The recent Olympic Games reminded me of some words of wisdom that a past Australian international sports coach once passed on to me. He said “The difference between a state champion and an Olympic representative is what’s between their ears”.
All the contestants fighting for Olympic selection have the physical fitness and skills that they need to compete at the top levels of their chosen sports. The reason that some made it to Rio, while their mates are still competing at a lower level, is their mental toughness and their ability to concentrate on precisely what they are doing.
This ability to focus on what’s happening in the present is a skill that we can all benefit from practicing. If we can cultivate the ability to focus on what we’re doing “right now”, we’ll do it better and we’ll start to spend more of our time where our life is actually happening. This awareness is also called “being mindful” and “living in the now”.
Our minds don’t naturally spend much time in the present and it’s often difficult to get into the habit of being there. We tend to be either planning our future or being anxious and fearful of what might happen in the days and weeks ahead or rehashing past experiences.
Frankly, spending all this mental time in the past or the future is largely unproductive. Sure, we have to spend some time planning what we have to do tomorrow or next week, but we need to remember that we can’t change the past and there’s not much to be gained by worrying about the future.
The present is where our life is unfolding, moment by moment. It’s where we can experience the joy of being alive. It’s where creativity, humour, love and spontaneity reside. You’d have to wonder why we spend so little mental time in the present when it’s such a great place to be.
So how do we develop the habit of living more of our life in the present, or being more mindful? There are a number of good books on the subject. One of the best known is Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now”. We can also make the effort to be aware of what we’re thinking and when our mind wanders off into the past or future, pull it back and focus on what we are actually doing right now. You’d be surprised how much better your lunch tastes if you focus on eating it, rather than using your smart phone or reading a newspaper as you chew a sandwich.