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When things seem to be falling apart, just go to the bathroom: Insights and Tools from sports and performance psychology

By Toni Gaddie Raiz on 24 April, 2019



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When things seem to be falling apart, and when you are feeling overwhelmed by the emotions and

expectations of your performance and perhaps even overwhelmed by life itself, just go to the

bathroom...

Wash your face with cold water (if you can, splash cold water on your face for approximately 3

minutes; this is scientifically proven to activate the vagus nerve, the source of calming our systems),

with the intention of washing off all that has happened in the past few hours, as well as all the

emotional discomfort you have felt thus far. If you can, sit on the toilet, and take some slow deep

breaths with the intention of exhaling both the past and the negativity experienced thus far. After

this brief period of removing yourself from the context of the discomfort or problem and placing

yourself in a neutral context such as the bathroom, you will find it far easier to bring yourself to this

fresh new moment of the "present'. In the quiet of the "here and now', you can reset your

intentions, strategy, or solutions of your renewed performance on return to the place of tension or

pressure.

For the purpose of this article, the context of discomfort is the physical, emotional, and social

intensity of a match or competition.

At the 2019 Australian Open both winners of the Men's and Ladies' Singles requested to go to the

bathroom when the domination of the match had swung over to their opponents' favour, after the

respective eventual champions had initially been leading. In these matches, Naomi Osaka had 3

match points in the second set to win the match; however, even at this level of tennis the pressure

appeared to get the better of her, losing all 3 match points and then the set. Novak Djokovic had

won 2 sets and became angered by floodlights switched on early in the afternoon for TV purposes.

His irritation caused by the unpleasant condition of the bright lights, as well as a cajoling foe in the

audience shouting out, clearly provoked his usual "in charge' disposition. Both champions

obviously lost not only their composure and concentration, but even their confidence to regain their

domination, which proved to be waning. At their lowest points, after both players had lost the

recent set, they chose to use the bathroom...

A bathroom break would offer the potential of breaking their prevailing downward spiral and

provide an opportunity for cleansing and resetting firm intentions.

Both players returned to court with a newfound presence and the courage to carry out their

convictions with a mind-set that demonstrated an improved composure, confidence, and

concentration. The latter qualities, being the triad of mental toughness and therefore a platform

for these champions to springboard their full performing potential to come to the fore and to finish

the match on top.

The above illustrates some crucial facts about human beings, champions and that leaving the

competition both literally and figuratively can assist in returning to performing at your peak. The

following are four important points that can remove the discomfort of competition when things seem

to be falling apart:

1. Each and every one of us has mental weaknesses or buttons that do get pushed or exposed

from time to time depending on the situational and psychological context.

2. At the highest level of sport, a person can still get provoked regardless of how many hours of

mental toughness training they have invested.

3. At times, every mental tool in the book will not work and in this case, if it is possible, go to

the bathroom...

4. In cases where bathroom breaks are not an option, gratitude and fun, as cliche as it might

sound, in all aspects of life time and time again, are shown to be the next best thing to

redirect momentum toward positivity. In an earlier match in the tournament, Naomi Osaka

was playing a really tricky opponent. This experienced player does not have the traditional

qualities of a great player; instead this world ranked Top 30 player from Taipei uses angles,

spins, high and soft shots, which is in opposition to the majority of the great players on the

tour. Osaka lost the first set and looked mentally and physically down and out. She struggled

through the second, taking it eventually and then winning easily in the third. After the match

she reported, 'I was overwhelmed and I tried to do things that I know is not my game... I

don't even practise doing these things, so it felt like such a waste. I then remember thinking

that I shouldn't be sad, I am playing a grand slam against a great player, so I need to just

enjoy my time and put all my energy into doing the best that I can on every point.'

The above four points not only serve to shift the discomfort of competition when things seem

to be falling apart, but they can also remind us that renewed, improved thought, action, and

creativity are not born out of fighting against or forcing the tide in our direction. The above four

points reinforce that the source of our best emerges from a calm or clear mind and an

awareness that we can choose to appreciate, enjoy or just

have fun in this very moment!







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