I am all about stories. And everyday, in my work, I hear people’s stories.
Some stories are very good.
But mostly I hear more negative ones. That is what we do. We focus on what is not quite right in our “games,” whether it is tennis or work or relationships or the challenges of life.
I hear about why it is hard. The if only, the would haves and could haves.
I am frustrated. I can’t seem to play when it counts the way I do when I am practicing.
I choke under pressure.
I can’t control my negative thoughts.
I am tough on myself.
I play tight. I am afraid to swing out.
I don’t like playing against jerks.
Improving is hard.
These stories are the bars we set for ourselves. They are often our explanations. Our excuses. Our exit strategies when we are competing.
Think about Novak Djokovic who, in his post match interview at the US Open, said, “maintaining the level of intensity, match after match, year after year, is hard.”
Wait! I thought the reason you are who you are is that your story is that you maintain the intensity match after match. To accomplish your dream of being the greatest of all time.
Is saying “it is hard” your story now?
That is a bad story. An exit strategy. That is the story that he brought to the US Open. It allowed for the crack in his game in the loss to Wawrinka. (I am taking nothing away from Stan who brought a game that could and did win against a doubting Nole)
My own tennis story was that I didn’t take lessons growing up, I am undisciplined, I am an underachiever who started competing too late, I can’t control my emotions and I am desperate to win to prove to others that I am good.
That was a helpful story if I wanted to fail in my matches. And I did. Over and over. It was always there, a loop in my mind that created my belief. Even when winning it would be there helping me find the way to fail.
I lost…a lot….to people better than me, people the same as me and, way too often, people not as good as me.
Over 43 years of coaching and competing, I discovered that by looking in the mirror I could see my bad stories: the ones that served as the explanations or excuses about why I couldn’t win.
And I found that I could challenge them with better stories.
My better stories were flips of the bad ones: By not taking lessons I create my unique style. I practice what I see makes a difference. I am a master of self discipline. Starting late is my advantage as my opponents have already been their best whereas I am getting better. I will pass them on the way up to my game. I am emotionally neutral. I play to satisfy myself.
A new story. A better story. A story of yes. A story of can do and will do.
I wasn’t living the story yet when I wrote it, but it was the story of where I was going.
I kept spinning it and sharing it with my world to hold myself more accountable.
I took steps during the day to become my new story. There were opportunities all around me to practice being unique, to do one more repetition of self discipline (maybe it was just putting a dish in the sink), to be emotionally neutral about some little thing and to catch chances to congratulate myself for any victory, no matter how small.
Back to Novak. A better story for him this summer might have been: Winning the French and completing a personal Grand Slam motivates me to reach for more. I have unlimited energy in my quest to leave my legacy. My focus is deep and enduring. I appreciate the challenge of having to push myself beyond the point where it gets tough.
Who knows? It might have helped him fight off the distractions of a story that gave him an out.
What are the stories you are telling your coach, friends and yourself? What are your reasons why you are not being the player that you aspire to be?
Are any of your stories similar to the ones at the beginning of this article? Here are some examples of how you can flip them.
I am a master of managing frustration.
I play at the highest level of my talent and skill in competition.
The perceived pressure moments are the sweetest of all and I welcome those more than any other points.
My middle name is positivity.
I am kind to myself and leave my judges home when I compete.
I play free. I am fearless.
I am non reactive to my opponents’ behavior.
I play to improve, not prove.
Storytelling is a skill that people have been using throughout their lives.
The 12-year-old lying in bed thinking about making the shot at the buzzer.
The young college graduate who dreams of running her own business.
The medical research fellow who is searching for the cure for cancer.
We tell stories that set bars for ourselves; stories that don’t work and stories that do.
It is time for you to flip them into better stories of who you aspire to be and who you need to be in order to do what it takes.
Don’t change what you are doing. Change who you are. Put the old stories that keep you where you are in the rear view mirror. Your new stories will lead you to being who you need to be to be amazing.
You have two stories. The current and the future versions of you. Take a look at the two stories, side by side.
Which works for you? Which doesn’t? You have a choice.
Announce to your spouse, kids, tennis friends and colleagues that there is a new you on the horizon.
Start working in little incremental steps to move from the story of no to the story of yes. One step away from the old is one step closer to the new.
The process of change is iterative. You move a step. You get a glimpse of who you can be and, even though you may backslide you will never be the same because you have made that step and know you can do it again.
By writing your stories you are on your way. You have stepped on the pathway of change.
And your game will never be the same again.