Is Tennis star Naomi Osaka mentally resilient?

Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the 2021 French Open tennis prompted great debate.

In this podcast, I explain why I think her decision shows that she is mentally resilient and that she is a ‘Habit Mechanic’.

I also outline how it’s possible to support the Japanese-born star and current world number two, so she feels better mentally equipped to face future press conferences.

This process is based on an understanding of what happens in our brains during stressful and challenging situations.

PLUS at the end of the podcast, there’s a quick self-reflection exercise to help you asses your own mental resilience.

You can listen to this Tougher Minds podcast on your platform of choice. Subscribe for instant access to the latest episode.

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Podcast Transcription
Hi, everyone, welcome to another Tougher Minds podcast. My name is Dr. Jon Finn, and I’m actually in our head office in Leeds. And yesterday, I was speaking on the radio about Naomi Osaka, and her decision to leave the French Open tennis, which was connected to her not wanting to speak in person at press conferences.

So I thought that would be a good topic for this podcast just to explore what we were thinking about on that radio interview I was doing, and to explore the challenges that I think everyone is going through at the moment. And I think just the challenges of the modern world, and how that can lead us to spending an awful lot of our time thinking about things that are not helpful for us. So, as always, the gist of our podcast is about becoming a Habit Mechanic. And anyone who wants to become a Habit Mechanic can take the free course, which you can access through the Tougher Minds website. But let’s go back to Naomi Osaka. One of the really interesting things about Naomi is that she’s only 23 years old. And just for those who don’t know her, since 2018, she’s now won four majors in tennis. 23 years old, reportedly this year, and already $55 million. What I take away from that is a young lady that has an awful lot of attention on and possibly in a way that no other female professional tennis player has experienced before. Because if we think of some of the other modern greats like Serena Williams, when they were at that age, the intensity of social media wasn’t there. And the intensity of the current state of social media means that Naomi’s life is being dissected almost 24 seven in a way that no one has ever experienced before. So I think that’s the context that we have to understand what Naomi is going through.

And we can all appreciate that because we all live in the same world, where we have this constant ability to be scrutinised and commented on and to also do that to other people through mediums like social media. Now, the specifics of what actually happened in this current episode for Naomi was that she said that she didn’t want to participate in the French Open, take part in the post match interviews because she didn’t feel that was helpful for her. The tournament and all the tournaments and Federation’s respond to that by saying, You must this is a, this is an obligation that we expect you to do is part of your contractual obligation. And now his response to that was to say, Well, look, I’m going to pull out of the tournament, and I’m going to take some time away from the sport and from playing professional tennis. What unravelled then was no me explaining how, since she’d won that first major in 2018, though she has suffered bouts of what she described as depression.

And she wasn’t she’s not feeling great about herself essentially. So why then, is the press conference piece potentially problematic for her? Well, the way that I would understand it is that if we think about Naomi’s brain like any of our brains, we have the lighthouse in our brand and this is how this is the simplest way we can work we can explain the brand new how we do it Tougher Minds might’ve got a lighthouse in your brain. There are two characters that live in the brain called hue. hue stands for horribly unhelpful emotions. The other character is called willamina power or willpower for short. who operates the lighthouse control centre. That means it uses the beam of light from the lighthouse to scan and search the environment. And the first thing it instinctively looks for are threats, problems, criticisms, mistakes, could be mistakes, threats, problems from the past, the present or even into the future.

And willpower, his role is to help Hugh to get his attention back on to things that are more helpful for us doing well. And what I would see happening in the press conferences is that it really gets her hue, paying attention to lots of unhelpful things. Things that linger for far longer than the period of the press conference for so she just can’t share she can’t get rid of, or maybe what then spills into social media afterwards. And what this really is, is Naomi is reporting that she’s developed lots of unhelpful thinking habits, that she is getting fixated on thoughts about worries and threats, these criticisms about her that she just can’t share, because she was magnetised to them. And the press conference is a trigger for that. So there’s commentary about Naomi being selfish and things like that, which I think is nonsense, because this is Naomi’s experience, of, of her life. And only she can really report what goes on inside her head.

And she’s saying that these things make me feel so terrible about myself. But I just don’t want to even go there anymore. And I would say that Naomi, walking away from the tournament in the manner that she has, is a sign of her being resilient. Because the way that I understand it, and the way that science understands it, is that resilience is a two part concept. The first concept is being aware enough to understand that you’re doing things in your thinking that are not helpful for you being at your best. And that’s what you recognise with this situation. And the second part of being resilient is to do something that’s going to get your attention and tell me to do more things that allow you to be at your best. So she’s removed herself from the situation. So in pa Naomi is showing us she’s a Habit Mechanic, that she’s working on herself. But what she now needs, is to put the same dedication and commitment into rebuilding her thinking habits in the context of the criticism, that is the console where because of the profession that she’s in, no, that’s right. But that’s just what is happening. Currently, it’s very tough. For professional athletes, she needs to work on herself to build better thinking habits, because ultimately, she’s gonna play professional tennis, that criticism kind of comes part and parcel. And the way that I would think about this for now, Mary is that she’s on a continuum in her ability to deal with that criticism at the moment. And this continuum, think of one end is that she would be perfect at dealing with this criticism. The other end would be, she wouldn’t be able to deal with it at all. So when there might be a 10 why she’s perfect. The other end might be a zero. and Naomi now is somewhere on this continuum. I don’t know where she is.

Maybe she’s at the lower levels, maybe she’s higher than we appreciate. Maybe she’s just going through a really bad patch in her life right right now. And the stress of a press conference is just too another thing that that mix, there just is almost the straw that breaks the camel’s back. This is somewhere on this continuum. Wherever Naomi is out, she can learn skills that she can turn into habits to make it easier for her to get better at dealing with the challenges that come about through scrutiny and criticism, including those that are common, and are often sparked in in press conferences. So she’s removed herself from the environment, which is great, she’s recognised that there’s a problem here. And now she’s got to do some recuperation and get that brain working properly again, because if she’s been experiencing depression, a brand probably isn’t working particularly well. She needs to rehabilitate it. With the basics of good sleep, a good diet, good exercise and all those fundamental things. We talked about Tougher Minds, but then she needs to start learning some very broad sense resilience skills to allow us to build better thinking habits.

We also have to recognise the mentioned before deliberately earlier, is that may or may is only 23. And from what we understand about brain maturation, it means that the passive Naomi’s brain that allows her to deal with criticism is not fully developed yet. So what happens with our brands is that their wire from the back to the front to the parts of the parts of the brand we deal with to regulate hue are horribly unhelpful emotions, or the limbic regions of our brain. They’re not fully wired until we’re in our mid 20s. So Naomi’s still developing the hardware if you like, to allow her to, to deal with these challenges. So I think Naomi’s future is very bright. And she’ll look back on this episode in years time, and recognise that it really helped her to develop herself as a person and as a better professional athlete.

At least I hope, I hope it is the case. But what she’s achieved so far in her life, it tells us she’s a very resilient person, resilience is contextual. And being resilient in a press conference, under the pressure of real magnified scrutiny is different to the sort of resilience you might need, you know, to win a tie set in, you know, Major, tennis final. But now we can develop the resilience skills required to get better at dealing with the criticism, and she can learn to overcome these thinking problems that she’s got. And we do wish her all the best on that journey. So I just wanted to give a different insight into a big story in the press, and for one of the most promising athletes on the planet. And I wish I could look, but I do think she’s, she is a Habit Mechanic.

But like all of us, we can all learn to become better Habit Mechanics. And anyone who wants to do that Remember, you can access the Habit Mechanic course free of charge on our website. If you like the podcast, guys, please do subscribe to it. And we can remind you every time we release a new episode, which we do regularly. I like to say that if you want to be more resilient, just do a very simple exercise. Give yourself a score out of 10. For how well you did to be at your best in the last 24 hours, or so far today. 10 would mean you were perfect. One would mean you failed. Once you’ve given yourself a score, write down one simple and practical thing you can do in the next period of time to make your life a little bit easier, might be going for that five minute walk that we’ve kept thinking about but never done, he might be eating a piece of fruit instead of a chocolate bar. Having a decaf instead of a full caffeinated drink might be making sure that you get to bed 15 minutes earlier tonight.

But by doing this, we’re starting to develop and refine and tune up our resilience muscles. And we get good at what we practice, guys. So if we want to be having mechanics, we need to be practising these tiny little things every day. And again, you can learn more about that in the Habit Mechanic course. Until next time, guys stay safe and well. Remember, you’re only one tiny habit away from achieving your goals.


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