I’ll be honest, Andy Murray isn’t my favourite tennis player. Hell, he’s not even in my top three (Federer, Agassi and Chang), but he’s the focus of this story and admittedly, the man plays brilliant tennis and has over 31 career titles (including two Grand Slams and an Olympic gold medal) – regardless of what you think of him. That kind of talent is impossible to ignore. He was recently in the news when a Dutch journo named Wilfred Genee got hold of Murray’s handwritten notes that he used as motivational mantras for his match against Giles Simon (see below).
My first reaction: slimy move by Genee, it’s a private list and shouldn’t be made public. But then after thinking of this site, I realised that now that it’s public anyway, it’s a perfect, real-life example of what the right words can do in terms of motivation and providing the mental edge. The website AskMen did a great write-up on this same topic here. But you’re probably asking – how does this help you? You aren’t aiming for a Grand Slam. But these mantras and the process of choosing and writing them down can give you a mental edge in your own sports, training, and even work goals. And this isn’t just some airy-fairy, flakey mind coach crap – it’s proven by research. Check out this great list of 8 simple, but powerful, mantras used by famous sportsmen and coaches from Psychology Today here and see the effect of positive self-talk here according to sports psychologist Michelle Austin. Positive self-talk can even make you healthier.
But back to the game. Even though Murray lost, these mantras have been used by him throughout his career and should be seen as part of his winning formula. If you can’t read what he has written, he basically covers his strengths and what he needs to do. He faced a lot of criticism for this, and I think it’s totally unjustified. Firstly, it works for him and it was never meant to be made public. Secondly, who cares what certain ‘critics’ think of it, the man can do whatever he wants to prepare himself. I respect him for it. Yes, they may seem basic, but it’s what works for him. This isn’t just about getting him psyched up or mentally prepared, this is also about providing physical cues and starting a self-talk process that cuts out stress and gets him to perform at his best. I hate the expression, but it helps him get into his ‘zone’.
This is what I found interesting about the mantras he chose:
- He focuses on what he can control. This means he has more influence on how the game progresses and on his confidence.
- They’re specific. Even though some of them are fairly general (“Be good to yourself” and “Try your best”), there are one or two that focuses on actions and tactics that he needs to follow. The more specific they are, the more effective cues they become for the right action.
- They’re tailored. Murray changes these to suit his opponent. Every challenge needs a specific performance from him, and he changes it so that the gameplan gives him the best chance of winning.
- They’re not just instructional. It’s not just about providing cues or telling him what to do, they’re also positive, feel-good statements.
- They’re handwritten. This may seem old school in the age of texts and voice memos, but the process of writing these points helps entrench them in Murray’s mind, and helps him to memorise them.
When it comes to motivation, the truth is that you can either be your own best supporter or worst enemy. Negative self-talk becomes a vicious circle that can cause the “yips” and not only destroy once-off games, it can end sporting careers. But it’s not just about the top one percent of athletes, this can help anyone. In my training, I use cues everyday in the more complicated moves – I say out loud what I need to do (in the areas that I need to improve) before lifting. It may sound (and look) a little crazy, but it helps me to reinforce good movement patterns and focus on what’s important.
What are your mantras? It’s time to start writing yours down. Just don’t let a dodgy Dutch journo get hold of it.