Where Mental Toughness Lives

posted on: September 3, 2015
author: Brian Lomax

Man Meditating on a Rock at the Beach --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Man Meditating on a Rock at the Beach — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

I recently finished reading George Mumford’s “The Mindful Athlete,” and it reminded me of the importance of committing to a meditation practice on a daily basis so that I can be at my best more often. One of the benefits of such practice that I have come to appreciate is the ability to suspend judgment of an event, and then give myself time to look at it from multiple points of view before deciding on what I should do, if anything.  This applies to not only athletic performance, but to life in general.

Oftentimes, people react immediately to what is going on around them with various emotions, and they become servants of those reactions. There is no space between stimulus (action, event, etc.) and reaction. There is no time to simply observe what is happening in the moment. That’s an opportunity lost, not only to experience more in the present, but also to gain insight on the inner workings of the world and on human behavior in general. When we don’t take that moment between stimulus and reaction, we inevitably make the experience personal and thus emotional. Rarely are such events personal in nature. They most likely have nothing to do with us; they are just events. By seizing that moment before reaction, we can learn to not take things personally, and instead, develop an emotional awareness that allows us to mindfully choose how we want to feel in the present. Looking at an event from multiple points of view allows us to develop compassion and empathy for others. We can better understand why people do things when we are able to detach judgment and put ourselves in the shoes of others. Perhaps we may have reacted similarly in the past when faced with similar circumstances.

As an athlete, the ability to suspend judgment is critical to performing well, for emotional reactions often lead to sub-optimal performances. Former UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden said, “Emotionalism destroys consistency.” I am in complete agreement with that statement. Mental toughness lives in the gap between stimulus and reaction. Instead of being ruled by emotions, the athlete must learn to interrupt the stimulus–reaction process, and instead respond in such a way that is productive and beneficial to performing well. It’s not easy to do this especially when there is a lack of mental discipline. This is why adding mindfulness to your training regimen is important; it is the consistent practice that develops mental discipline. It teaches you to slow down your mind, observe your own thoughts in a non-judgmental manner, and to maintain present focus.

Here are a few other thoughts to consider regarding emotionalism and the stimulus–reaction process:

  • What is more important to you: being perfect or having a good overall performance? When you get emotional about mistakes, you are showing the world that the mistake you just made is more important to you than playing well, fighting, and winning. Is that how you want to present yourself?
  • There is a difference between intensity and anger. Anger is undisciplined and unfocused. It is a waste of energy. Intensity is highly focused energy toward a goal. Some claim that they use anger to generate intensity. That is a dangerous path. While it may work on occasion, it is far more likely to lead to inconsistency. Instead, strive to create a calm intensity from your motivation, your goals, and your desire to succeed today.

An easy way to get started with meditation is through the use of guided meditations. The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center has a set of free guided meditations and I encourage you to explore these so that you can begin this powerful practice.  With consistent effort, I am positive that you will see the benefits of mindfulness on your performances.  Let me know how it goes!

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About the Author

Brian Lomax founded PerformanceXtra™ in 2009 with a mission of helping athletes achieve their goals and their top performances more consistently through a progression of mental skills that enables them to focus on what is truly important.

Learn more about the author: https://performancextra.com/brian-lomax/

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