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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
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
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 “nervous?”, 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 4 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
4. In cases where bathroom breaks are not an option, gratitude and fun, as cliché 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 4 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 4
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!
12 May, 2019
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