The US Open tennis tournament has just concluded. There’s a term in tennis called playing tight. It means that you’re nervous and holding back and generally this means that you’re playing poorly.
If you have ever played tennis, you’ll know that it’s a real challenge to hit the ball well and yet keep it in the court. You might think that if your shots are going long you just need to hit it softer.
But that’s not the case with tennis. In fact, if you hit the ball softly—but improperly—there’s a good chance that your ball will still sail long.
The key is to hit it hard, but with top-spin. If you watch the pros you’ll see them absolutely destroying the ball, but they put tons of spin on it and it stays in.
When you play tight, you’re scared about making a mistake. This changes how you swing and you often don’t hit it properly. You push the ball, rather than smashing it.
Players that are hitting well are often playing fearlessly and with joy. The more they make their shots—and enjoy the results—the more confident they become and the better they swing and play.
Young players, like Canada’s Denis Shapovalov, sometimes upset the experienced pros because they have nothing to lose. They go for winner shots every chance they can. Those feeling pressure often don’t trust themselves to make those big shots and hold back.
This phenomenon isn’t exclusive to tennis. Many sports have variations of it. And the same fear of making mistakes and playing tight can happen at work as well.
Those who have passion and joy for their work will generally take more risks and learn from their mistakes, and build confidence from their successes. Those who are worried about making mistakes and who do not enjoy their work will restrict themselves and not accomplish anything new.
Whether in sports or doing something creative or even crunching numbers, I’ve heard people say, “I’m in the zone.” This is the happy place where you’re so immersed and enjoying something that you don’t even consider over-thinking it, or worrying about what could go wrong.
For example, when writing, the words just seem to come to you. In making presentations, the transitions and ideas just flow. In tennis, you just swing and the ball flies where you want it to.
So how do you get into the zone at work? Training, experience, and listening to good advice are all important. But I think something that’s often overlooked is genuinely enjoying what you’re doing.
Rather than worrying about the end results of your work, or what’s at stake, just enjoy what you’re doing and focus on what you can control. In the end, if you miss while trying your best, you’ll feel much better than missing because you’re working tight.