Sunday, January 27, 2019

Naomi Osaka's inner peace.

Tennis player Naomi Osaka sometimes mentions inner peace as a guiding principle in her performance. This is very interesting.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s famous flow refers to the state of mind where the maximum performance is achieved. When one is in the flow, one is concentrated on one's task. One is relaxed, rather than nervous, and one feels that what one is doing at the time is the ultimate reward, rather than the social recognition or material compensations that might follow.

It would also appear that some athletes experience a special state of mind sometimes referred to as the zone. Hiroyasu Shimizu, a speed skater who won the Gold Medal in Men's 500 meter competition in Nagano Olympics, once described to me the zone he experienced in one race. "I could see the trajectory I should follow as a golden line of light on the ice," said Shimizu. Shimizu also testified that when he broke the world record, it felt almost effortless, with the whole feat done in a relaxed mode. "When one is very pressured and makes too much conscious efforts to win, the result is often disappointing," said Shimizu.

There are at present no accepted classification of such special mind states as flow or zone. Here, for the sake of convenience, let us assume that flow is a generic state of optimum concentration. A state of flow would be something that could in principle be practiced on a daily basis. A zone, in turn, would be a special subset of the flow, a heightened state of the mind which could be achieved only after a long period of hard training, accompanied by a peak performance, which could be realized only a few times at best in an athlete' career.

In relation to flow and zone, where does Naomi Osaka's inner peace stand? In terms of being concentrated and yet relaxed, inner peace might be yet another way to refer to the flow. Alternatively, since Osaka uses the word inner peace as she reflects the final match in the Australian Open (which she won), it could be an alternative expression for the zone. In any case, the wording is an original one, and gives us insights into the mind of a top athlete in a make or break situation.

Achieving a top performance requires being connected to one's core self, while in a harmonious relationship with the environment. It does not help to ignore the given conditions or try to overcome what cannot be overcome. Paradoxically, one has to accept oneself, no matter what one is capable of or incapable of, at a critical moment, to achieve the highest performance possible. After all, one would have done all one could have done in the preparations, practicing, thinking, overcoming challenges, going through mental training, etc. When one stands in the court on the day of the final, the preparations are over and all one has to do and could do there and then would be to simply become one with one's self as one would be on that particular day.

Since both flow and zone are known to be disturbed by noise, external and internal, the latter including one's overzealous ambitions and conscious control, inner peace might mean the removal of such factors, in a spirit of Zen, streamlining potentially complex and overcrowded cognitive space.

Perhaps we should all strive to achieve an inner peace in the increasingly complex world.