Sometimes the difference between an athlete achieving their goals and not achieving those goals can be a simple loss of focus, distraction, or even nerves. Often times we hear our coaches telling us to “get in the zone”, meaning focus on the task at hand and nothing else. This can also be referred to as mindfulness: doing something with your whole body and mind.
What is Mindfulness?
Being mindful means to be completely present in the moment, and aware of one’s own thoughts and emotions. If an individual is mindful, they are able to control their experience, how they think, what they say, and how they act. When we’re not mindful, we are not aware, and we speak and act without thinking. Without mindfulness, our emotions can get the best of us and we begin to regret the past or worry about the future. Instead of being powerful and taking control of the situation, we make ourselves the victim of circumstance. A great teacher of mindfulness is nature; a sunflower does not spend its day worrying about the upcoming winter, instead it exists and thrives in the present.
“Our life is shaped by our mind, for we become what we think.” – Buddha
Mindfulness is all about being conscious of each thought, word, and action. It is about taking accountability of how we respond to a situation and controlling the experience we want to achieve. When we decide to get angry or dwell on our failures, we are deciding to have a negative experience. If we choose to act with a positive mindset and learn from mistakes, we are making the decision to have a positive experience and control the situation we desire. Your attitude determines your direction and it’s up to you to decide which way you want to go.
The Role of Mindfulness in Sport
From young children all the way to elite-level athletes, both internal and external pressure can be experienced. Performance anxiety, stress, and emotions are all elements that athletes must cope with, and these may have a big impact on their physical game. One of the most common ways an athlete will experience a negative mindset is dwelling on past failures and mistakes, or worrying about future performances. By doing this, the athlete loses focus on their current situation.
“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” – Elbert Hubbard
Being mindful of the present moment can help an athlete to reflect on each second without reacting to the situation as positive or negative. When an athlete becomes conscious of their own thoughts and feelings, and when they’re absorbed in the task at hand, they’re able to concentrate on what they value and ignore distracting thoughts.
Many athletes try to get rid of the stress and anxiety they experience, which is not an easy task. To be present in the moment is one aspect of mindfulness, but another aspect is to accept experiences. An athlete’s ability to alter their interpretation of stress or anxiety can have a great impact on performance. One way an athlete can do this is by learning to work with their emotions instead of around them. Avoiding a challenge will not solve the problem, but instead we must work with our hardships to overcome them, with mindfulness as our tool.
4 Easy Ways You Can Practice Mindfulness
Just like physical training, mindfulness is something that must be practiced over and over in order to see changes. It’s okay if you don’t know how to do it or if you feel like you are not good at it the first time. As an athlete, at one point in your life you never knew how to play your sport, but you learned and practiced constantly and now it’s as easy as walking.
Here are some ways to practice mindfulness:
1. Mobile Apps
In today’s society where technology dominates, phone apps are very popular and easy to use. There are plenty of mindfulness apps that can be downloaded and used very easily. If you are not a fan of using apps, you can use your phone to set a reminder. You can set a reminder to go off in the morning telling yourself to “remember to be mindful today”. We all live very buys live and sometimes we forget important tasks that we need to focus on.
If you don’t like the idea of setting a reminder on your phone because you have way too many of those already, you can choose a physical prompt to remind you to be mindful. Choose a cue that you come across daily; for example, maybe a certain doorway you pass through. Every time you come to that doorway, remind yourself to shift your brain into a mindful mindset.
Breathing is something we do unconsciously every single day of our lives and never really focus on it. Spend a few minutes a day focusing on your breathing. Take in deep, slow breaths and allow yourself to be aware of your breathe as it comes in and out.
4. Take a Mindful Walk
Take some time to go for a walk, long or short, it doesn’t matter. As long as you walk with a sense of awareness and attention, focusing on each step you take. Take in all of the sights, smells, and sounds. Notice the ground that you are walking on and how it feels. Live in the present as you walk and try not to let your mind think about the past or the future.
Taking small steps is a great start to being more mindful. It is with daily practice and patience that mindfulness can become a habit. When living in the moment becomes automatic, we are able to enjoy, learn, and live better.
“Awareness is the greatest agent for change.” – Eckhart Tolle
The Benefits of Being a Mindful Athlete
No matter how physically prepared an athlete can be for competition, if they have no control over their mind or are in the wrong mindset, their performance will suffer. With mindfulness, athletes are able to monitor their emotions and cope with stress, allowing them to focus and ‘get in the zone’.
Here are just a few benefits of practicing mindfulness:
- Improved ability to control emotions
- Reduced performance stress
- Helps athletes focus and avoid distractions
- Enhances connection between the brain and body
- Improves an athlete’s resilience
- Improves ability to adapt to unforeseen events
- Boosts confidence
- Creating positive thinking patterns become a habit
Mindfulness is not only a crucial tool in sports, but in life. To be able to have composure in a difficult situation, in or out of a sport, is an imperative life skill that will help you for the rest of your life!
Ready to Get Started?
One of the great things about mindfulness is it can be easy enough to start on your own with some of the tips mentioned above! And, as an elite-level athlete you might be looking for more hands-on support in mastering your mental game so you can get to your peak level of performance. Check out my 10-week course for athletes to master their mental game here.
And leave a comment below with your favorite way to practice mindfulness!