Updated: Sep 14, 2021
Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is - Yoda..
I have always been a firm believer that there are learning moments in every part of life. While most parents watch with joy as their children grow and develop, it has been my 3-year-old who has become my teacher. This only dawned on me as we have been viewing some Star Wars clips.
Yoda said it best when he said, “Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is”. While I would generally listen to podcasts, audiobooks or read through books and articles on mindfulness, this quote from Yoda redirected my thoughts to how my own child views the world. It is incredible to see the wonder, passion and emotional intelligence a 3-year-old can show. As adults and as athletes, we need to find this in ourselves, embrace the wonderful around us, and practice mindfulness that naturally comes to children.
My 3-year-old has always been grateful for everything that he can experience, whether a new experience, a forgotten experience, some helping him or someone letting him experience something on his own. Most of this gratitude is verbalised with a phrase like “delishush” or “wow, look at dat”. These phrases echo Hugh Van Cuylenburg and Stanzin’s words of “dis” in the Resilience Project. But the wonder, enjoyment and happiness seen in his eyes when he is experiencing these things light up a room.
Now, he is not always expressing his thanks in the traditional words of ‘Thank you”, “Thanks”, or “Cheers, Mate”. This is a crucial thing to remember. Gratitude is not always straightforward, but it is always felt and known if you express yourself the right way.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of someone else. My little guy’s expression of empathy started showing around the age of 1 whilst reading “We Are Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen. He knew that the family was excited to be going on an adventure. He picked up on their fear when going into the cave and being chased home by the bear, but what really struck me is on the final page, as the bear is traipsing back to his home, he would always say, “that guy is sad, I think he wanted to play with them, he just wants a friend, he is lonely”.
Empathy, expressed like this, is a key for building better relationships, leading to better overall emotional and mental health, which should help you perform at more optimal levels.
Mindfulness: Being Grounded in The Here and Now
Or being connected to the environment around you is key to keeping yourself in the moment, being mindful of the moment and performing in that moment. I watch my little guy roam around outside, feeling the breeze on his face or through his hair and feeling the textures of different plants or materials, feeling the sun’s warmth, the wind’s sound through the trees. The gentle hum of construction vehicles in our neighbourhood, and he is acutely aware of all these things going on! Even if he is head down in serious playtime, his senses pick up on each of these things. Unless it is, of course, mum or dad calling him in from play or for a toilet break!
In his book The Mindful Athlete, George Mumford stated that “mindfulness is awareness of the totality of the present moment”. As people, not just athletes, we need to find this ourselves to improve our mental health and capacity.
APPLICATION IN THE REAL WORLD: 10 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR OWN MINDFULNESS
With many things going on in the world that are causing issues and distractions, everyone must take the time to quiet themselves from the outside world’s noise and reconnect appropriately to the things directly around them. So here are a few ways we can implement the Mindfulness practices of Gratitude, Empathy and Mindfulness.
Journal/Diary: Most athletes write down many things that occur in their day and training in a journal or diary. This means you are already halfway there. Think of 3 things that happened in your day for which you are grateful. They don’t have to be big things; they could be simple, like the barista remembering your name.
A Gratitude Run: Take the time on one of your easy runs to reflect on 3 things you are grateful for. This may include being thankful for getting out for your run or not being restricted in where you can run.
Share Your Gratitude with Others: If one of the things you are grateful for is a person or an act of kindness by a person, make sure you let them know, this, in turn, is an act of kindness and might brighten their day also.
Staying Connected: This is even more important with social distancing in full effect. Pick a couple of times during the week to reach out to friends or family members. This may be as simple as sending a text or, even better, giving someone a phone call or facetime.
Be Kind: It doesn’t take much to be kind, and it could be as simple as using your manners or saying please and thank you. You do not know what has happened to the person you are interacting with before talking to them. So always take the side of kindness as this can turn yours and their day around.
Help Others: If given the opportunity to help someone take it with open arms. This one act of kindness can have a carry-over effect on the whole community.
Listen and Listen Well: Give someone your undivided attention, listen to feelings and facts, show that you are listening by restating and rephrasing and follow up with any concerns or questions someone has.
Being Grounded: This is a practice I implemented in the last few years as a part of my long run routine if I was out on my own. Clear your mind and work through the list of things around you. Focus on 5 things that you can see, 4 things that you can hear, 3 things that you can touch, 2 things that you can smell and 1 thing that you can taste. This is an easy way to make yourself fully present at the moment around you.
3 Minute Breather: Take 3 minutes of quiet time, find somewhere peaceful to sit down or lay down with your eyes closed. The first step is to ask yourself these 3 questions and answer them carefully: “Where Am I Right Now?” “How Am I Doing Right Now?” and “What Am I Thinking Right Now?”. Once this is completed, focus on each breath you take, the sensation of those meaningful breaths and clear your mind. And finally expand your attention to where those breaths go throughout your body.
Body Awareness: This is more directed to how you feel during a given exercise, your body position, posture, any sensations like tension, discomfort or pain. This can be directed to any activity or position you are in throughout the day.
Gradually implement these strategies throughout the course of your week. Try and view the world like you did as a child, with wonder and amazement! I can guarantee your outlook on life will improve.
Van Cuylenburg, H. (2019). The resilience project: finding happiness through gratitude, empathy and mindfulness. Random House Australia.
Mumford, G. (2015). The mindful athlete: Secrets to pure performance. Parallax Press.