Mindfulness and the brain

There is a well written post on the Scientific American blog about what mindfulness does to the brain.  I have been working with athletes and teams, trying to teach them to use mindfulness exercises in simple and straightforward ways to regulate their reactivity.  Mindfulness, when practiced regularly,  changes the key centers such as the amygdala, the small almond shaped area at the center of the limbic system and the site of fight or flight responses.  When the amygdala is stimulated in animals in experiments, they demonstrate fear and/or rage.  This site actually shrinks with the practice of mindfulness meditation.   Our schools, military, coaches and business leaders are beginning to teach this simple skill to help us to be more thoughtful and focused.  Read the article here: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/what-does-mindfulness-meditation-do-to-your-brain/

Goal Setting

An important psychological skill I teach athletes is goal setting. A key distinction is between process (or task) goals versus outcome goals.
• Process goals tell us what to do and are skills based
• Outcome goals are all about winning.

In order to move toward outcome goals we have to focus on improving our performance. Most of this comes with hard work and it is gradual. Great coaches help athletes to quantify, measure and keep track of their improvements through stats. They also plan practices with specific skills in mind. Each athlete should be able to identify what they are working on at any given time. Coaches have a duty to communicate clearly what the team or individual athlete is working on. I have athletes set pre-season goals, physical goals and mental skills goals, as well as goals for during the season. Small goals and large goals are set;  practice and competition goals can be defined. They should be specific and measurable. And an athlete needs to keep track of progress on their goals.

Goals should be:
• attainable and realistic
• measurable, otherwise we don’t know if we have reached them!
• moderate goals rather than very tough goals ( better to reach goals and then re-set their goals)
• monitored (or kept track of)
I have had athletes pair up with a teammate to be accountable to. They can push their teammates and it also builds relationships on the team. Last, I ask them who could help you to reach your goals? What kind of help do you need with that? Will a weekly text reminder help you track your goals?

Another important aspect of goal setting is the WHY? Why does the athlete want to reach this goal? It helps to have them spell it out when they set goals. Simon Sinek, a leadership expert, says we need to include the WHY when we think about how and what we are going to do. He claims that what drives behavior, the why, goes deeper to the limbic system, the emotional part of the brain. This part of the brain also controls the decision making.

This is where coaches are critical– in defining the why and helping to bring a vision to the team.  So help your athletes dive into the off season by having them set goals!