Year 8 - T1/1 : CHARACTER FOUNDATION - Personal Best
1. Be your best by balancing stress
In order to achieve their personal best, elite athletes understand how to manage their stress levels. A number of famous athletes and sporting teams have used mindful attention to achieve peak performance and develop mental toughness. A few examples are AFL teams (Hawthorn, Geelong), basketball players (Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant), tennis players (Novak Djokovic) and sporting companies (Nike).
Balancing stress means being aware of when you are ‘under’ or ‘over’ the level which supports peak performance. It also means knowing what works best for you in order to maintain this ‘just right’ level.
We will be looking at how you can use mindful attention to manage stress when it exceeds your optimal level. That is when stress feels too much and begins to impact on your ability to do well and feel good.
This may or may not feel very relevant right now but in our modern world it is an essential skill and is being used in major corporations around the world. A few examples are Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter and IBM.
Can you think of situations that can become stressful in an unhelpful way?
Feeling stressed is very normal. We can learn to manage it effectively so that it can be motivating and productive for us.
The MAT™ program is based on a toolbox of skills which you can apply to many different scenarios in your life. We learn these skills though discussion and also through Inner Attention Trainings which are designed to help you focus your attention in different ways and strengthen positive neural circuitry. They are like doing a workout in a mental gym.
Inner Attention Training
For the first Inner Attention Training, we are going to focus on the breath. This is because the breath is moving and relatively easy to sense. If you become distracted, simply notice the distraction, lightly let go of it, and intentionally refocus on the breath. Each time you do this, you are strengthening the neural circuitry that underlies attentional self-regulation. Just as we strengthen a physical muscle by working against the force of gravity, we can strengthen the ‘muscle’ of attention by working against the force of distraction.
Begin by closing your eyes or if this isn’t comfortable, you can rest your gaze lightly downwards. Take a moment to sense your posture. Place your feet flat on the floor, allow your spine to be lightly elongated and your head resting gently on top - a bit like a balloon. Begin by intentionally choosing to focus on the breath. Place one of your hands on your stomach and see if you can feel the movement of the breath beneath your hand. Noticing when you are breathing in and when you are breathing out. Without forcing or straining and you don’t need to change your breath in any way. Simply being aware of the in-breath and the out-breath. Now take your hand away from your stomach and place it somewhere comfortable. See if you can still focus on your breath. Giving your full attention to the sensation of breathing in and breathing out. At some point you may find your attention has wandered - perhaps you’re thinking about something else. Simply notice the distraction, lightly let go of it, and intentionally refocus on your breath. Giving your full attention to the sensation of breathing in and breathing out. Slowly opening your eyes.