Do you worry about your academic performance, job prospects, or where your relationship’s going? Are you worried about passing or failing, winning or losing?
The problem: Worrying about a certain outcome can get in the way of achieving it. The solution? Learning to stay mindfully in the moment.
“There is a lot of power in a thought. When I think, ‘I’m going to fail,’ my breathing changes, my heart accelerates, and I lose focus,” says a second-year undergraduate at Simpson College, Iowa (in a recent Student Health 101 survey).
How to reclaim your worried mind so you can perform better
In a recent survey by Student Health 101, students’ most common worries were related to their grades, job and career prospects, and finances. These are pragmatic and understandable concerns. We all have something we really want, like an A in math class. If you stress out—“I have to get an A; I’ll never get into grad school if I don’t”—you may be getting in the way of your own success.
Thinking too much about achieving a particular outcome can set you up to fail. George Mumford, a mindfulness trainer and coach who works with NBA stars and other high-level athletes, writes that “focusing too hard on winning can take your focus away from doing the things you need to do to achieve your desired result” (The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance, Parallax Press, 2015). In other words, you will win more if you think less about winning and more about playing. Keeping your head in the game means paying attention to what is happening right now, in this moment. Staying in the moment keeps you ready to respond to each challenge as it occurs.
This is not only true in sports. You’ll perform better in interviews, on assignments and tests, and in your personal life if you keep your attention focused on what’s happening right now rather than worrying about what you hope to achieve in the end. Next time you catch yourself worrying about an important result, use this exercise to get your mind back in the present. This way, you can be at the top of your game:
- Take a couple of deep, slow breaths.
- Spend a few minutes checking in with each of your five senses. What do you see, hear, taste, touch, and smell? Name each observation aloud if you can.
- Repeat this exercise as often as needed to keep your mind in the moment and on your game.
Dr. Holly Rogers co-developed the Koru Mindfulness program for college students (currently available on more than 60 campuses in the US). Trials have shown that the Koru program is effective in helping students feel less stressed, better rested, more compassionate, and more mindful. Dr. Rogers is a psychiatrist at Duke University and co-author of Mindfulness for the Next Generation: Helping Emerging Adults Manage Stress and Lead Healthier Lives (Oxford University Press, 2012).