the Star Wars: Rogue One move), I tell myself three mantras which doing deep breathing: I am one with the ball, I am one with the racquet, I am one with the court. It sounds silly but I love it! Prompt: When gathering the balls to pass to whoever is serving, or when changing the sides of the court. Celebration: I tell myself, “Let’s win this match
Step 5a: Before every point – green light
This is the most important habit, because a lot can go on in a point. This is why I have divided it into a green light (i.e., all is going well) and yellow light (i.e., we lost the previous point or we are in a dangerous situation). I remind myself about the five principles which I set for myself: confidence, watch the ball, play simple, bend the knee, have fun. Prompt: When the point ends and my response to the point in positive. Celebration: “Let’s win this point!”
Step 5b: Before every point – yellow light
The yellow light behavior is the same, except that I also brush my shoulder or hit the soles of my shoes with the racquet in order to shake away the previous point. Prompt: When my response is negative.
One action for winning habits
At the end of this article, I urge you to define one simple Golden Behavior to make a tiny change in your life. This about your aspiration, define your prompt, and go do it!
What are the next steps?
If you have liked my article, please proceed to my contact page, where you can view various ways to contact me.