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Mindfulness and MotorSport

Updated: Sep 2, 2020

I would like you to think back to a moment - in sporting or general life - where you have experienced a thought or feeling that was uncomfortable and unwelcome. How did you manage that?

Often our go-to when experiencing discomfort is “stop thinking that!” or “ignore that feeling”. I invite you to think about this question: how well does this strategy work for you? How successful are you at ‘stopping thoughts’ and ‘controlling’ your emotions? Often attempting to simply quit thinking about something often has the opposite effect of making us think about it more!

Here at iZone we take a mindfulness and acceptance approach in supporting drivers in their journey to become the best they can be. Mindfulness is simply noticing what is happening right now, in this moment and paying attention to it, in a non-judgemental way. This means letting go of the automatic judgments that arise in your mind with every experience you have. It isn’t about stopping judgments from ever arising—It’s the nature of the mind to judge. Instead, it’s about changing your relationship to your judgments.

Knowing that they are temporary thoughts, and you don’t need to be swept away by them just because they arise in your mind. Non-judgement is important in motorsports as it can help drivers to see clearly. When reacting to your judgements, you’re only seeing your interpretation of what’s there. Letting go of those judgments helps you see things as they are. By acceptance we mean allowing our drivers to open up and make space for the full range of thoughts, feelings, sensations and understanding that they are a natural part of life and of a sport career.

Golfer Rory McIlroy explained clearly when asked what his key thoughts were on his way to winning the British Open and the third major championship of his career. “I wasn’t thinking about the end result. I worked on staying in the process on every shot,” is what McIlroy said. “I wasn’t thinking about what it would mean or how many further clear it would get me,” he continued. That skill to stay in the moment is one of the key factors that allowed him to play his final round in a state of the greatest peace and control.

In sports, having a present state of mind whist performing under pressure is incredibly valuable to an athlete and their performance. Yet like the rest us of can be prone to the wondering mind dreaming a glorious outcome or dreadful defeat – losing focus. This wondering mind is easily triggered in moments of intense pressure, here mindfulness can guide us to the present moment and focus on the task at hand whilst also noticing emotions and thoughts that may arise when performing under pressure.

Presence of mind produces total focus, concentration, and connection to the moment.

Here at iZone, taking on a mindfulness and acceptance approach we understand thoughts and emotions are not the enemy. Motorsport drivers will face an emotional roller coaster through their journey, ranging from a mixture of emotions and sensations, from satisfaction to minor discomfort to extreme intense and uncomfortable emotions. In mindfulness thoughts and feelings are not the enemy, and the content and intensity of the thoughts and feelings are not seen as the problem. Instead it’s using mindfulness techniques to defuse from thoughts and feelings and becoming accepting of them. The willingness to be with and ‘sit with’ unpleasant inner experiences and discomfort. Rather than engaging in costly and vain attempt at altering your inner experiences.

Mindfulness and acceptance can be a really empowering tool for athletes in their journey, experiences, and performance. I would like to finish off with a quote that captures the essence of mindfulness and acceptance - “You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

This sums up how to deal with life’s ups and downs rather nicely. The waves represent life’s many – and unstoppable – changes and challenges. When faced with choppy seas, instead of drowning in them we can get on our surfboard and learn to deal with them by riding the waves. We will probably fall off our surfboard many times, but we can jump back on, and with practice, we can learn how to navigate life's ever-changing waters better.