How to Use Mindfulness to Improve Your Performances
One of the best ways to improve our minds is to gain deeper insight as to how it operates. This can seem to be both a simple and yet complex task to handle. On one hand, we feel as if we should already know the intricacies of our mind since it’s our own mind after all.
Yet, how many times does a thought pop in your head or a desire begin to sink in that you have no idea why it’s there, and cannot seem to get rid of?
For the most part, these unwanted thoughts are the driving forces behind many unwanted emotional states, including anxiety and depression. Also, unmanaged minds make peak performance a difficult goal to attain.
So, what is the answer? Well, one of the best tools to build a better understanding and mastery of your mind is a practice known as mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness
As a mental performance coach, my job is to help individuals improve their performances through mental training. There are various techniques that can be employed to achieve this.
One of the most fantastic tools I can teach a performer to use is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a term used to describe the state in which you are completely in the present moment. All your attention is centered in the here and now.
A state of mindfulness is usually obtained when athletes consider themselves to be in the flow state. In such a situation, it feels as if there is no separation between yourself and the act you are doing. You are flowing, with each movement feeling as natural as taking a breath.
When you find yourself completely engrossed in the moment, there is a feeling of harmony that comes over you. No longer do you find yourself anxious about the future or fretting over the past. All that matters is the here and now.
Mindfulness boils down to where we place our attention. Anyone can be mindful, all you must do is center all your focus on the current moment. The difficulty comes into play when you try to prolong that focus.
So often it seems as soon as our attention is brought into the present, a distraction pops up. Since mindfulness is all about attention, distraction usually comes in the form of a thought. That thought will be embedded in either the past or future.
Mindfulness can have incredible benefits on your performances, but only if you learn how to use it effectively. I would say that anyone who argues mindfulness is not beneficial has failed to train the skill within themselves.
Of course, if you cannot retain this in-the-moment attention for longer than a few seconds, you won’t see much of an effect. That is why you must take up a practice aimed at building the skill of being mindful within yourself.
I will go into a few different ways you can train mindfulness. But first, let’s take a deeper look at all the benefits mindfulness can have on your performances.
Benefits of Mindfulness on Performance
With the simple definition described above, it’s plain to see how beneficial mindfulness can be to anyone seeking to improve their performance. Having the ability to remain in the moment helps to ward off many of the distracting thoughts that seek to undermine you.
To get more specific and show you the depths of possibilities mindfulness can have, here are four key benefits a mindfulness practice has on performance.
A major benefit gained from consistent mindfulness practice is an increase in focus. Pulling all of your attention into the present moment forces you to train where you place attention.
It’s the ultimate attention training method. Whether you choose to focus on your breath or a task, you cannot be mindful and at the same time allow your mind to wander. Mindfulness is the act of refocusing your attention on the present moment.
Whether you are an athlete, a performer, a student, or a professional, having an increased capability to focus will bring about more success in your life.
Cultivating the ability to be mindful helps to lower stress and anxiety. The reason for this lies in the cause of anxiety. Placing your attention in the future is the main driver for anxious thoughts. Concerns begin to arise, and you create all sorts of different scenarios in your mind.
With these thoughts come feelings of anxiety that can completely destroy your performances. As you attach yourself to these worrisome ideas, you distance yourself from the performance. Instead of giving all your attention to a task, your mind is occupied with anxious thoughts.
Mindfulness is a beautiful solution to such a pattern of thinking.
The more you can bring your attention to the present moment, the less your mind will be consumed with concerns about the future. As a result, you will live your life in more harmony, with a calm state of mind.
This means that during a game, you can play free from future concerns. I know that I used to desperately try and control the outcome of my performances. This was due to the anxiety I felt towards failing. Once mindfulness is trained, this fear has less of a negative impact.
"The more you can bring your attention to the present moment, the less your mind will be consumed with concerns about the future. As a result, you will live your life in more harmony, with a calm state of mind."
Rumination refers to thoughts that you can’t seem to get out of your head. When ideas or topics become burdensome points of deep-dwelling, you are considered to be ruminating.
Now, contemplating an idea is not a bad thing. Oftentimes it is required when trying to make a decision. However, the problem that arises with rumination is the uncontrollable nature of the dwelling.
Through mindfulness, you can reduce such rumination. Without the mental clog of stuck thoughts, your performances are bound to improve.
One of the most interesting benefits of mindfulness I have found is a reduction in emotional reactivity. We all know that being emotionally reactive is detrimental to performance. If you are constantly getting upset or down on yourself after a mistake, it will be difficult to refocus.
This is where you typically see one mistake spiral into many more. Whenever I used to have a bad at-bat early in a game, it was likely there were many more to follow. This was due to the intense emotional reaction I had.
I would get so down on myself, that my confidence would plummet. On the flip side, a great first at-bat typically meant a great game was ahead of me. While this was a positive aspect of emotional reactivity, it was a result of the same thing.
But as performers, we should seek consistency. Not only does this mean being consistent with our production, but also with our emotional states. When you’re competing, no one should be able to tell whether you’ve done well or poorly that day.
You should remain level-headed no matter what, and this means being less emotionally reactive.
With mindfulness, you will gradually develop a state of reduced reactivity. This is something I have noticed a lot in myself. The further I go in my mindfulness practice, the less I tend to react to outside stimuli.
This occurs on a day-to-day basis, but especially when I am actively in a mindful state. Having this capability greatly increases your performance, since you are not at the mercy of your emotions.
Different Ways to Practice Mindfulness
Now that you are aware of the benefits mindfulness can have on your performance, I’m sure you’re wondering how you can begin a practice of your own. Well, it can be as simple as starting to bring your focus more into the present moment on a regular basis.
The problem with this strategy is, we often forget to do such a thing. Days and weeks will pass before we realize we’ve forgotten to be in the moment. That is until we make mindfulness a habit.
For this reason, coming up with a strategic practice for yourself is the best way to make mindfulness a habitual part of your daily life. By consciously being mindful on a daily basis, your natural awareness will start to shift into the present moment.
Here are a few fantastic ways you can begin a mindfulness practice.
I would say this is the most popular method people go to whenever they seek to be more mindful. It is the practice I have taken up and seen countless benefits in my own life.
To begin a meditation practice, you want to decide on a few things. First, you must choose how long your meditation will last. You do not want to be sitting there and thinking in the middle of your practice whether you’ve gone long enough.
So, decide on an amount of time and then set an alarm so you’ll know when you’re finished. Next, figure out the optimal position for yourself. Choose one with your back straight but be sure you’re comfortable.
Now it’s time to begin breathing. Close your eyes and turn your focus to your breath, trying to breathe in and out in a rhythmic manner. Whenever you feel your attention being pulled away from your breath, return it without any judgment. That is the practice of mindfulness.
This is a very simplified explanation of a mindfulness meditation practice. If you would like a more in-depth discussion, you can read one here.
"To begin a meditation practice, you want to decide on a few things. First, you must choose how long your meditation will last. You do not want to be sitting there and thinking in the middle of your practice whether you’ve gone long enough."
Another way to practice mindfulness involves more movement. Whether you don’t want to sit for meditation or you simply want to add another time of day to practice mindfulness, walking or jogging is a fantastic option.
The rhythm you develop while walking or jogging is a perfect place to center your focus into that meditative state. Bring your awareness either to your breath or the action of your body.
You can use the same method as with meditation. As you feel your mind wander to other topics, quickly return your attention to the present moment. This is the act of being mindful.
I am partial to doing a mindful walk or jog outside, because I think fresh air and being in nature really enhance the experience.
The last practice I would like to discuss with you involves incorporating mindfulness into the daily tasks you already do. This can be a beautiful experience because it adds meaning to a usually meaningless task.
Take doing the dishes for example. Usually, we try to allow our minds to wander while washing the dishes. The activity is not very enjoyable, so it’s natural to seek pleasure in the fantasies of our imagination.
Instead, try bringing your attention fully into the moment, being present as you wash the dishes. Now, a task that you typically hate to do is bringing you all the benefits discussed above.
Showers are another fantastic place you can be mindful. It’s all a matter of choosing an activity you already do and bringing your attention fully into the moment.
Whether your performance involves sports, school, your profession, or your family life, mindfulness can work to add value to whatever it is you do.
Through the continual practice of bringing your attention into the present moment, you transition into having this as your natural state of being. So many negative thought patterns live in the past and the future.
Peace thrives in the current moment. Work to bring your focus and attention in the here and now and watch as many benefits unfold in your life. Your performances will be greatly improved as a result.
Where do you place your attention? Do you have a mindful practice of your own?
If you have any questions about mindfulness and its effects on performance, please feel free to reach out to me.
I hope that this article was helpful, and you gained a better understanding of just how beneficial mindfulness can be. If you enjoyed it, please share the article so others can learn how mindfulness can benefit their lives.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
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Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.eli's story
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