A version of this article originally appeared in Issue Ten of Gear Patrol Magazine with the headline “How to Get Better at Everything” Subscribe today • Illustrations by EMMANUEL POLANCO
It’s not just yogis and gurus who benefit from quiet time dedicated to focusing on the present moment; elite athletes and corporate strivers alike practice meditation for its performance benefits. The mind-body discipline has long been known to boost concentration, reduce stress and help with a good night’s sleep. But dedicated training can also produce faster, better decision-making thanks to increased adaptability and insight. It’s a simple, effective way to step up your game, no matter what that game is. Pause, take a breath, and read on to learn your TMs from your FAMs from your oooooommmms.
Open Monitoring Meditation (OMM)
Best for CEOs: Open monitoring meditation involves “watching” your thoughts and feelings without becoming attached to them, maintaining a non-reactive and non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. It’s been a favored technique of CEOs like Arianna Huffington and the late Steve Jobs. Recent research suggests OMM practitioners can control their states of consciousness and attention, and according to Michael Gervais, a high-performance psychologist who works with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, long-term repetition can help identify which thought patterns are beneficial to performance — and which ones are worth discarding. Plus, OMM can promote divergent thinking, which is conducive to creativity.
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The Technique: Heilman suggests observing clouds floating through the sky; when thoughts, worries or distractions pop into your head, attach them to the clouds and watch them drift away.
The App: Insight Timer offers OMM meditations to practice absorbing a situation without overthinking or distraction.
Focused Attention Meditation (FAM)
Best for Athletes: Focused attention meditation increases mindfulness by turning your concentration to your breath. By focusing on a simple target, like the in and out of your lungs, it’s easier to notice when your mind wanders, says Christina Heilman, Ph.D, C.S.C.S., and author of Elevate Your Excellence: The Mindset and Methods That Make Champions.
“Focus is a huge part of athletic performance,” Heilman says. “Wherever your focus goes, everything follows.” Learning to ignore irrelevant cues allows insight as to what’s important in the moment, whether that’s hydration or a subtle shift in the opposing team’s defense. Elite performers such as Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings and pro golfer Rory McIlroy practice FAM.
The Book: The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance Insight from George Mumford, coach to NBA championship teams and legends like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. ($14, Amazon)
The Class: The UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness offers mPEAK, a performance-driven mindfulness session for high-level athletes.
The Device: Neurofeedback headsets like Versus and Muse measure brain activity and display your current focus levels on a corresponding app. The goal: learn to harness your attention at its peak, and refocus in times of distraction.
Transcendental Meditation (TM)
Best for Moguls: Transcendental meditation improves mood, attention, focus and emotional intelligence, and can promote a state of inner peace. “A lot of us are stuck because we don’t take time to reflect,” Heilman says. A TM session allows time to process experiences and learn from them. Long-term transcendental meditators show significantly higher blood flow to the brain regions used for adjusting behavior and focusing attention. One study showed school staff in San Francisco who practiced TM enjoyed better moods, higher emotional intelligence, and increased adaptability and stress management skills.
The Book: Super Mind: How to Boost Performance and Live a Richer and Happier Life Through Transcendental Meditation Using a solid TM practice to build resiliency, get more done and achieve peak performance. ($11, Amazon)
The Technique: While only certified TM instructors can provide approved transcendental meditation training — with a price tag of $800 or more — anyone can benefit from 20 minutes spent sitting quietly, eyes closed, relaxing the mind.
The App: Use Oak to time your TM sessions, and watch your tree avatar grow the more you meditate.
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