Mindfulness: The Key To Improving Focus As An Athlete
What are the top 5 distractions you experience during a game? Is it the other team, the fans, the playing conditions, or your coaches? Or maybe it’s your own mind that distracts you. Perhaps the constant thoughts you have about a past bad performance cannot be stopped.
The truth is, distractions are everywhere. Within sports, they come from all different directions. It’s a competitive environment, and so there are many different people working against your success just as there are those hoping for you to perform well. Sometimes even those who want you to succeed can serve as a distraction.
Just think about yourself as an example. I’m sure your goal is to succeed within your sport. Yet, does this desire sometimes serve as a distraction? Pulling you out of the moment and keeping you from simply playing and performing the way you know how?
Which is why, one of the best skills you can develop as an athlete is focus.
#1 Skill All Athletes Need
It doesn’t matter what sport you play or what your performance looks like, focus is a key ingredient. Without the ability to control your attention, many of the overabundant distractions will work against your success.
Focus provides you with power and control. Imagine, you’re playing an away game. The other team’s record screams they’re the favorites. So, going into the game you begin thinking about how you are terribly outmatched.
Such a frame of thought is a distraction. It’s keeping you from focusing on your strengths and the aspects of your game that will lead to confidence. As the game begins, fixating your mind on the opponents talent is only going to eliminate your ability to be present in the moment.
In addition, the opposing fans are ruthlessly loud. During the game, you can’t help but listen to what they’re saying. As you do, your reactions slow and the attention you give to each individual action you perform decreases.
Now, in this scenario, what is within your control? Well, you may think absolutely nothing is in your control. While it may appear that way on the surface, there’s something you’re overlooking…your attention.
No matter how hard you try or how much you want to, you cannot control external distractions. There’s no way for you to remove the fans or reduce the talent on the opposing team. However, what you can control is the attention you give to these external distractions.
By developing strong focus, you can eliminate many distractions you experience during a game. Not because you are removing any of the distractions, but because you are controlling the attention given to each of the distractions.
"It doesn’t matter what sport you play or what your performance looks like, focus is a key ingredient. Without the ability to control your attention, many of the overabundant distractions will work against your success."
What Is Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a state. It’s a state of awareness where your attention is fully focused in the present moment. When performing, think of the flow state. You know, that feeling where you and your actions are one in the same.
You’re present, therefore your mind is not full of past or future thoughts. In such a state, you are experiencing stillness in your mind, allowing the body to flow and your actions become almost effortless.
When you’re in a mindful state, you are fully aware of the moment. You are present.
It’s surprising to think how many times during the day or within a performance we are not present. At these times, we are living in either the past or future.
Another key attribute of mindfulness is that you aren’t overly reactive. Being reactive happens when you respond to something emotionally. When you’re in a mindful state, it’s as though you watch what happens and then respond how you choose.
This means, when you are mindful, you are in control of yourself and your reactions rather than being reactive to everything around you.
How Mindfulness Increases Focus
What does it mean for you to be focused?
When the goal is to be more focused, this typically means being able to control your attention better and eliminate distractions. But how do you actually go about doing so? Well, as we addressed earlier, it’s less about eliminating distractions and more about controlling attention.
To increase focus, you want to strengthen your ability to concentrate. No matter what you’re concentrating on, the basic fundamentals are the same. It involves controlling attention and being non reactive to outside noise.
This is exactly why mindfulness works so well to increase focus. When you are in a mindful state, your attention is completely focused in the present moment. This means, internal distractions of the past or future are eliminated.
In addition, mindfulness promotes a calm mind. One that is less reactive to external factors. Now, in the midst of outside distractions during a game, you will react less and control your attention more.
All of this comes from being in a mindful state. Therefore, mindfulness for you as an athlete, is synonymous with focus. But, mindfulness is a state. So how can you gain the ability to cultivate such a state during a game when it matters the most?
"To increase focus, you want to strengthen your ability to concentrate. No matter what you’re concentrating on, the basic fundamentals are the same. It involves controlling attention and being non reactive to outside noise."
Training Focus Through Mindfulness
To better understand how mindfulness can help you increase your ability to focus, a clarification must be made. Mindfulness is a state. However, the training of mindfulness is an act. Let me explain.
Think of being in a state of mindfulness like performing a skill. When you first learn the skill, you won’t be an expert. You’ll be able to do it, but to perform it well and better yet, to reach mastery level, training must be put forth.
So, you put in work, training the minute details of the skill. Each day you spend a little time practicing. As time goes on, your proficiency grows. Now, every time you perform the skill, you’re a little bit better.
Mindfulness is much the same. Right now, you can perform the skill of mindfulness. Each one of us has the ability to center our attention in the present moment. However, this will not last long. Quickly a thought or an external distraction will yank you out of the moment.
And so, to increase proficiency and strengthen your ability to retain this present moment awareness, training must be done. Now, training mindfulness is quite simple: it’s the act of noticing your attention drifting and pulling it back into the present moment.
That’s it. By doing this over and over, you strengthen your ability to not only hold your attention but quickly refocus yourself when it begins to weaken.
But just as you use drills to facilitate practicing your physical skills, there are activities you can use that provide you the opportunity to train mindfulness consistently.
"Think of being in a state of mindfulness like performing a skill. When you first learn the skill, you won’t be an expert. You’ll be able to do it, but to perform it well and better yet, to reach mastery level, training must be put forth."
Mindfulness Training Techniques
Mindfulness is a state of awareness, therefore, you cannot put the training of mindfulness in a box. There are truly no limits to the activities you can use which facilitate the training of this state.
The beautiful part is, you get to decide which is the best way for you to train. Remember, your goal is to increase your ability to focus. You’re after the state of awareness, so how you get there is up to you.
There are, however, some tried and true techniques that you can use. These are simple and cover a wide range of interests. Allowing you to tailor the technique to yourself and your own needs. Here is a list of mindfulness techniques you can try:
- Mindfulness Meditation: by far the most widely discussed technique is mindfulness meditation. This practice involves sitting down with your eyes closed for a certain amount of time. You focus on your breath and simply work to be present.
- Mindful Walks: if the idea of meditation isn’t attractive to you, another option is mindful walks. Going for a walk outside in and of itself is a calming experience. But it also proves to be an opportunity to train mindfulness. As you walk, bring your attention into the present moment and focus on your breathing and the rhythm of your feet.
- Mindful Breaks: this involves setting multiple alarms for yourself throughout the day. Each time the alarm goes off, pause what you’re doing and take a few moments to breathe deeply. During this time, work to bring your attention into the present moment.
With these techniques, just as with any others you choose to use, remember that you’re not striving for perfection. Do not get discouraged if you find it difficult to control your attention. You are training. The act of training mindfulness happens each time you notice your attention wandering and you bring it back into the present moment.
Countless distractions will work against you as an athlete. Whether internal or external, they will always be present. Your goal is less about eliminating such distractions and more about controlling your attention.
To control your attention, you must strengthen your ability to focus. Mindfulness training is the best way you can work to do so.
Through a daily practice of mindfulness, your focus will strengthen over time and so will your ability to control your attention.
Now, if you’re interested in a more in depth approach to mindfulness and learning many other mental game skills, then you need to check out Mental Training Advantage.
It’s a 14 day course where you will learn how to increase confidence, improve focus, and develop mental toughness. To learn more about this game changing course, click here.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
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