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Nadal’s 12 steps

By: Michael Blankenship |

“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.” 

— Charles Spurgeon

Hair Tug, in a precise order — first left, then right. 

Nose touch. Short tuck. Shoulder tap. 

Bottles line up like soldiers. 

Two of them. 

Exact positions. 

Ball bounces an exact number of times before the serve. 

And then, there’s a ritualistic towel moment after each intense play.

These are part of the 12-step ritual that Rafael Nadal, 22-time Grand Slam singles champion, performs before and during his matches.

To an outsider, they might seem obsessive or unnecessary. 

But in Nadal’s words, 

“It’s a way of placing myself in a match, ordering my surroundings to match the order I seek in my head. When I do these things, I’m competing — it’s something I don’t need to do, but when I do it, it means I’m focused”

In simpler terms: It’s mental grounding. 

With these rituals, Nadal is centering his mind, ensuring he is wholly present and focused on the task at hand. 

Rituals aren’t just about tennis or sports. 

They can be powerful tools for all of us. Especially when facing challenging situations or uncertain times. 

👉 When we follow a ritual, we gain control over a situation. 

We reassure our brain that not everything is unpredictable. This feeling, amidst uncertainty offers a psychological anchor, reducing feelings of chaos.

👉 Engaging in a ritual can shift our emotional state. 

It’s a harmless distraction that helps the brain take a momentary break from stress, making room for a more neutral or positive emotional state.

Do you have any rituals before you go into any stressful situations?

If not, here’s a small task for you today…

Think of a challenging situation you often face or your daily task you usually dread. 

Create a mini ritual for it. Maybe it’s a morning mantra, a pre-meeting stretch, or a nightly gratitude moment. 

Give it a try and see what difference it makes to your stress levels.

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