Stay focused. Think positive. Leave the day’s baggage in the locker room.
These are all things that athletes are consistently told in order to excel on the field, the court or the ice. If you can do these things, that’s great. Performance certainly is enhanced when you are able to control your thoughts and emotions. But, sometimes, it can seem impossible to let go of negative thoughts or the stress from everyday life. It can actually be really frustrating when you try to change negative thoughts and cannot. So what do you do in these moments?
Mindfulness, or non-judgmentally acknowledging what’s happening in the moment, has been shown to help athletes improve performance. An older post on self-awareness, focused on the benefits of understanding who you are as an athlete. Simply acknowledging thoughts in the moment rather than labeling them “good” or “bad” can help you avoid getting caught up in a spiral of negative thoughts.
Just like any skill, mindfulness takes some practice. The more you work at it, the easier it becomes. Here are some ideas about how to build your mindfulness as an athlete:
- “Schedule” self-check-ins: Pick a few points during practice that are realistic to check-in with yourself. Breaks between drills are a great time to do this. Ask yourself a few questions, like, “what was I thinking during that last drill?” and “what does my body feel like?”
- Take notice of what’s around you: When you walk into your locker room or out onto the field, try to note three things you’ve never noticed before. You may realize that there are a lot of things in your environment that you have never really paid attention to. This can help increase your overall awareness and help you make mindfulness a habit.
- Mindfulness meditation training: Meditation takes a little more time, but it can be a good way to increase your awareness of yourself and your environment. Take five minutes during the day to sit with your eyes closed and focus on one of the following: the sounds you hear, what your body feels like, or the thoughts coming in and out of your mind. This can help you learn to increase mindfulness of yourself and your environment, without judging what’s happening.
There’s no right way to do this, so try to find a way that works for you. Once mindfulness becomes a habit, negative thoughts may become less frustrating for you. And remember, like any physical skill, it takes practice!