Psychology of Performance 44: Mindfulness

Mindfulness receives a significant amount of attention and discussion throughout the media.  Mindfulness is the practice of attending to one’s experience in the present moment in a non-attached manner. The experiences may include thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and external stimuli. Jon Kabat-Zinn defined it as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmental.” (source: http://www.wildmind.org/applied/daily-life/what-is-mindfulness)

Mindfulness relates to the psychology of performance directly in that when the individual’s beliefs/filters/assumptions/schemas that are the cognitive filters we perceive events through are irrational, the individual can get emotionally triggered. This reaction can lead to negative judgmental statements that interfere with performance in any area of one’s life. For example, at a recent tae kwon do tournament, I was coaching a participant who lost a match. He had a set of beliefs that were perfectionistic: all or none. This led him to a series of negative self-talk statements such as “I am no good; I am a bad person; I can’t get this right.”  He then sat down, became non-communicative, tearful, and refused to fight in the next match resulting in another “defeat” as he was classified as a no-show and the fight went to the opponent. It took a series of discussions regarding his negative self-talk and corresponding negative feelings and physical sensations for him to get to the non-judgmental state of mind where he could then start to be kind toward himself. The important elements of this example are that the individual perceived an event through a negative set of beliefs resulting in judgmental, negative self-talk leading to negative, low performance behavior. The examples from business, relationships, sports, the arts, and other areas are endless.

The practical question is how can anyone enhance their performance if these automatic thoughts evoke almost instantaneous negative reactions? The first aspect to be learned and practiced is to learn to sit mindfully and observe without judgment one’s thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations as they arise and disappear. The breath (mantras, chants, and other focus objects) is often used as an anchor activity to return the mindfulness awareness to when the mind wanders. Many examples can be found on youtube. This is one that MINES produced as a quick starting point.

After observing the thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, one proceeds to notice any judgments about them. This is a starting point for analyzing these judgments and how they impact performance in any area of concern. To the extent that the judgments are viewed as dysfunctional, irrational, or just plain unfounded or unsubstantiated, they are fair game for retraining your self and your reactions under those circumstances so as to improve performance the next time.

Other blogs have addressed areas that can also negatively affect performance that mindfulness also can shine the light of nonattached observation related to conditions such as sleep deprivation, substance use, over eating, lack of exercise, and others that also negatively affect performance.

Have a day filled with mindfulness,

Bob

Robert A. Mines, Ph.D., CEO & Psychologist

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