Athletes and Executives: Using Mindfulness to Unleash Next Level Performance

Whether it’s in the boardroom, the stadium, or the running track, stress and burnout can affect us all, both physically and mentally. This can start to take a toll not only on performance, but on happiness and wellbeing too. Here, we’ll take a look at mindfulness, a psychological technique that many believe could not only help us to cope with stress, but even improve overall performance. 

What is Mindfulness? 

Mindfulness is a mental state of being present in the current moment. It involves focusing on your awareness of the present and calmly acknowledging your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations, without seeking to change them. In the past decade, it has become very popular as a therapeutic technique for coping with anxiety and depression; however, in recent years, a number of studies have also linked mindfulness techniques with improved performance, both mental and physical. 

Because it does not seek to change our state of mind, mindfulness differs from psychological skills training (like self-talk and visualization), which have been popular with athletes for some time. What’s more, as mindfulness is about non-judgemental acceptance rather than seeking to control emotions, many people find it easier to master and practice, especially in times of stress.  

Mindfulness for Performance

One of the most compelling pieces of evidence linking mindfulness with improved athletic performance is a 2015 study from Temple University. Using a rigorous mixture of quantitative (measuring race times for randomized groups) and qualitative methods (interviews, questionnaires), the study found tangible evidence that the group of athletes who were practicing mindfulness techniques saw reduced anxiety and improved performance. 

While similar quantitative studies about mindfulness in the workplace are still lacking, a number of qualitative studies have been carried out, which involve a mindfulness training period followed by observation and assessment. All these studies have shown that executives, managers and employees who regularly practice mindfulness exhibit the following traits:

  • Better ability to cope with stressful or unfamiliar situations
  • Heightened awareness of internal and external stimuli
  • Better adaptability
  • Better understanding of their own and other’s work situation
  • Able to form more positive workplace relationships
  • Able to set more realistic and achievable goals, and to meet them
  • Able to maintain a better work-life balance
  • Reduced emotional exhaustion and burnout

The results are already being seen. In his TED talk, “Mindfulness: The Unexpected Organizational Revolution,” Peter Bostelmann, an industrial engineer with leading business software company SAP, describes how after running a mindfulness program for employees across the world, they saw an increase in leadership trust and employee engagement, and a significant decrease in absenteeism. What’s more, the company saw a 200% return on investment, contributing to their bottom line and increasing their competitive advantage. 

Mindfulness Techniques

Mindfulness, like any psychological technique, involves practice and dedication: it is not an instant fix. What’s more, there is not a single, set way to way to do it: it all depends on your personality and how you learn. What all mindfulness techniques have in common is learning to be in the moment. Some people learn best through classes, whether in person or online. There are a number of paid and free mindfulness apps available too, which help to remind you to take a few minutes to refocus and breathe throughout the day. 

Others prefer mindful activities, like mindful gardening, mindful gardening, mindful yoga, mindful coloring, mindful crafts, and, of course, mindful running. As long as the activity helps you to focus and recenter on the present moment, it can be done mindfully. Look out for mindfulness activity groups or sessions in your local area. 

A lot of mindfulness techniques revolve around simple breathing exercises like the following one:

  1. Begin by breathing slowly in and out. Try to make each breath cycle last for around 7 seconds. 
  2. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Try to allow your breath to flow in and out of your body to its own rhythm. Feel the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your body.
  3. Slowly let go of your thoughts. Acknowledge them but let them move on without dwelling on them. 
  4. If you find your mind wandering, gently return your focus to your breath, noticing how it feels to inhale and exhale. 
  5. Try this exercise for just 1 minute at first, then gradually increase it as you practice each day. 

CBD for Mindfulness

Although many people already recognize the value of practicing mindfulness, for many people it can be difficult, especially in the beginning, when it is hard to let go of worry or to maintain focus without letting thoughts wander. Now, a growing body of evidence suggests that CBD could act as a mindfulness aid. 

Of course, CBD is not a magical pill that will instantly awaken your mindful awareness. It does, however, have a number of useful applications. 

Firstly, CBD has been shown to increase focus and alertness. PowerUp by PurePower in particular promotes both sustainable energy, with full-spectrum hemp oil, and focus, with its unique blend of herbs and minerals that includes rhodiola, which can enhance mental clarity. This could help to keep you focused on mindfulness exercises and better able to live in the moment. 

Secondly, one of the most popular uses of CBD is to help the mind and body better manage stress. Worry can be a vicious cycle when it comes to mindfulness; although mindfulness works to reduce stress, it can be hard to get started when one is experiencing high levels of it. Intrusive thoughts push their way in, and you’re back to where you started. By calming overactivity in the brain, CBD could help to break that cycle, allowing you to focus enough on mindfulness in the short term to cope better with stress in the long term.