An abridged excerpt from the practical
new book on how to flourish in your sport,
and become your better you.
[Click the cover to learn more]
The things we talk about in this book are all aimed at helping us to perform better. Mindfulness is one of the tools we can use to do this, and mindfulness in sport has been shown to help athletes across many different domains. We have alluded elsewhere that there are different forms of mindfulness, and different therapies and schools of thought that tend to use mindfulness in slightly different ways. For our purposes, we use mindfulness based on both our understanding of ACT, and our understanding of meditation techniques.
For us, and as it’s presented in this book for your use, mindfulness is an experiential process. It is mainly a body-based exercise. It is an activity. It is something you do. It is not an intellectual exercise. It is not about thinking. It is not about not thinking. It is about being.
It is fully experiencing your life without any conceptual overlay. That is, without thought getting in the way; without adding interpretation to your experience. That is what the ideal is, anyway.
As an example of adding interpretation to your experience, imagine walking out on a cold damp morning and thinking about how cold it is, how you hate this weather, and how you wished it wasn’t so far to your car. The alternative is simply being aware of the cold: the tingle on your skin, the breeze, the way your breath moves like clouds in the air. Simply experiencing ‘what is’ without adding to it. We will give you some exercises you can use to help develop mindfulness, and the ability to act more flexibly to changing circumstances.
One exercise that can demonstrate the way the mind wanders, jumps around, and doesn’t do what it is told, is what we call the finger exercise.
The Finger Exercise
Get comfortable. Wiggle around if you need to loosen up, then sit up straight in a chair, let your shoulders drop and relax a little. We are going to ask you to close your eyes and allow yourself to breathe calmly and gently. Then put the forefinger of your right hand on your right thigh, about halfway between your knee and hip. Simply hold it there, and pay attention to your breath as you breathe in and breathe out. There is no need to control your breathing, just be aware of it.
That’s all you have to do, except if you notice yourself thinking about something other than your breathing. If you notice your thinking going to something in the past, pull your finger back towards your hip. If you find it on something to do with the future, move it towards the knee. When you are just attending to your breathing, move it back to the middle. Do this for three to five minutes. Make sure you time it. Sit, breathe, and be aware of your breathing. Move your finger depending on where the thoughts that pop into your head go.
What did you notice while you were doing the finger exercise? Did you just sit and pay attention to your breathing with a blank mind? Did thoughts pop up on their own? Did they move back and forth between the past and the future? Were they all about the present?
Most people find that their minds throw up quite a few thoughts, images, worries, and plans. All sorts of things can come up in relatively quick succession, and this happens whenever we just sit and attend to something simple. These small but fairly constant lapses in attention, and moments of distraction, are perfectly normal. However, when we are trying to perform at a high level, and need to react immediately and efficiently, distractibility – even for a split second – can be counter-productive. What are normal lapses in attention or intention for most of us, and slight delays in responding, can lead to mistakes and errors not only in high-performance situations, but in any athletic activity.
Are you interested in bringing mindfulness into your sporting performance? ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Training/Therapy – is a modern and effective psychological approach based on a scientific understanding of human thought and emotional processes. ACT uses a practical and easy-to-use framework for skill development through values-based action, commitment, defusion, mindfulness, and acceptance.