The second pillar of mindfulness exercises builds upon pillar 1:physical mindfulness training exercises. Once you realize that the goal is not to stop your thoughts from occurring but rather to learn how to redirect them, you can continue to excel as an athlete. Think of this as mental flexibility or mental mindfulness. Through the physical exercises of breathing and focused attention on a task, you will realize that you have choices and can decide which thoughts to focus on and follow. This is mindfulness: being aware of choices.
As performers, we think constantly during training and competition. Those thoughts can be extremely helpful or unhelpful, and we may not even know how our thoughts influence us from moment to moment. Many athletes hear from their coaches, peers, and parents: “You need to think positive!” However, many performers do not know how to move into positive thought.
Mental mindful training is a skill that helps performers gain awareness about their internal chatter. We often have numerous thoughts occurring very quickly or at the same time. Mindfulness training is about utilizing and giving more attention to those thoughts that are typically associated with better performance.
Here is a tool to utilize:
The thoughts in our mind operate like traffic lights, switching from green to red and back again.
- Green Thoughts: In the flow, present in your workout or competition.
I can, I am strong, yes, the feeling of no negative thoughts.
- Red Thoughts: Dwelling on what is wrong, worrying about or focusing on things you don’t like.
I hurt, I failed, that was horrible, I can’t.
Awareness is the mindful mental tool that can help you SWITCH those thoughts into something more directive or helpful.
Try Practicing Switch Thoughts:
When you are in a situation where you swing from positive mental thoughts to negative thoughts, imagine a YELLOW traffic light.
Yellow thoughts are:
- Neutral and action-orientated
- Counting steps or foot strikes
- Focusing on a single task or action: breathing, pumping arms, practiced routines
Here are Switch Thoughts in action:
- Awareness of the negative thought
- Accept the thought without judging yourself-simply be curious.
- Action towards a yellow or neutral thought.
Practicing Switch Thoughts brings forth the following:
- The ability to instantly change your mental state
- Redirecting your mind to align with your body for greater efficiency in the moment
- Switch thoughts quickly bring you into the moment and help identify mental lapses
- Self-correcting mental tool