How much of our lives do you think we miss? We are there…but we’re not there?
We are extremely efficient time-travelers, spending our “time” in the past or the future!
We should be good at it! We certainly practice it enough! Researchers say spend about 47% of our waking hours mind wandering.
In effect, they are saying that basketball players are somewhere else for two whole quarters of the game…and half of halftime!
No wonder we have to repeat ourselves over and over in practice…and, even then, the inevitable question of “what are we doing?” emerges!
Mind-wandering is hard-wired into our systems. As with everything in life, there are pros and cons to our ability to be somewhere other than where our feet are!
Often, mind-wandering is associated with procrastination, daydreaming and a negative mood (probably based on the fact that when we are often contemplating non-productive thoughts when we are introspective).
Conversely, research has shown that certain types of mind wandering promotes cognitive flexibility and exercises that require executive brain functions like planning and problem-solving.
So, do we need to control our wandering minds to help our performance?
Despite some of the extremely beneficial byproducts of mind wandering, it is extremely helpful to our performance to reign ourselves in to improve our actions and results!
We have 10s of thousands of thoughts a day. I just heard someone say that we say a State of the Union address to ourselves about once every hour. When I say “say”, I really mean “thoughts.” We have A LOT OF THOUGHTS…more than one per minute according to research!
Of these thoughts, many of them (up to 90 percent) are repeat thoughts…thoughts from yesterday, 2 minutes ago, 5 years ago…some that disrupt us FOR DECADES — or a million times over the past few days!
Either way, many of our thoughts are not helpful to the task at hand.
If we are getting ready to take a shot, hit a pitch or make a speech, thinking about last week’s mistake or tomorrow’s plans with friends (note that one may be labeled as negative — the mistake — and one positive — the friends) these thoughts are non-productive at the moment!
There is a pretty good chance we won’t be successful if we are not focused and present in our execution.
As Dr. Sue Ziegler, our Sports Psychologist at Cleveland State University (and my mentor) preached daily…we can only have one thought at a time.
But we have SO MANY THOUGHTS! How do we control them?
Well…WE DON’T CONTROL THEM!
BUT…The cool thing is…we get to decide which thoughts we illuminate. We get to decide how we are going to react to them.
Will we let them take up space in our precious conscious thought space…where only one thought can fit?
Or will we let them pass through and move on down the path of “thoughts less traveled?”
I began thinking about this as I walked around a beautiful park during my son’s cross country practice last week.
This park boasts a “stress-free zone.” This path is lined with signs that prompt you to stop and look, listen and feel the nature around you.
“As you walk, notice 5 things in the environment.”
“Stop. What do you hear? Listen to the sounds around you.”
And as the picture in this article shows, the last sign says “Recall your funniest memory. Laughter, real or pretend can improve your mood.”
You have to be in a really bad mood to be in nature, moving your body and reading these signs and not benefit from these simple exercises.
These signs instantly took me to the tool I borrow from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to teach our athletes to return to the HERE AND NOW!
It is a simple 5–4–3–2–1 exercise.
Look for 5 things you can see.
Notice 4 things you can touch.
Listen for 3 things you can hear.
Notice 2 things you can smell.
Acknowledge 1 thing you can taste.
Truth be told, you probably don’t have time to do all of these in the heat of competition, but if you have an athlete that has traveled too far down that negative spiral, this may help to pull them back to where they need to be to find success!
Don’t have time to do them all, choose any one of them!
The point is to get you back to the present…out of the time-travel that so often includes rumination of negative experiences or feelings!
Take a look around….ask yourself a question. What can you see? What can you touch? What can you hear? What can you smell? What can you taste?
Even the act of asking a question can bring us back from that place where even great go from time to time!
The walking path was a great reminder of how simple it is to find bright spots if we have a plan and make a choice to notice our surroundings.
We can choose to get out of our heads, out of our emotions, and back into our peak state for performance!
The next time you or one of your athletes is like a deer in headlights, remember the simple 5–4–3–2–1 exercise.
As I recently told a team when learning a new mental performance tool, just like our military, we practice and drill in times of peace so we are ready for the battle. If we only practice in wartime, it is too late!
Sitting and mind wandering, count it back…then do it again. You’ll be ready when it really counts! (See how I did that? 😊)
Have a great week!
P.S. I would love to help your team increase its performance. Give me a call or text at 234–206–0946 or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a team session!
Certified Mental Performance & Mindset Coach
email@example.com • 234-206-0946