Edition 21 (June 2014)

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Mental Toughness Digest for Sport & Performance.

Mindfulness and Performance

You will start to hear the word ‘mindfulness’ mentioned more and more in today’s world, particularly in the performance arena. Knowing how to introduce and develop evidence-based mindfulness to athletes, coaches or performers during training/practice and while competing can be very useful if the aim is for it to have a positive impact on performance. But is ‘being mindful’ of thoughts and feelings enough? Let’s find out.

The pursuit of peak / high performance almost always requires a certain degree of suffering. It would be rare to reach a prominent milestone without experiencing something along the way that was very difficult; from match points down in a match to season ending injuries the roads that lead to our sport and performance dreams are full of pot holes. Resilience, therefore, is paramount to bouncing back from unexpected events, and when handled poorly, a common response by coaches, teachers, mentors or even athletes themselves, is to challenge the thoughts head on. However the process of changing or challenging unhelpful thoughts can at times be exhausting and distracting, often resulting in added tension. Additionally, a large amount of stress for athletes and performers comes as a result of feelings or thoughts which you might believe shouldn’t be there in the first place, for example worrying about worrying, being anxious about feeling nervous for a competition, or getting angry about losing your temper in a match.

Mindfulness strategies are used to allow thoughts to come and go with an ever-increasing sense of ease, allowing emotions and thoughts to flow through you without letting them guide your behaviour. The intention of this is to enable ‘mental flexibility’ to adapt to unexpected situations and assist with handling the stress and nerves which accompany performance at a high level. When “buying into” internal experiences during training and competition, attention shifts inward and away from the outside world and the present moment. It is not surprising that this may begin to predict performance outcomes, and that 100% of attention will not be directed where it should be. You might be asking what the solution is to this, and how you can rid yourself of challenging thoughts – the intention of using mindfulness strategies is not to remove feelings of nerves, pressure or other painful thoughts, but to change your relationship with them so they don’t hold you back from achieving set goals or living the way you want to.

As many of you know by now, at Condor Performance, we advocate for certain domains of our performance being controllable or uncontrollable (with all the uncontrollable factors being either ‘influenceable’ or ‘uninfluenceable’). So where does mindfulness fit into this? It falls into our effort, which we regard as one of the few controllable factors in sport, performance, life. So while you can’t control your emotions and your thoughts, you can focus your effort into noticing the thoughts and feelings and allowing them to come and go without entering a debate as to whether they are right or wrong, helpful or unhelpful. It might help to think about the kind of effort that enables you to get closer to your performance goals, or what sort of action keeps your further away.

One “move towards” suggestion might be working on becoming more skillful at engaging in the present moment and committing to workable action. But be mindful; this requires some hard work and practice at unhooking yourself from the stories that we can so easily get caught up in. To make your training more challenging to prepare for the demands of competition, think up some potentially uncomfortable situations where you would need to apply your newly acquired mindfulness strategy to put a limit on internal struggles. For example if you were a swimmer preparing for a race, you could imagine that you have drawn a fast heat, you have slept poorly and your biggest rival is in the lane next to you. When your mind starts to do what it is designed to do (fight or flight), acknowledge your thoughts and emotions, remind yourself that only your effort is controllable, and shift your attention back to the task at hand by reminding yourself of the actions you need to take to maximise your chance at reaching your performance goal.

If you need a hand with this, you know who to ask.

Author: Condor Performance

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