One of the most important skills you can have as an athlete is the ability to focus on the present; that focus on the now. We call this, appropriately so: present moment focus.
No doubt it seems like a pretty difficult skill to learn. You may start to believe our Myth No. 1 of “you have it or you don’t” and give up early on. BUT, as with most of the myths we’ve busted and skills we’re working to develop, there are multiple ways to acquire this present moment focus mindset.
One way that I’ve found is particularly helpful is to practice meditation. I get that it’s not exactly for everyone, but I love it and notice a big difference in my day when I don’t get it in. For some, meditation may seem “too weird” or “too hard to wrap you head around” because there is no “right way” to do it other than focus on the breath when you get distracted (more about on that in a future article and video).
To help, I like to use concentration grids. Concentration grids have been a part of sports psychology for years. It’s one of the ways you can learn about your focus on the moment, and your obstacles in executing it. I have attached more of them for you to use, but be on the lookout for when we launch our Amazon store which will include a complete book of grids.
I use concentration grids in most presentations that I do to create a competitive environment. It’s not too time consuming– I only have athletes do it for a minute– and it’s fairly simple to do. You start by circling the numbers in order from 1 to 100 until you are all done. At first it may take 15 minutes or so to complete, but as you do them more and more, your times will improve. Most people get the total time to around five minutes.
Athletes ask if it really works; It not only works in the present moment, but over time. The key to its effectiveness is making it a consistent habit.
Eventually, you will run into the law of diminishing returns. Translation? It will be harder and harder to break the five minute mark. When that happens, you either need to develop new strategies, or add stressors or difficulties like loud music, TV, practicing in a crowded and loud room — get creative and try new things. Start at 50. Change the order. CHALLENGE YOURSELF. That’s how you get improvement.
Here are other reasons I find concentration grids useful and helpful when it comes to training with athletes:
1) It reboots and drains your nervous system.
2) They require you to develop a plan for managing thoughts, feelings, emotions.
3) Patterns show up as you struggle through them in the moment and over time. You may figure out your default reactions to getting stuck or frustrated.
4) It helps you to learn how to block out distractions.
5) As you improve and times improve see the patience required to improve once you get the numbers.
6) You will learn your obstacles to developing a consistent habit. Sometimes I have athletes use a “streak” card to get them jumpstarted.
The more you learn about yourself and your reactions, the more flexible you can be. The more flexible you become, the more prepared you are for unexpected situations. The more you learn how you develop habits, the better you will be at developing new ones when needed.
The result – expensive confidence.
**Hans’ note: In the summer months of July and August we’ll be moving from our usual weekly Mental Fitness Fridays to bi-weekly. That gives all of us (mostly me) time to relax and recover every other Friday — a key part in mental fitness.**