Mindfulness for Athletic Performance

So you like to work out, you are part of a team or into individual sports. Either way there is a lot you can do to improve your performance by applying some useful mental strategies. Mindfulness for athletes helps you to hone your focus, attention and ability to be in the present. It is in the present that your ability to modify behaviour comes. This is where you can implement the recommendations of your coach or fitness instructor. Only with awareness can you bring about change. If you are not aware i.e. paying attention on purpose to the present moment experience with openness to what is, then it is very difficult to be ok with and responsive to the feedback that the present moment is sending you. This can lead to all kinds of issues such as overtraining, generating stress, not listening to the body, poor performance on race day, end goal focus at the expense of enjoying and being responsive to the present moment. Quite often athletes find that they are unhappy with their performance and literally beat themselves up as a result instead of using the feedback to enhance their performance and modify their habitual thought patterns.

More often than not it is our mental self-talk that limits our performance. As Henry Ford said – ‘whether you think you can or you can’t you are right’. A whole host of self-fulfilling prophecies get snowballed and before you know it you are either winning or losing depending on the story you tell yourself. It’s the story you tell yourself that creates your reality. Whether it is comparing yourself to yourself or to other competitors, this is where the stick to beat yourself with comes from.

What can mindfulness for athletes do to help? Having been involved in my fair share of goal-orientated sports from sparing with a Black belt in Tae Kwon-Do, cross-country athletics, captaining a basketball team, playing ladies rugby, to surfing, yoga, triathlon and Ironman. I have seen my fair share of winning and losing. I have seen the emotional highs of successful performance and the lows of an under-par one. Over the past 10 years, I have cultivated and developed an approach using mindfulness with my own athletic performance through triathlon, surfing and Ironman to yield better physical health outcomes i.e. less injury, to greater emotional outcomes i.e. greater race and performance satisfaction, and not to mention improved race times and overcoming challenges improving skills. How? By bringing mindfulness, neuroscience, nutrition, biomechanics and evolutionary biology to bear on my training, recovery and performance.

While I am probably considered a lazy triathlete by some triathlete’s standards, my Achilles heel being that when the surf is up, I’m surfing and also life takes over, I am an above-par athlete compared to most people’s standards. That coupled with a busy work lifestyle has meant I am selective about my races, endeavouring to amplify my happiness levels more than my stress levels, which ironically many athletes don’t do. What I mean by this is that some tend to over-focus on stress-induced performance rather than happiness induced one.

Many athletes actually increase their cortisol levels (stress hormone) through their training which prompts a whole host of negative impacts including weight gain. It doesn't make sense that for some people who do tons of training they still don’t shift that fat around the middle. The reason for this is that cortisol releases stored energy from the liver in the form of glucose and fats, which are useful for short term fight or flight, however when strenuous training is releasing too much cortisol this gets stored in your midsection, leading to more damage to your body. An increase in stress levels, particularly when you aren’t even aware that you are stressed, can lead to maladaptive coping for the body and the mind.

Mindfulness for Athletic Performance brings together some of the most recent thinking in relation to a stellar athletic performance, including neuroscience, evolutionary biology, nutrition, biomechanics and mindfulness. It ultimately teaches athletes how to get the most out of their bodies and their minds to translate into a happier performance. It is literally the MAP to a healthier and happier outcome.