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Going Against The Stream:
“The Buddha described the dharma as ‘going against the stream.’ As long as one swims with the current of a river, one remains unaware of it. But if one chooses to turn against it, suddenly it is revealed as a powerful, discomforting force. The ‘stream’ refers to the accumulated habits of conditioning. The practice of dharma means to turn around midstream, to observe mindfully and intelligently the forces of conditioning instead of impulsively reacting to their promptings.”
– Stephen Batchelor, “Dharma in the War Zone”
We have all fallen victim to bad thinking patterns. For example, saying to ourselves, “I suck at….” or “I can’t do this” or “Why am I doing this sport?”. The negative self-talk list is endless. The good news is there is hope! This is where mindfulness or having a mental awareness plays a major role in the mental game of sport. Performance mistakes and mental breakdowns are actually an important and vital aspect to building a strong mental tool box. What matters the most is how you handle the mistakes. What do you do to become aware of the pattern and how do you turn the mental game around?
It begins with a daily mindfulness practice. This practice includes the three As:
Awareness of the breath is a key attribute of mindfulness because it is an easy-access tool that you can always return to regardless of your circumstances. Ask yourself this question, “Am I breathing?”
The common answer to that question is usually NO you are not breathing, but rather you are thinking. The simple solution is to make a mental note that you are thinking and bring yourself back to your breath. By utilizing this simple and profound tool, you are essentially swimming downstream and going with the current, rather than against it. This drastically improves your mental game through energy management.
Acceptance of your current mental state simply means making NO judgements about your predicament. If you are having a bad thought, then stating to yourself “I am having a bad thought right now” allows your mind to have a chance at redirecting mental activity.
The best way to redirect bad thoughts is through the Action step of breathing. Once you have the awareness of a negative thought, name it and then turn your attention to your breath. Become curious about your breathing patterns and the depth and length of each breath. This is the beginning step to a productive mental game. Once this step is mastered, then other mental tools can be accessed and serve as game changers. Mental techniques include goal setting, imagery, visualization, using anger as a motivator, and meditation.
Look for those moments when bad thoughts creep in, whether during practice or competition, because the gem of overcoming these experiences can help you grow strong in your mental game. Use the 3As(Awareness, Acceptance, Action) to guide you to make mental changes and have fun along the way!