I’m often asked, “What can I do to develop my mental skills?” Like a lot of things we are looking for some complex sort of drills. Some step by step manual about how to develop the skills that lead to peak performance. While there certainly are a number of great exercises out there that can be used to develop the mind my personal favorite is relatively simple. I like to use the events that transpire in everyday life to help me develop the skills necessary to perform at a higher level.
Like most of you my life can get fairly unpredictable. I try to set aside time each day to engage in some type of mental work. Usually this involves a meditation practice along with some visualization. I look forward to opportunities to engage in these practices. But let’s be honest… Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Sometimes life just doesn’t allow me the time to engage in these activities. I’ve often said that every moment offers us the opportunity to work on our mental game. Why? Because in order to practice the skills necessary to perform to our highest capacity all we need to do is practice being completely present with whatever we might be engaged in.
When we’re in the zone, when we’re in the state of flow we are completely absorbed in the present moment. Portions of our frontal cortex shut down and our inner critic becomes silent allowing us to tap into our highest potential. It’s in this state that we experience heightened levels of performance, creativity, productivity, and experience emotions such as happiness, peace, and joy. While this state can happen by accident we can develop this ability and prime our minds to more readily enter this state. The catalyst for this state is focused attention. Our ability to not be thinking about future or past and to give our full attention to what’s in front of us in this moment.
So how do you use everyday experiences as opportunities for mental development? By giving your full attention to whatever you may be engaged in. You can turn any activity into a mental practice session by recognizing when you’re thoughts have drifted to past or future and then returning your focus back to what’s in front of you. The more you guide your attention back to the present moment the more you strengthen your ability to remain focused on the task at hand which enhances the likelihood that you slip into the flow state, the zone, the state of peak performance.
Here are a few tips on how you can use everyday activities as mental practice sessions:
- Set a Timer– Almost all of us are carrying a timer in our pocket now-a-days so why not use it to help you train your mind? Take your phone out and set your timer for 30 or 60 minutes. Every time the timer goes off use it as a cue to check in with where you’re currently focused. Are you thinking about some task you need to accomplish in the future? Are you regretting something that happened in the past? Whatever the case maybe be just redirect your attention back to what you’re currently engaged in.
- Connect to Physical Sensations– Regardless of what we might be doing we always have the opportunity to connect to our physical body. Doing so quiets our mind and instantly brings us back to the present. You can listen to or feel the sensation of your breathing, hear the sounds that might be around you, feel the ground beneath your feet or your fingers on the keyboard, taste the food you might be consuming, whatever you decide take a second and use your physical senses to help you refocus. Really try to experience whatever is going on right now through the physical sense of your choice.
- Choose Activities That Connect You To The Present Moment– While we can and many times do enter the state of flow by directing our attention there are also activities that we engage in that by their very nature instantly reconnect us to the here and now. From a standpoint of mental development or performance enhancement it doesn’t really matter how we get into that state it only matters that we do. The more time we spend in the present moment, the more time we spend quieting our inner critic, the more we train our mind to more readily enter that state. So try to spend some time each day engaging in an activity that allows you to focus your attention. For example: I use a variety of activities to achieve this goal; surfing, wrestling with my kids, watching a sunset, walking on the beach, hitting baseballs, all of these connected me to the present moment. By their very nature they focus my attention and allow me to enjoy the very same benefits as my daily meditation practice. So what might do this for you? Yoga? Scrapbooking? Playing and instrument? Any of these are great ways to use everyday activities as mental development opportunities.
Your mental development program shouldn’t become another thing for you to stress about. It shouldn’t be just another thing you have to check off of a list. It should be something you look forward to or something you can use anywhere at anytime. If you have time to spend in meditation each day then great! However, if life doesn’t allow you the opportunity then use any of the number of activities you engage in as an opportunity to strengthen your mind.
“You can make any human activity into meditation simply by being completely with it and doing it just to do it.” -Alan Watts