Every Olympian you've been watching in Rio, whether they finish in first or last place, has some level of Fierce Focus or they wouldn't be competing. These athletes can steady their gaze on the track ahead and mute out the noise around them. They can flip around on a balance beam without being jostled by cheers or background music. They can even fly down a hill in the pouring rain on two very thin wheels.
These athletes didn't become "fiercely focused" by chance. They strengthened their brains with various types of training to help them take on bigger challenges and soar to higher heights. You can do so too, and you don't have to be an aspiring Olympian to reap the benefits of Fierce Focus. In fact, when you're fully engaged in exactly what's happening right now, you become more efficient and effective.
With practice, you can steady your overactive mind by doing the following mindfulness activities. These simple practices will train you to remain composed, not only during competition but also when the inevitable and often unexpected fires pop up in your life.
Like with physical strength training, you can deliberately build Fierce Focus with mental strength training. Here are a few training tips.
1. Notice This Moment
Notice what your mind is doing. Are you paying attention to the task at hand or are you being pulled away by a distraction? Take note and bring yourself back to the next moment. Do this again and again -- repetition is how you train your brain. Recognize that your mind is undisciplined, like a monkey swinging from tree to tree. Notice how easily you're distracted. Be prepared to notice a lot of distraction (it's okay, we're all distracted). Noticing makes you better at noticing. Noticing is your mental strength training, so notice, notice, notice.
2. Ask the Question
You can remember to notice again and again by asking yourself the following question several times an hour: "Am I distracted or am I present?"
Every time you ask this question, you interrupt your mind from whatever it was distracted by (a tense situation at work, the beach, ice cream) and bring yourself back to the moment (in front of a field goal, a crying child, or a traffic jam). In a second, you shift from distracted to present; you pull yourself back into the moment. That's all there is to it. It's really a very simple, ordinary thing to do. I like to think of it as a bicep curl for your mind. To build muscular strength, you need to consistently work the muscle. We know that we can't go to the gym just once and expect results. Repetition is the mother of all skill and asking the question is the mental strength training.
By the way, if you need to reminder to remember to ask yourself the question, pause and notice what you're mind is doing every time your phone or computer dings.
3. Just Breathe
Conscious breathing has the capacity to shift us from antsy and anxious to steady and stable in a matter of moments. Fierce Focus emerges when your mind and body are connected, or synchronized. The best way to make this happen is by breathing rhythmically. Doing so will settle your thoughts, calm your nervous system, and harmonize your systems in a matter of moments.
Try this Box Breathing practice for a few cycles or, better yet, a few minutes. Take a breath in through your nose for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four, exhale out of your nose for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four. If the count of four feels too forced or too short, then simply change it to a count that is comfortable for you. You don't want to feel as though you are holding your breath for too long.
4. Move in Rhythm
When you move your body in rhythm (such as walking, running, cycling, swimming), you naturally settle down, let go of tension, and see clearly. While this isn't new information, it's important to remember. Move your body in a steady cadence; even if just for a few minutes, and you can shift your mental perspective from tightly wound to steady and alert.
Moving in rhythm for a few minutes can help you drop below the static of mental noise and experience the power of now. You don't have to be an elite athlete to train your mind this way. In fact, you can turn any rhythmic activity into a Fierce Focus training session. Take a run, jump on your bike, or go out for a brisk walk and you'll likely recognize how your decision-making ability and gut sense are heightened. Some call this a runner's high or being in the zone. You can also simply call it being mindful.
5. Recognize Doubt
Doubt has a visceral feeling. It might feel like a tightening in your chest or tension in your throat. Start to recognize what doubt feels like in your body and you'll start to notice how it shuts you down in life. Simply noticing doubt over and over again weakens its power. It's like exposing the man behind the curtain multiple times. The point is to interrupt your habitual mental patterns. What does doubt feel like for you? Ask the question and notice what arises. Just asking the question interrupts doubt and strengthens your capacity to focus. It also builds tenacity and confidence.
With mental strength training, you can learn Fierce Focus and use it on the field, in the boardroom, and even with your kids. Your gold metal is out there. What are you waiting for?