I can’t state how important focus is. Whether you are training or competing, your ability to direct your focus to the task at hand can be the difference between progression and stagnation. How many times can you remember training and wishing you were doing anything other than that. For example, you’ve got your knee sleeves on, there’s 120kg on the bar and you’ve got 4 sets of 8 programmed for you in your squat session. You think to yourself “I’m a strength athlete, not a Cross-Fitter, why am I doing this”. You notice yourself thinking about the good days when all you had to do was lift close to your one-rep max. Although this happens to all of us, no matter what sport or activity, what matters most is CAN YOU FOCUS?
Like I wrote before, where your focus is important. There are a lot of things that can take our focus away from the task at hand. For me it’s normally food (I live to eat and eat to live). Some people can get easily distracted by their thoughts, and I think we can all relate to that. They may be thinking about how warm and sunny it must be in the Bahamas while they’re training in a cold garage, and staring at their lockdown bought barbell and weights. Other people may get distracted by how they physically feel. For example, that ‘CrossFit style’ workout really worked out your quads and now all you can think about is how sore you are (AHHHHH THE PAIN!). Finally, we may get distracted by our emotions. This could be the nervousness of how difficult the lift will be; it could even be the high frustration you feel after failing your 2nd bench attempt at a competition and readying yourself for your last attempt. So it seems that even if we’re not distracted by things outside of us (such as the cold or other people), we can also get distracted by things within us (our thoughts, emotions and physical feelings). If that’s the case then how can I redirect my focus?
The first step is to accept these seemingly negative experiences. Accepting doesn’t mean that you’re telling yourself “This is great! I am so distracted and it’s amazing”, it’s actually allowing yourself to notice and realise that you are feeling and thinking a certain way and you can still perform while experiencing this. You can learn to start accepting these when you develop an awareness of when and where your attention is being directed. For example, to accept I am feeling nervous I need to allow myself to realise that I am nervous and not try to avoid and judge this experience. I can simply identify that I am nervous and that’s all there is to it. I don’t need to tell myself an elaborate story of how my nerves, or any other emotions and thoughts, will impact my performance. I am simply stating what I’m mentally experiencing and leaving it there. By doing this and by accepting these experiences, we are able to leave mental room to focus on the task at hand. Can you imagine how mentally draining it is when you only focus on how nervous you are? It leaves less room for you to focus on the task because you’re going in a circle of focus on how nervous you are and the thoughts associated with it.
Once you’ve accepted your negative experience, you can now redirect your focus on the task. What I tend to tell my strength clients to do is to touch a piece of equipment they’ll be moving and focus on what they see and what they feel. This is known as mindful touching. What this is doing is allowing yourself to relate your thoughts and attention to a single, task-related object. For example, if you’re going to perform a big squat, simply let yourself stare at the bar, be curious about what you see. Grab the bar and feel the grooves and material. Allow yourself to pay attention to what you physically feel when doing this. Then whilst you’re focused on what’s in front of you, you start to notice that there’s less room for focusing on how negative you may feel. You begin to notice that you’re focused on what’s in front of you, rather than judging what you’re experiencing. Now all you need to do from there is perform the squat one rep at a time. What may help is saying your cues out loud, this can help you stay focused on the task because you’re actively engaging in more task-related thoughts.
Acceptance is an active process, you can’t just passively do it, it will take time and effort to develop the skill to accept certain emotions, thoughts and physical feelings which you may have previously avoided.
Download headspace and try one of their meditation exercises, it’s based on a similar philosophy as the mindful touching activity.
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