Have you ever been on the tennis court feeling completely overwhelmed? The thoughts are racing: “You can’t do this.” “Who do you think you are?” “You’ve never beaten them before – why do you think you can do it now?” Your heart is pounding, your breath is shallow. You feel anxious and don’t know what to do next.
Or maybe you’ve had a different experience, where you are so present on the court you lose track of time. You are confident, and you know just what needs to be done and how you are going to do it.
The human nervous system is hardwired to evaluate our experiences constantly as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. The pleasant ones we immediately want to move towards and have more of. The unpleasant ones we want to move away from. Then there are the neutral ones, which we hardly notice, as they don’t feel relevant to us. So how can we see more clearly what is going on in particular situations? One way is through mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the capacity to be aware of what is going on in this moment. Not the past or the future – just this moment. The object of mindfulness can be anything – the sky, the trees or anything else around us. As Buddha said, “The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.”
When we learn (or remember) to bring our attention to this moment, we can see that we can be happy right here and right now. If we can bring mindfulness to our experience on the tennis court, we can learn to respond to the challenges of the game calmly and confidently rather than react with anxiety and doubt.
The STOP technique
Just like playing tennis, mindfulness is a skill and needs to be practiced. One way you can bring mindfulness to your experience on the tennis court, so you can respond rather than react, is through the STOP technique:
S – Stop and interrupt your ‘automatic pilot’ by concentrating on the present moment.
T – Take a breath and bring your awareness to the experience of inhaling and exhaling.
O – Open yourself up to observation. Connect to the moment and inquire with a sense of curiosity: What am I seeing? What am I feeling? What am I sensing? What am I hearing? What am I smelling? What am I thinking?
P – Proceed and reconnect with your surroundings and with your activity in the moment.
This technique is one of the areas we explore in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at Habits for Wellbeing and has been adapted from a handout from the Centre for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts.