Well, ok, not exactly nothing, but very little... you still don't have to get off the couch! It's called Mindfulness Meditation...
Learning to meditate was one of my new years' resolutions for at least ten years! I always thought it was probably a good idea, but I never thought I had enough time, wasn’t completely convinced it would make any difference, and feared (from the few attempts that I’d made) that I wasn't really any good at it! (Sound familiar?!) That was, until I was introduced to Mindfulness Meditation.
Mindfulness Meditation is a form of meditation that teaches people to focus on their breath and body sensations and to evaluate distracting thoughts and emotions in a non-judgemental manner. It gets you out of ‘doing mode’: i.e. lost in your thoughts, functioning on autopilot, judging yourself and comparing yourself to others into the ‘being mode’: self-accepting, in the present moment, focused and paying attention. N.B. It’s the being mode that we need to be in for peak performance! In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn (one of the great pioneers in bringing mindfulness to the masses):
“Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment”
Three skills that are invaluable for performers!
Paying attention in the present moment…
Studies show that we spend almost 50% of our time thinking about something other than what is actually happening at that moment. Given our limited attention span, if we are focused on what has already occurred (like that dodgy note!) or what might still occur (like that difficult cadenza that you always have trouble with) then there is no attention left to focus where we actually need it, in the present moment, weaving that perfect legato line, or embodying your character.
By non-judgementally paying attention to our thoughts, Mindfulness teaches us to recognise that just because we have a thought, it doesn't mean it's true! By taking a step back from our thoughts, we learn to think of them more like options that our mind is giving us - that we can either grab onto, or let go of. We learn not to indulge in our thoughts, and to catch ourselves before unproductive thoughts snowball and take hold. Interestingly, this does not mean just trying to block these thoughts out; research indicates that recognising and allowing your thoughts to be present (rather than trying to block them out) reduces their power. This is such an amazing skill for anyone to learn and invaluable as a performer as we all know how easy it is to assume a performance was ruined by one bad note, or to feel like life as you know it has ended because an audition didn’t go well! As Mark Twain put it:
“I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened."
Give it a go!
The idea (and this was the eye-opener for me!) isn’t to not have thoughts, but to learn to experience the thoughts and feelings without getting lost in them. The best news is that you don’t need to do hours a day for years to see the benefit - just 20 minutes a day will help and studies show that as little as 8 weeks of mindfulness training produces structural changes in the brain - particularly the areas responsible for learning and memory, paying attention, fear, anxiety and stress.
But does it actually work?
Well, a plethora of recent studies would suggest the answer to this is a resounding yes and everyone from the marines, to professional athletes, large corporations, schools, universities and even prisons are getting on board.
Studies indicate increased activity in the area of the brain that controls worrying and overthinking things, increased focus, increased resilience, an even an increased capacity for happiness. Researchers also found that 4 X 20 minute mindfulness meditation classes reduced anxiety ratings of participants by as much as 39%!
There aren't many studies on the benefits of mindfulness meditation for performing artists yet, but a couple of studies from sports, for instance, have found that golfers who implemented the practice of mindfulness into their training showed a greater increase in their national rankings than those who did not adopt this practice, and in a study of NCAA basketball players, greater levels of mindfulness were predictive of improved game performance.
If you’d like a really good book on Mindfulness Meditation, I highly recommend Mindfulness Meditation: A practical guide to finding piece in a frantic world. It is structured as an easy-to-follow 8 week course including recordings of guided meditations. Why don’t you try the first meditation in the book now (it’s free!) - I think you will be pleasantly surprised how straight forward and rewarding it is!
If you’d like to learn more you can sign up to receive blog posts direct to your email. Alternatively, please click the little ‘like’ symbol below. Or, if you're ready to tackle your inhibitions to performance head on, contact me to discuss your options and arrange an appointment.