The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance by George Mumford has been an awesome read for me.
As a high school and college basketball player I was immediately drawn to Mumford’s approach, as well as knowing he effectively worked with highly successful NBA players (Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant) and elite athletes. He promotes a way of being mindful both in and out of the sports arena.
I frequently look for parallels between the mental aspects of athletic success and life success, and have found that mindfulness can help improve your sports game and your general attitude towards life.
What is mindfulness? It’s a way of being present, or noticing whatever one is thinking or feeling without judging it as good or bad. Certainly, it’s important that the athlete not spiral into a negative mental state after making a mistake or after an injury. Furthermore, as a psychotherapist, I also see how practicing mindfulness is helpful for my clients experiencing depression and anxiety by allowing them to be less reactive to their emotions and more empowered to choose a positive solution. We can practice mindfulness in many ways …ways that don’t take up a lot of time. I think both athletes and non-athletes alike can practice mindfulness through mediation, quietly noticing and taking in sights and sounds, and heightening awareness of negative self-talk.
Mumford clarifies how he instructs mediation. Specifically, one is to sit quietly, close their eyes or look downward and focus on their breath, especially the space between the in-breath and the out-breath. I like to think of that space as the sweet spot and the more you can hang out there the more peaceful you can feel. Of course, we will get off track and may start to obsess about something, or anything, but focusing back on the breath can help get us out of the obsessive loop. It helps to practice this and get comfortable cycling through a number of times to get the benefit of being present or mindful of the moment.
Quietly noticing sights and sounds is another great way to be mindful. We are so busy with our lives that we rarely stop to really look at something or listen, just noticing and again, without judging it as good or bad. I challenge you do this at least once a day and see if your reaction to stressful life events is more manageable and less negative or impulsive. It’s important though to practice mindful listening or mindful sight for several seconds, preferably a minute or two at a time to let the experience sink in.
Finally, I see how having a daily practice of mindfulness helps one to be more aware of negative self-talk and consequently more aware of intervening on it. If we notice we are putting ourselves down, or labeling ourselves in some way …or obsessing over a mistake we made, we can then take a step back from that and either challenge that thought, or we can remind ourselves that all thoughts and feelings come and go and the negative feelings will also pass. As a result, we become less reactive to our own minds, our own thoughts and consequently have greater clarity on what to do. Both the athlete and non-athlete alike can benefit from slowing down, taking a breath and just noticing without reacting. We can always return to this practice again and again.
Athletic success is important, but living a life of awareness can lead to true success.
What happens when we want to avoid failing and no amount of mindfulness seems to help? I will address this further in my upcoming blog on the topic of failure!