Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – Dec 1, 1999 – Dr. John F. Murray – In an earlier Mental Equipment article, I suggested that fear and worry are your constant enemies, and that reducing worry is a key to success (See Confronting Fear in Tennis). While this is still true, there are times when it helps to worry a little more and relax less. You might toss and turn at night, and fidget in your chairs this month, but at least you’ll use this nervous energy to your advantage by learning to worry smart.

A recent article in The Plain Dealer highlighted the danger of “toxic worry,” described as “worrying about the worst thing that can happen,” such as visualizing yourself hitting a golf ball into the water … or perhaps botching an easy overhead smash on match point! This unnecessary form of worry is contrasted with “good worry” which makes you more creatively prudent, like taking steps to ensure the ball is hit away from the pond. Let’s examine some ways to worry smart, as well as the benefits you’ll derive.

Identify Real Needs

To worry smart, first identify what is most relevant to your performance. Begin by carefully analyzing your matches. By reviewing the article “Increasing Self- Awareness,” you’ll become more aware of what is most important for self-improvement. With this clearer understanding of needs, proper goal setting is also possible (See The Art of Goal Setting). The end result is better understanding, a real purpose, and a means to achieve what you want.

Focus on Control

Worry smart by focusing only on controllable factors such as developing an effective strategy after scouting your opponent. As you worry about these performance tasks, energy is directed productively toward future performance. By contrast, worry wasted on uncontrollable or irrelevant factors (e.g., spectators, weather) only breaks your concentration (See Attentional Control in Tennis) and reduces efficiency.

Keep Your Cool

Excessive worry, no matter how task relevant, reduces performance. Smart worry involves staying on your toes and fully alert, but knowing when worry is excessive and using methods to lower intensity (See Optimizing Arousal in Tennis). The bottom line is to keep a clear and cool perspective. If not, you may need to engage in a few stress reduction exercises too (See Stress Relief in Tennis).

Prepare Well

Get really well prepared by worrying smart in practice. This requires hard work and anticipation of what you need in the upcoming match. However, when you are totally prepared, this worry is gradually transformed into increased self-confidence (See The Art of Confidence).

Avoid Upsets

When you are playing an inferior opponent, or someone you are supposed to crush, worry more so that your motivation remains high! This guards against the tendency to become too comfortable when the going is easy. Review “The Motivation to Achieve” for a better grasp of this process.

Retain Your Self-esteem

Many chronic worriers are perfectionists whose every performance determines their self-worth. Avoid this trap by reviewing “Eliminate Perfectionism for Success.” Smart worry is not to be confused with the illusory quest for perfection.

In Closing

If you must worry, worry smart. Remember to identify real needs, focus on control, keep your cool, prepare well, avoid upsets and retain your self-esteem. This kind of worry may keep you on edge, but you’re gaining a winning edge.