With today’s modern life, we need mindfulness now more than ever
The pace of life, the endless streams of news and information, the myth of multitasking, technology and social media vying to grab our attention; this is all making us less effective. When we switch attention from one thing to another the attentional systems in the brain go offline for up to half a second and we can miss the information presented to us in that time.
Studies have shown when you attempt to multitask your productivity goes down by 40% and your IQ drops by 10%
Our brain is not able to perform two cognitively demanding tasks at once. Multitasking is not an enviable skill, but simply a bad habit. Furthermore, A famous Harvard research study conducted in 2010 by Killingworth and Gilbert found our mind wanders 47% of the time, that’s almost half our life we are not present!
When we think we are multitasking we are attention switching and we are actually slowing ourselves down, losing track of what we are doing and creating unnecessary stress. The average person checks their phone 150 times per day. If your phone is on silent and vibrates in your pocket and you don’t even check it, you make 28% more errors in a task you are engaged in.
Similarly, when you are doing something complex such as writing an assignment, and then you check an email, studies have shown it takes 64 seconds to get your attention back fully into what you are doing. All this distractedness is making us much less effective learners and doers and making us less happy.
75% of mental health problems begin between the ages of 15-25 but we are even seeing them in children younger than this. 1 in 7 primary school children has a mental health disorder and by the time they get to high school that number increases to 1 in 4. Tragically, suicide is the biggest killer of young people.
But there is something we can do about it.
Mindfulness is about paying attention in the present moment and having the body and mind in the same place and at the same time. Being present and fully engaged and aware in each moment. Meditation means attention training, and with mindfulness, we focus our attention on the present through the senses. We notice when the mind wanders and we are not trying to stop the mind wandering or getting rid of our thoughts, it’s about noticing when the mind wanders so we can bring it back.
With mindfulness practice we can get good at becoming more aware, not to judge, and then we can apply that to anything that we want to do such as studying for an exam, handling a difficult conformation at work or bringing yourself back into the moment under the pressure of a squash match.
“What we practice grows stronger. Our brain neurology physically changes and strengthens when we dedicate time to mindfulness practices ” – Dr. Shauna Shapiro, professor of psychology and neuroscientist at Santa Clara University
We can all learn to grow and change no matter our circumstances. We can train our mind to be here where we already are. Repeated exercises shape our brain. They sculpt and strengthen synaptic connections based on repeated practise. Brain scanning found that meditators brains grew bigger and stronger in the regions related to attention, learning and compassion. This is called cortical thickening, the growth of new neurons in response to related practise. We are practising and growing something in every moment and not just in meditation. Mindfulness works! It’s good for you. It’s been proven to strengthen our immune functioning, decreases stress and helps us sleep better.
A small footnote here, we need to be careful of our intentions when practicing meditation, it is easy to bring in judgment, impatience and frustration and if we are meditating with judgement, we are growing judgement, if we are meditating with impatience, we are growing impatience, if we are meditating with frustration, we are growing frustration.
Watch this short but powerful video from Headspace outlining our inner monkey mind and how to begin to train it. Not by trapping it or forcing it to sit still. But rather with a kind and gentle hand.
Mindful meditation strengthens the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus in the brain, 2 key learning areas associated with attention and memory, and it dials down the activation in the amygdala, the brain’s fear centre, so we become less stressed and anxious. Mindfulness gives people tools for waking up and being aware. Mindfulness should look to be the source, not the side dish and not just an add on.
Mindfulness is starting to become part of the core curriculum in Universities in Australia due to the benefits it has started to show. Students are less stressed, anxious and depressed and there is better study engagement, increased curiosity, improved social skills, more self-esteem and less procrastination and overall, they are kinder to themselves and others and are overall more productive. In the corporate world, for every $1 spent on wellbeing, you see $2.70 worth of increase in productivity. Mindfulness has shown to develop meta-cognition and awareness of feelings and thoughts. It can get you in touch with values and what’s important and the positive impacts of your actions on others and the world.
WHY MINDFULNESS ON THE SQUASH COURT?
When you are able to practice mindfulness constantly, i.e., away from the courts and in day-to-day interactions, this allows the body and mind to learn to relax and manage stressful moments in a healthier way
In addition, it helps to create a more positive and proactive mental approach to difficulties and problems. It allows you to be aware of your inner voice and to help bring you back into the moment. It allows you to become aware if you are dwelling on the past, e.g., a bad error in a winning position, losing a game from in front or thinking about an off-court frustration earlier in the day. Equally so it allows you to become aware if you are forecasting into the future, e.g., thinking about how close you are to the win, thinking about what people will think if you lose or trying to problem solve an issue you may have to deal with tomorrow. Practicing mindfulness and making it a habit will allow you to heighten your chances to achieve the FLOW and ZONE state on the court as you will be working and operating in the here and now.
When you are competing, you need to trust your training has been adequate and let it show itself in the match.
Being mindful and present gives you the ability to maximise your play by keeping you in the moment and to keep bringing you back into the moment when your mind has drifted
If you watch Ali Farag for example, he is brilliant at resetting himself and bringing himself back into the moment time after time and this allows him to perform near to his maximum in each and every match. This is no random event, and his mental practices away from competition allow him to achieve this state when required in a match.
Could you begin to do the same?
The SquashMind app has a section for Meditation Timers with both guided and non-guided meditations for you to use and create a habit of bringing mindfulness into your day-to-day life. The meditations help direct you and guide your attention to different aspects such as sounds, body, breathing and even the visual field. And like the evidence points to, the more you dedicate to practicing, the more the brain gets better at staying in the present moment. This could be one of the most powerful and life changing practices you may ever do, no reason to not give it a proper go…
"Mindfulness is a habit, it's something the more one does, the more likely one is to be in that mode with less and less effort...it's a skill that can be learned. It's accessing something we already have. Mindfulness isn't difficult. What's difficult is to remember to be mindful" - John Teasdale
In closing, another little reminder about how thoughts will come and go constantly and rather than running into the road to try and direct the traffic (the passing thoughts and feelings), it's more beneficial to sit on the side of the busy road and let the passing thoughts and feelings flow through you. When you can keep coming back to this place of stillness you will begin to be more mindful and ultimately be more present and able to handle whatever highs or lows come your way!
"It's that act of becoming aware of distraction. And then vividly aware of the next appearance in consciousness. That is the skill you are training when you meditate. So all of those moments that seem like a recognition of failure are in fact the practice" - Sam Harris
- Start small and begin to get into a habit to regularly practice meditation each day.
- Aim to get a streak of just 2-5min sessions in daily at the start or end of each day. You can use the SquashMind app for this or any other form of meditation tool. Don't overreach and fall short.
- Once you have begun to get in a better habit of cultivating mindfulness on a daily basis try and bring it more into basic and simple interactions during your day i.e. when first sitting down in your car, notice the feeling of sitting for 10-seconds, or when you brush your teeth, be mindful of the taste and texture in your mouth.
- Over time look to increase your mindfulness through more periods of your day and try and catch yourself if your thoughts and feelings are ruling you and yanking you all over the place. Mindfulness is not just for formal sitting down practice, but rather a setting to attempt to cultivate in all interactions and events.
- Try and use mindfulness on the squash court with meditative squash in your solo work, Meditative squash is where you pick one area of focus for several minutes (anywhere between 3-10mins) and commit to the task. An example would be fully observing where the ball lands every time, to see it and to not judge it. Another would be to feel your breathing every time you inhale and exhale. Another example would be to try and watch the ball as close as possible so you're able to pick up the two yellow dots rotating.
- Over time, and when you feel you have become stronger with your mindfulness, bring this into competitive matches. Begin by using it between points (especially linking this to breathing). You can also begin to use it within the rallies and begin to notice and be aware of your thoughts and feelings and let them pass through you like watching traffic from the side of the road.
If you liked this blog, please do share with others that may be interested on this subject and find it of use. I work closely with players on all aspects of their game and mind. I offer online Zoom lessons and become a mentor and accountability partner for players. I find 1:1 online lessons immensely powerful for learning and am now using the court more so for practice. Being able to learn away from the ‘distractions’ of playing is proving to be highly valuable.
“Learn online, practice on-court.”
Please do get in touch by emailing me: email@example.com