Use this simple mindfulness tool to improve your performance and mental state during those last few miles or reps.
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At this point, there's enough research about using mindfulness to boost sports performance that it could basically qualify as a performance-enhancing drug. Still, it's not always clear how to transfer the perks of something like meditation to the real world (aka your regular workouts). Luckily, this one little mental trick could change all that.
In his new book, Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence, Dan Siegel, M.D., a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, helps fill the gap between mind and body using a meditative tool he calls "The Wheel of Awareness."
Here's the gist of the exercise, which incorporates visualization—an insanely powerful strategy—and mindfulness techniques. Imagine you're looking down at a wheel that's lying flat on its side. Your awareness makes up the center part of the wheel, the hub. The outside circle, the rim, are the things you can focus your awareness on, like your bodily sensations and general thoughts, memories, and feelings. Then picture a single spoke connecting the center of the wheel to the rim. That represents your attention. You can exercise control over the spoke, choosing to direct it wherever you'd like on the outer rim. (Related: The Secret to Crushing a HIIT Workout Is Meditation)
Once you can see the parts of the Wheel, you can start putting it into practice. Imagine, for instance, you're in the final leg of a long run. Your legs are burning. You're peeking at your tracker every five steps to see how much closer you are to being done. The voice in your head is saying: You're not going to finish. You don't want to finish. This is the worst.
Then, picture the wheel. Remind yourself that your awareness sits in the center of that wheel and that you have the power to focus your attention in different directions. Practice doing exactly that: Bring your attention to different spots around the rim—how your body is feeling, what you're thinking about, sounds and smells around you, etc. (Related: How Mindful Running Can Help You Get Past Mental Roadblocks)
Doing this gives you a little mental distance from your negative thoughts—you can invite them in, but they aren't the only story. So rather than falling into a negative self-talk spiral, the distance lets you call to mind more confidence-boosting thoughts, like visualizing yourself finishing your run strong. (Related: How to Use Positive Self-Talk to Improve All Your Relationships)
"Your attitude about your available resources can change what you're able to accomplish," says Dr. Siegel. "When you can ignore your beliefs about your limitations, you discover a source of resourcefulness that essentially gives you a second wind." (Related: Tips to Build Mental Strength from Pro Runner Kara Goucher)
This is a helpful but abbreviated example of how to use the Wheel of Awareness to boost your confidence and performance during a workout—basically a starter pack to help you get a feel for the technique and how it may work for you. There are also guided exercises online and in Dr. Siegel's book that can help bring you deeper into the practice. There are also other types of meditation and mindfulness practices that can deliver powerful benefits at the gym. Whatever you decide to try, the bottom line is that taking a few minutes to focus your mind before, during, or after your workout could be the key to taking your fitness to the next level.