We are always focused. The question of life and athletic performance is, “Are we focused on the right thing at the right time?” This is valuable to consider during exercise. When in the midst of athletic exertion and competition a thought to keep in mind is, “When in doubt, look out.”
Traditionally in the sport and exercise literature, this is known as dissociation. The runner that chooses to check out the changing colors of the leaves as opposed to focusing on muscle tension and breathing is practicing dissociation during exercise. This restricts the processing of internal sensations, likely something that is helpful when the body is significantly stressed.
Distraction from unproductive thoughts and feelings is all well and good, but cognitive science has recently shown even more benefits of an external perspective when getting one’s compete on. Focusing on cues outside of one’s body actually aids motor patterns, in both novices and experts. The swimmer that drives her finger tips towards the wall as opposed to thinking “straighten your arm” has smooth strokes and quicker laps - a subtle change in mental cues leading to big performance benefits. When an exerciser thinks within the body, static seems to be added to the neuromuscular program. Outside thoughts are freeing.
Get out and exercise. Think “out” when exercising.
Dr. Adam Naylor leads Telos Sport Psychology Consulting and is a Clinical Assistant Professor in Boston University’s School of Education. He has a decade and a half of experiences working with professional through amateur athletes – of note: US Open competitors, NCAA champions, Olympians, Stanley Cup winners, and UFC martial artists. Beyond sports, over the past five years he has served as a corporate performance and wellness consultant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ahnaylor.