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Conquering Self-Doubt: Insights from Novak Djokovic's Mental Mastery on and off the Court

Dr. Craig Smith, MD

4 Min read

In sports, business, or life in general, self-doubt emerges as a common thread, transcending situations and circumstances. While not all of us are professional athletes, there is much to glean from understanding the mental fortitude they employ to navigate pressures and anxieties similar to those we face in our daily lives. A prime example is tennis luminary Novak Djokovic, who overcame self-doubt that hindered his performance during crucial moments in his career, marking a transformative shift in his psychological approach to the game in 2012.

Djokovic's Revelations:

As he took center stage, doubts infiltrated his mind at critical junctures, including match points and moments of self-doubt. Once viewed as a significant flaw demanding elimination, these mental hurdles were an integral part of his journey. “I used to freeze up whenever I made a mistake.” His breakthrough came when he acknowledged the impracticality of completely eradicating negative thoughts and self-doubt, especially during pivotal moments.

Previous Mindset:

The imperative was to elevate oneself to expunge any trace of negativity on the court. Doubt signaled something was amiss.

New Perspective:

Recognizing the inherent humanity in anticipating negative thoughts under immense pressure, Djokovic now employs a set of skills to adeptly manage them when they arise. Now, he anticipates doubt on the grandest stages. His realization: “Everyone goes through these thought processes of self-doubt. I don’t think it is particularly bad. I used to think it was bad. So I was trying to ignore it or shut it down.” “But the major transformation in a positive way for me started when I acknowledged and accepted those thoughts as part of me.” Djokovic's radical shift involved letting go of the pursuit of eliminating negative thoughts and instead focusing on developing strategies that acknowledged his humanity, when these thoughts inevitably surfaced.

Insight 1:

Elite athletes often face self-doubt, in inconvenient instances. The goal isn't eliminating inner voices, but discovering tools to deftly manage them.

Insight 2:

Conscious breathing serves as an anchor, grounding individuals in the present when negativity strikes. Cultivating breathwork in low-pressure situations empowers one to deploy this tool effectively in overcoming negative thinking when it truly matters. Djokovic reflects, “Now when I blow a serve or shank a backhand, I still get those flashes of self-doubt, but I know how to handle them.”

Mental fitness is a state of preparedness, evaluated by how swiftly one can rebound. It's not about maintaining perfection but honing the skill of readiness through practice.

About the Author

In 1984, Dr. Craig Smith founded Lifesource. As a coach, he's worked with world-class athletes and guided thousands towards successful weight loss. Driven by a desire to elevate his understanding of the human body, he returned to the rigors of medical school in his 50s, achieving his goal of becoming a physician at 56. Now in his 60s, Dr. Smith leads by personal example, continuing to inspire, educate and empower individuals from all walks of life to achieve their health and fitness goals. If you wish to train and diet online with Dr. Smith, hear his message and schedule a 45-minute consultation on the New You page.