Anthony Ross has worked extensively in developing mental toughness in tennis players, and he has some great insights.
In the article below, he articulates the internal process that can cause a player to give up, even when s/he is on the verge of winning. Sometimes especially when they are on the verge of winning.
The Kyrgios Saga Continues…Why Players Give Up
One reason is when a player decides that there is nothing they can do to win, which creates a feeling of helplessness. There is the commonly known response of “fight or flight;” but there is actually a third option, which is “fight, flight, or surrender,” when we determine that there is no way to either fight or flee. We give up. You can see it in prey animals being chased by predators – when they know there is no escape they just surrender.
Another reason that players give up is what Ross describes as the desire to avoid or reduce uncomfortable internal experiences. If we decide we don’t care about the outcome, we reduce anxiety. If we persuade ourselves that we could have won had we tried harder, we reduce the pain of losing even after trying our hardest.
His way out, though, is still based on thinking your way through an energetic/emotional experience, which is the old “insight-oriented” approach to internal change. It’s helpful to understand what’s going on internally, absolutely. But it’s not enough to know why you’re experiencing what you’re experiencing. It is helpful to normalize it though (“everybody feels this way sometimes, it’s normal,”) instead of catastrophize it (“I bet the other players never feel this way, I’m such a loser!”).
The key to actually changing behaviors is to understand that in anything we do, the experience that has the biggest emotional charge connected to it is going to dominate your experience going forward. Because losing a competitive match when we care about it is such a powerful emotional experience (and painful, which ties it to our survival on multiple levels), anything that reminds us of that experience is going to trigger every aspect of it, including stepping back on to the playing field (or court).
The fact that it activates some aspect of our survival takes it far out of the realm of “thinking your way through it.” Our identity might feel at stake, our confidence in ourselves, the feeling that “I’m going to be okay” gets threatened…it might not be rational, but it feels deeply true when we’re in the middle of it and it can feel overwhelming.
And just understanding why we’re panicking or feeling overwhelmed isn’t enough to stop the feeling. Just try telling someone who is having a panic attack to “relax,” and see how helpful that is. Once your amygdala (the part of our brain associated with fight/flight) has been hijacked, all the thinking in the world isn’t going to bring it back to a normal state.
Ross concludes, “In these cases behaviour change comes last and only after all the previous steps that build towards change occur (which take months and years not days and weeks)…And so it will be in this case if Kyrgios can redirect his sad path.”
I would argue that if you include an energy-based psychotherapy technique like EFT or Spinal Release Technique, you can clear the negative charge around the past painful experiences – in minutes or hours, not months – and make it exponentially easier to then adopt the shift in mental perspective that Ross advocates.
If you use an energy-based technique to clear the emotional charge from the trauma of losing, your normal, adaptive thinking processes actually have space to emerge on their own. You have the mental and emotional space to re-interpret the experience and create a different course for yourself that feels natural and easy, instead of something you have to white-knuckle yourself through. Your body lets go of the tension around it and so it’s easy to get back into your flow.
So if you do anything where your performance is evaluated – in work, sports, the arts, life – do yourself a favor and find someone like me who knows how to efficiently and effectively clear past negative experiences so that they aren’t dragging you down unnecessarily. It gets to be easier, it really does.