Surprisingly it only takes a few minutes a day to harness your mind and shape your brain in order to increase your performance. But why doesn't everyone do it? For some, the simplicity of the action undermines the actual benefit, for others it's yet another thing to place on their never-ending 'to-do' list, and for most uncertainty around where to start prevents them from starting at all.
Fortunately there are a variety of practices that you can undertake which will not only enhance your performance, but also help you manage stress and increase your overall well-being.
Mental Training Practices
Taking in the Good
When asked about perfecting his stroke, Michael Phelps shares that he repeatedly visualises each movement and turn he executes through the water the night prior to each race. In fact top athletes across most sport have long prescribed to the notion that visualisation supports them in their pursuit of excellence. Interestingly professor of Neurology at Harvard University Alvero Pascual-Leone has discovered that merely visualising an action contributes to building the brain circuitry responsible for performing that action ~ in particular it resembles the neuroplasticity of actually practicing the action.
Prior to taking the stage at any event, Steve Jobs would spend a few moments in meditation. He did this in order to manage stress, increase his engagement with the audience and ground himself in the present moment. Regular mindful meditation practice strengthens the prefrontal cortex (PFC) ~ the executive centre of our brain responsible for focus, judgement, planning, decision making, impulse control etc. When we experience stress, the chemical produced (cortisol) notifies our amygdala in our brain (our fight or flight centre) which acts as a roadblock to the operations of the PFC. Strengthening the PFC through meditation allows you to retain control of this centre and mitigate and manage the negative effects of stress. Meditation also provides you with exceptional awareness to the extent that you become in tune to others emotions, elevating your empathy and improving your interpersonal relationships.
TAKING IN THE GOOD
Thanks to our ancestors we are hardwired to react negatively to stressful situations in order to survive. Unfortunately this has resulted in a negativity bias meaning that our brain automatically reverts to negative and holds onto negative experiences much longer than positive. Rick Hanson has discovered that by having (or reminiscing about) positive experiences, we can combat the inclination to get absorbed in the negative. Further enriching positive experiences by staying with them and then 'absorbing them' through visualisation (top of our heads to tip of our toes) - we can hardwire ourselves for happiness. Additional benefits of this process relate to our stress response. As mentioned above, when we are stressed our body releases cortisol which chronically kills cells in our hippocampus -the area responsible for visuo-spatial memory and also responsible for calming the amygdala down. When we regularly take in the good, we change our response to stress, less cortisol is released and our hippocampus remains unharmed.
The evidence behind gratitude indicates that a regular practice (once a week is more beneficial than daily!) contributes to our overall happiness and life satisfaction. Gratitude also improves physical and psychological health, relationships and sleep. Each of the benefits of gratitude positively impact performance and engagement, so taking the time once a week to express 5 things you are grateful for is definitely worth the effort!
Positive emotions have the ability to provide an upward spiral toward not only happiness, but resilience, physical health and overall well-being. Furthermore Barbara Fredrickson and Marcel Losada have found that in order to flourish in life we need to be experiencing 3 positive emotions to each negative ~known as the positivity ratio. Which positive emotions are most beneficial? Fredrickson has created a top 10: pride, interest, gratitude, curiosity, serenity, hope, amusement, inspiration, awe and love. Seek out opportunities for these emotions and utilise these emotions in your mindset.
If we all put as much time into developing our mental capacities as we did worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, what a richer place our minds (and our world) would be. It really is as simple as I've explained above, take a few moments a day and take advantage of your not-so-secret weapon.
Cortex Consulting helps individuals realise their full potential and thrive through values-based coaching and programs. We also work with organisations to raise performance, increase engagement and improve overall well-being. Contact Kirsten to book a free consultation.