Mindfulness and Sports Hypnosis
By Christy Roxburgh
As a hypnotherapist specializing in working with sports people, I very often have clients coming to me for help with things such as wanting ‘more focus’ or ‘better concentration’ when playing and competing at their game. When it comes to the crunch, the main reason why people end up feeling that they are not focused enough is often that they get distracted. Sometimes these distractions come from other people (perhaps an opponent or another player), however more often than not the distraction comes from the individual’s own thoughts. Many athletes I work with fully understand that their thoughts are not always helpful and that negative thoughts can seriously disrupt performance. However, understanding something and being able to do something successfully are often two very different things!
This is where I’ve found the concept of mindfulness can prove extremely helpful in overcoming this type of situation (where someone is aware of their unhelpful thoughts but feels ‘powerless’ to control them).
One example of a situation in which mindfulness techniques have proved helpful in my practice is a client who came for some
hypnotherapy to help overcome anxiety on the golf course. Despite already playing to a professional level, this young man was getting himself so anxious and worked up, he had gotten to the point where he could hardly even hit his tee shot. Even when he managed to succeed at some shots, if he played a bad shot he became so anxious that he found it hard to continue. During our initial consultation it became apparent that he was very aware that his anxiety was the result of overthinking – specifically worrying that if he didn’t have a good round he might get a bad score, might drop his handicap, might not get sponsored, and might not achieve his dreams to be a pro-golfer. What a huge amount of worry and burden to carry around with you on the course!
The 3 A’s – winning the battle!
The first thing I did with this client was to introduce him to the idea behind mindfulness. Then I explained the “three A’s” – Awareness, Acceptance, Action. So often athletes are told that negative thoughts are the route to immediate failure and should be silenced immediately. As was happening for my client, however, this mentality can often lead to panic stations if a negative thought arises, which then spirals out of control. Once I explained to my client that the most important thing is to accept that thoughts are happening rather than to pretend they aren’t there, he began to understand that he was fighting against himself in an energy-draining, losing battle.
The next vital element was to then explain how he can take action to bring himself back to the present moment. For this, I taught my client various techniques including creating a positive trigger, repeating affirmations, and allowing himself to be fully in the present moment. I find that when these techniques are taught in hypnosis, they lead to much stronger images and positive associations which are far more effective out in the field and therefore last much longer.
In this case, using mindfulness in conjunction with hypnosis helped my client to reduce his anxiety about negative thoughts and to realize that his thoughts are just that – only thoughts. This freed his mind and gave him the ability to stay in the present moment while playing golf. In the long-term, it also helped him be more relaxed both physically and mentally.