I have often been told I become a different person once I step onto a competition floor. Like a switch is flicked, I can go from being nervous and doubting my abilities to being a confident and focused athlete.
But at my last competition, something amazing happened that I hadn't experienced before. Despite always striving to be, this was the first time I was completely present in every workout. I wasn't thinking about the result and worked on staying in the process during every rep. I didn't notice the music, the crowds, the competitors, or even my judge. I was focused and connected to the moment.
This presence of mind allowed me to have one of the best personal performances of my life, despite being far from the fittest I've ever been.
I found that being absorbed in the moment also brought a very keen awareness. An intuitive sense that I knew exactly how to handle the situation at hand. There was no hesitation. There was no trepidation. There was no worry. There was just this tunnel vision and a sense that I was doing exactly what I needed to do at that moment to be my best on that day.
A present state of mind is incredibly valuable and powerful to an athlete or to anyone trying to bring forth their best when it matters most, and this type of presence of mind is not just effective in the sports world but all aspects of life.
We live in a world with so many distractions that it is hard to concentrate on the right now, to have a present mind, to block out everything else. How often have you been focused on something to be side-tracked by a phone notification? Or your apple watch vibrating? Similarly, it only takes one tiny distraction to enter your mind for you to miss a rep, fall off the pace in a race or even cheat on your diet.
Having a present mind is always a work in progress. My newfound skydiving hobby has helped me unlock a new level of presence. In skydiving, you have no choice but to be 100% present from the second you leave the aircraft. There is nothing in the world but you in that very moment and what you need to do. It is the ultimate meditation.
Of course, I'm not telling you that you need to throw yourself out of a plane to reach a powerful present state of mind. But here are four much easier steps I have tried to develop over the years to help work towards being more in the moment, whether that be in a Triathlon, a gym class, a competition, or in everyday life:
1. Know precisely what you need to focus on at that moment.
Each rep, running step, arm stroke, and breath, no matter the sport, break down what you need to do to be your best. If this is the only thing on your mind, then there will be no pressure, no nerves, and no room for unproductive self-talk.
Taking your goals onto the competition floor, such as "I want to win," is one of the biggest tension-inducing mental mistakes you can make. It leads to a rabbit hole of distractions from the task at hand. It indicates that you are focusing on the future and not the present.
2. Practice, Practice, Practice.
Reaching this level of awareness is not something that happens overnight. I've been training it for over 25 years. Take small steps at first, and focus on small time frames. Can I concentrate entirely on this set of 20 wall balls? or can I run for 1km without my mind wandering? Then you can slowly build it up over time. Remember, a present mind doesn't mean a blank mind, it means total focus on the task at hand.
3. Speak productively to yourself in the 3rd person
The simple act of talking to yourself in the third person during stressful times may help you control your emotions. It leads you to think about yourself more similarly to how you think about others. I use productive self-talk in the 3rd person to get me through every competition, training session, or life event. It is motivational and increases my focus on the task I am trying to complete. You will have to train yourself to recognize and stop unproductive or negative self-talk before it even comes into your mind.
4. Have Fun
Fun is the secret ingredient to staying calm and doing your best when the heat of competition is turned up high. If you make a race, training session, or competition too important, put too much pressure on yourself or get too serious, you'll start getting nervous, and your performance level will drop dramatically. This is when all kinds of negative distractions will begin to appear. Yes, it's going to be hard, but forget the past, forget the future and focus on what you need to do to be your best self at the moment and enjoy it.
A quote I read recently explains how the present moment is all we truly have: "The present moment is the only thing where there is no time. It is the point between past and future. It is always there, and it is the only point we can access in time. Everything that happens, happens in the present moment. Everything that ever happened and will ever happen can only happen in the present moment. It is impossible for anything to exist outside of it." - Myrko Thum
So start making small conscious steps to develop your present mind, and you will begin to reap the benefits.