I have received a number of emails regarding my article on mindful awareness. It seems that staying in the moment is difficult for more than just a couple of us. Advanced development of the human brain has awarded us top spot on the food chain, but the complexity of our cognitive processes can be our greatest handicap in the arena. Why can it be so difficult to get out of our head and into the moment?
By nature, we are thinkers. Many of us like to plot and plan to minimize the surprises in life. We also tend to rehash the past, sometimes obsessively. Most of us live with some kind of regret and plague ourselves with “I should have done this,” or ” I should have done that.” That’s not all bad. After all, if we don’t learn from our experiences, then we keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
There is, however, a time and place for everything and during a performance is not the time to be planning the next event nor reviewing past mistakes. To achieve your peak performance, it is crucial that you learn to recognize the signs that your attention is wavering and how to quickly bring yourself back to the here and now.
Timing during a performance is crucial, and if your mind is occupied in another time zone, you can miss critical information as the performance unfolds. When you need to make an adjustment during a performance, you generally need to make it right NOW. If you are not completely in the moment, you first need to bring your attention back to the moment, assess the situation, then make adjustments. This extra step slows your reaction time and can mean the difference between a successful and disappointing performance.
Attentional control is a leaned skill and one that takes time and practice to master. Once mastered, however, it becomes possible to tune into relevant cues while simultaneously blocking distracting thoughts. Practice adjusting your attention well before an important performance. A simple exercise to strengthen this skill is to take some time each day and practice holding your focus on specific thoughts or objects.
While sitting at home or work, take a few moments to think about a particular object in the room or event that occurred. As your thoughts roam, build as much detail as possible. If you find your attention wavering, bring it back to your chosen object or event and continue to focus for a few moments. Once you are satisfied that you could keep your attention on the object or event, choose another and change your focus.
As you go through your day, practice deliberately choosing and holding your attention. You should find that this becomes easier the more you practice, it’s a bit like building a mental muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. In time, you will find it easier to stay in the moment and maintain an appropriate focus of attention throughout the duration of a performance.