Meditation

Mindfulness For Performance – Importance, Definition, Practice, Examples, 19 Activities <1 min

 

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is not sitting in lotus position on a mountain top.

Below is the often-cited definition of mindfulness from Jon Kabat-Zinn (author and founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts).

“Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

Why is it important?

I wrote recently about mindfulness being a critical practice in performance settings. In situations of stress and pressure, mindfulness is the scalpel that sits between my reaction (which I can’t control) and my response (which I can choose).

By connecting to the present moment, I can focus on doing what matters (task-focussed attention) and align my choices, decisions and behaviours with importance (values, people, goals, objectives, purpose, impact).

Modern science continues to validate the beneficial effects of millennia old mindfulness practices on attention, memory, executive function, and cognitive flexibility – all great things for both wellbeing and performance.

 

How to practice mindfulness

What does that definition of mindfulness actually mean in practice?

In simple terms there are three parts to mindfulness:

  1. Focus: We focus on something (eg breath or sound).
  2. Drift: We inevitably drift away from the focus with thoughts, feelings or sensations.
  3. Come back: We notice we’ve drifted and come back to our focus.

Focus, drift, come back, repeat.

The beauty of mindfulness is that it can’t be done “wrong”.

It’s the inevitable drifting and coming back that are the reps in the gym that, with practice, can lead to the benefits described earlier and even change the physical structures in your brain.

Daily mindfulness examples

There are a tonne of apps out there (Headspace, Calm etc) to practice mindfulness in 10 min blocks.

But the reality is that there’s no need for an app. Mindfulness can be practiced in literally every moment of a day.

There are plenty of times when I just slam a coffee down first thing in the morning to stave off the effect of a child-interrupted sleep.

When I’m more mindful though, I sit with my coffee and really try to appreciate it.

  • How does it truly smell?
  • How does it truly taste?
  • What is the temperature of the cup on the palm of my hands?

For just a couple of seconds, I’ve purposefully focussed my attention on a subject and in the present moment, tried to truly experience it non-judgementally.

That’s it.

It doesn’t take up more time. It doesn’t require a special place. It just takes a choice to really engage with that moment.

I do something similar with my first glass of water each morning.

I hold the glass with both hands, and as I drink the water, I recite my values to myself in my mind: Love, Gratitude, Humility, Exploration, Contribution.

Building a practice for yourself

In helping people develop a mindfulness practice, my first question is:

What is something you do everyday (or nearly everyday)?

Like the examples above, it could be your first glass of water, a shower or a coffee.

This becomes the anchor.

The next step is:

How can you really pay attention to this experience?

It might be through any or all of your senses sound, sensation, taste, smell, sight.

With these two questions you’ve built yourself a personalised mindfulness practice that slots perfectly into your existing patterns and habits.

[If you want to explore more about building positive habits check out Atomic Habits by James Clear.]

19 mindfulness activities that take less than 1 minute

Below is a list of mindfulness activities and practices that I’ve tried over the years that I find useful in all sorts of settings including work, leadership, parenting, home, health, fitness and difficult conversations.

I use them as a situation requires but as you’ll see, opportunities for mindfulness are as varied as I’d like to make them.

Most are framed as questions to help to purposefully bring my attention to the present moment.

Breath

  • 4-7-8 breath. Breathe in for 4, hold for 7, out for 8. Repeat three times. (Pioneered by Dr Andrew Weil.)
  • Breathe through my nose: Do I notice the difference in humidity on the inhale vs the exhale? How far down my throat can I follow my breath?
  • Am I breathing with my chest or diaphragm?
  • Am I breathing through my nose or mouth?

Outside

  • Can I feel the sensation of the wind or sun on my face?
  • What sounds can I notice close by? What sounds seem further away?

At work

  • Wiggle my toes in my shoes: what sensations do I notice?
  • Sitting down: What is the sensation of the chair on the back of my legs?
  • Air conditioning in a meeting room: Can I notice the sound of the air conditioning in the room I’m sitting in? Are there different tones?
  • Can I take a mindful sip of water to pause before I respond to a question or situation?

At home

  • Shower: Can I notice the droplets hitting my skin? Can I separate them individually?
  • Washing up: What does the water feel like on my hands? How does the scrubbing brush feel in the palm of my hand?
  • Parenting: Where in my body do I feel the frustration at the toys not being put away? What are the sensations in my thumb when my daughter holds it as she falls asleep?

Exercise

  • Strength work: Can I notice the contraction of my muscles? Can I notice each of the individual fibres?
  • Swimming: Are the tiles on the bottom of the pool in clear focus? Can I notice the different colours on the bottom of the pool as light refracts through the water?
  • Walking/running: Can I notice the sensations in my feet? The airflow on my face?

Food and Drink

  • Food: What does the meal actually taste like? Can I separate the flavours? Can I feel the different textures?
  • Water: Can I notice the temperature? The texture?
  • Coffee/Tea: Can I notice the smell, taste, temperature, the steam rising from the cup?

As Greek poet Archilochus says:

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.”

And this list is really just a prompt and reminder to me to explore how I might bring mindfulness into my day.

I want to practice it daily so that when the pressure is on, I can use mindfulness as a tool to notice my reaction and choose my response.

I’d love to hear about any other favourite mindfulness practices you’ve tried or that have worked for you in the comments below.

[Podcast] How To Thrive As A Leader And Be Your Best Self – Olympics, 3 Questions, 4 Ideas, Crucibles, Buddhism

Toby, what was driving you back then?

I just knew I wanted to go to the Olympic Games. In reflection, I would say that I was trying to prove something to myself. I think that ultimately, I was trying to prove that I was enough.

It was great to be a guest on Jeff Bullas’ podcast recently.

Jeff is an online entrepreneur, influencer, author and speaker on all things digital. He has been featured on Forbes as a “Top 20 Influencer of Chief Marketing Officers” and ranked #1 Global “Digital Marketing Influencer”. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Inc., and Huffington Post. Having built a social media tribe of over 700k followers, he now advises startups on marketing and influencer strategy.

Jeff and I met back in my Bluewire Media marketing days and have become great friends, sharing highs and lows of our journeys both personally and professionally.

In this interview we cover a bit of ground:

  • The three questions that have guided my professional journey.
  • The rocky road to Athens Olympics and my physiological response to the stress and pressure.
  • The four business ideas that we assessed before starting Bluewire Media and our decision criteria.
  • The role of crucible situations in my development.
  • How death forced me to look in the mirror.
  • Why Jeff as a social media influencer has reduced his social media interactions.
  • The tweak in my understanding of a key Buddhism story that made me realise that acceptance is a never ending practice.
  • How an evidence-based triangle can help people work better with stress and pressure.

You can find Jeff all over the web:

Please enjoy!

Tatiana Grigorieva – Transitions, Fear and Willingness

Tatiana Grigorieva is an Olympic silver medallist (in pole vault, Sydney 2000), mother, coach, entrepreneur and all round fascinating person.

In this interview I did for the Queensland Academy of Sport Action TV series, we explore:

  • the transitions that have shaped her life through sport, business and motherhood including how she went from a hurdler to a silver medallist pole vaulter in just 2.5 years
  • how she manages fear
  • her meditation habits and the importance of visualisation in accelerating her training
  • how she encourages her athletes to think about the long term
  • her early childhood in Russia and why her mother made her sign a study contract when she was 13 years old
  • why willingness is the #1 characteristic of the athletes she works with
  • what it felt like to be jumping in the middle of the Olympic stadium for Cathy Freeman’s historic 400m gold medal.
  • and much more.

Enjoy!

What’s helped you through transitions? Let me know in the comments below.

Links from the interview: