Meditation is like tennis

Tord Helsingeng
2 min readApr 6, 2021

Do you find meditation difficult? Maybe it’s because you look at meditation as a winner’s game, when in fact, it’s a loser’s game.

What on earth do I mean by that?

The terms “loser’s game” and “winner’s game” come from the book, Extraordinary Tennis for the Ordinary Player, published in 1970 by the engineer and economist Simon Ramo. Ramo studied hundreds of tennis tournaments and carefully recorded how points and games were won. He found that in amateur tennis, 80% of the points were lost by unforced beginner’s mistakes, and only 20% won by skillful play. In professional tennis, however, the numbers were reversed.

This is what makes amateur tennis a loser’s game: whoever loses the least points wins. Professional tennis, however, is a winner’s game because the beginner mistakes have been weeded out, so simply avoiding them does not win. These two games are completely opposite and require completely different strategies.

The interesting thing is that this also applies to a number of other “games” in everyday life.

How often are good results and satisfying moments not about weeding out beginner mistakes?

Meditation is also basically a loser’s game, where you win by not making the most common beginner mistakes. To get you started toward “winning” in meditation, here are three common mistakes beginners make:

1. Stop meditating

Meditation is not a miracle cure that instantly solves all problems. It is also not suitable for everyone in all situations. And if you have had unresolved trauma in your life, you will need to take some precautions.

Yet many who could have benefited from meditation give it up before getting results, which usually takes a couple of weeks minimum with a regular daily practice.

2. Not having a clear understanding of why we meditate

The intention of meditation is not a state of bliss and peace of mind. The purpose is to increase our basic attention and ability to be present in daily life.

Therefore, a good meditation is one you have done.

3. Getting frustrated by an unruly mind

In the beginning, you may quickly become frustrated with distractions and thoughts that you experience as disturbances. But this is precisely why we practice meditation: to try to have as much concentration, equanimity, and sensory clarity as we can with what arises in consciousness.

Gradually, you get better and better at that. But you don’t start with the result, a quiet mind; you start with its opposite.

In this process, you need to be kind to yourself and remember the bigger picture.

If we manage to avoid or overcome these fundamental mistakes, we will facilitate a solid meditation practice with ever more victories.

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Tord Helsingeng

Norwegian mindfulness coach and bodyworker, specializing in chronic pain relief and stress disorders.