• Perform
  • Posts
  • 5 mindset techniques Novak Djokovic uses to be his best (that you can use, too).

5 mindset techniques Novak Djokovic uses to be his best (that you can use, too).

Mindset practices of a GOAT

Reading Time: 3 Minutes

What to Expect:

  • 5 mental skills you can use today

  • Practical places to start your mental training

Keep up with AI

How do you keep up with the insane pace of AI? Join The Rundown — the world’s largest AI newsletter that keeps you up-to-date with everything happening in AI, and why it actually matters in just a 5-minute read per day.

Novak Djokovic has spoken publicly several times about the way he uses mental training to get an edge. As he ascends the tennis ranks and firmly plants himself in the conversation of GOAT, he's quick to remind people that a big part of what's allowed him to sustain excellence over time is his mindset.

In 2023, he became the winningest tennis player of all time as a result.

The skills and strategies Djokovic uses, however, could be deployed by anyone trying to become a GOAT in their own right. He even writes about one of his tools in his 2013 cookbook... suggesting that this skill (more on it in a moment) can, and should, be applied to things like becoming the best chef you can be. 

My mental strength is not a gift. It is only something that comes with hard work.

Novak Djokovic

What we can learn from Djokovic's mindset training is how consistently applied mental skills, just like physical skills in his case, can lead to greatness.

Mindfulness

I mentioned that 2013 cookbook and an exercise he shared inside - that exercise was his commitment to 15 minutes of mindfulness each day. Djokovic takes completing this exercise as seriously as he takes his physical training. He's got a daily meditation streak going that's lasted, by some reports, over a decade.

He doesn't just stop there.

In fact, between matches at Wimbledon, he goes to a temple to meditate under a tree. His dedication to his mindfulness practice allows him to recharge and stay present throughout the match, and to deal with the ups and downs of a tennis season.

What's notable here about Djokovic's approach is his appreciation that mindfulness training (and all mental training) is skill training. He's not trying to meditate the moment something bad happens, or taking deep breaths for the first time after a missed shot. He's working on this regularly, so that he is mindful as much as he can be, instead of just trying to be when he needs it.

Adaptability

Like Federer before him, Djokovic's openness to adjust his approach and game has helped him sustain incredible longevity in the sport. He's talked publicly about how he's evolved his physical preparation to help him compete more regularly, and how he's adjusted his mental approach so that he's more accepting of the fact that he can't compete at every tournament.

The result is a narrowed focus on the most important tournaments (and we know how that ended up). At the highest level, these tournaments demanded a different kind of trust in his preparation and performance, a different level of focus, and a different level of confidence. Because the sport requires so much physical and mental preparation, adapting his game to serve his long-term goal of winning as many Grand Slams as possible helped him to deliver more consistently without having to perform more often.

Djokovic also emphasizes adaptability in his training. In fact, from a young age, he made sure to have repetition, variation, and representativeness - the 3 key factors for effective skill acquisition - baked into his training. In tennis, variation is particularly critical, as the game is played on several surfaces. By introducing variation into his training, he makes sure he's ready to compete at any Grand Slam he chooses.

Visualization

After winning Wimbledon in 2019 against Roger Federer, a match where he was one shot away from losing, a reporter asked Djokovic about his emotional control throughout the match and what the reporter described as a "subdued" victory celebration.

Djokovic's answer was a masterclass in the benefits of visualization, right down to the neuroscience of how visualization works.

He said:

I mean I kind of predicted the scenarios in my head already, visualized what's gonna happen. It was probably the most mentally demanding match I was ever a part of.

Novak Djokovic

Visualization works by helping us build a richer mental model of performance, which makes our brain's predictive processing more robust in the performance itself. It's like taking a "mental rep," and it helps you generate more accurate predictions about what might happen in the competition.

Generating images in our minds can also work wonders over the long term. 

In the same interview, he talks about imagining himself as a winner. He tries to imagine the match in his mind before he goes on the court. 

I try to imagine myself as a winner. I think there is a power to that.

Novak Djokovic

Beyond just imagining points, visualization can be useful to imagine a better possible future for yourself. In Djokovic's case, it's about seeing himself as a winner. As he visualizes himself winning, he's able to see what it would look and feel like to be that person, consistently. That helps drive future behavior toward his ideal state.

Self-Talk

There's always this self-belief, and you have to keep reminding yourself that you're there for a reason, and that you're better than the other guy. And as hard as the moment, you know, is that you are in, you know, the more you have to remind yourself, the more you have to talk to yourself.

Novak Djokovic

Novak has some incredible self-talk skills. So much so, that he talks himself into hearing "Novak" when the crowd chants for someone else. The ability to coach himself positively and consistently allows him to manage his emotions and keep his confidence throughout his performance.

Self-talk is one of the ways we can boost our self-efficacy or our confidence in our ability to execute a specific skill. For Novak, this self-talk translates to an inner drive to succeed and a level of self-belief that allows him to stay consistent with his game, even under pressure.

Djokovic also uses self-talk to help himself refocus and reset. 

After he makes a mistake, he reminds himself of why he belongs. He reminds himself of his goals. And these two statements allow him to come back to what's most important for his performance right now.

Recovery

Novak, like other elite athletes, is as meticulous about what happens after the game as what happens during the match.

A big piece of his formula for excellence is his post-match recovery routine and how he engages in active rest.

When it comes to post-match recovery, he follows a formula of stretching, mindfulness, and refueling to make sure he's ready to go and get after it the next day. His post-match recovery time is an investment in his performance tomorrow.

Djokovic also uses time post-match to reflect and consolidate his learning from training or the game. It's an opportunity for him to figure out what he's learned, what he wants to adjust, and what he wants to persist in. 

Finally, he makes time for social support - in his case, family and friends. Social support is one of our best predictors of resilience, and for someone battling the greats day in and day out, having that support is critical to his success. 

What you can do today to train like Djokovic

If you want to build a mindset that looks like Djokovic, here are a few science-backed practices you can implement to get started:

  • Practice mindfulness. Just 12 minutes of practice is enough to change the functioning and structure of your brain for better mood, focus, and executive function. If you're looking for a free practice, check out this link.

  • Prioritize recovery. Too often, we stay connected to work or tasks for too long. We check work emails late into the night, early morning, or even during meals. Instead, let that go - and focus on being present, with your mind on things that don't stress you out. You can add in yoga or time in nature to bolster this practice.

  • Use imagery. If you have a performance coming up or something you need to prepare for, see yourself succeeding. Imagine yourself going through the performance. See if you can dial into how it looks and feels. Get in some mental reps.

Looking for visuals and charts, rather than words, to understand the daily news?

Bay Area Times is a visual-based newsletter on business and tech, with 250,000+ subscribers.

Join the conversation

or to participate.