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Home Optimal Performance Starts With Training Your Mind | by Tania Miller | Better Humans | Feb, 2021

Optimal Performance Starts With Training Your Mind | by Tania Miller | Better Humans | Feb, 2021

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We’ve come to the most important part of the message of this article: how to control our mind and be able to use it to guide us into masterful performances.

1. Get inside your art

What is your passion? What is the reason you perform?

Never lose sight of these two questions. Whatever it is that you love to do, it is what we must get inside when we perform. If you’re a professional, you can easily forget this because you’re overextended, fatigued, and bombarded.

We must renew, again and again, the meaning and purpose behind what we are passionate about. When we perform, we focus on this. It becomes our meditation, it becomes our focus, our meaning — and takes our vices of distraction, ego, and rigidity with it.

Personally, when I can mentally disappear into the music, then I know I will have a great performance. We can meditate on this concept every day, and especially on game or performance days. By remaining committed to the essence of what we do, and perceiving it as a force that we are a conduit of, rather than the creator of, we can help ourselves relinquish the control that confines performance to the mundane, and elevates it to the beyond.

Create a ritual that empowers you to connect with your art or talent and puts you mentally into the space of opening yourself to its path. Meditate or envision the game, the speech, the moment — visualization is a useful tool. We have to recognize that our mind engages in virtually the same way whether we are thinking about the action or doing the action. Neuroscience can back this up. We can practice the experience of the performance in our heads at home to great impact.

Always leave space for calm, empty, sensory openness as you lead up to a performance. Get your focus out of yourself, and into your task. This focus can put us in the place of optimal performance.

2. Meditate

Meditation is a valuable entry point into connecting to our thoughts and having control over our minds. I used to think that meditation was more about relaxation. Being a driven, energetic, active person, I couldn’t imagine relinquishing precious minutes or hours to sitting around. But now I truly believe that this is sloppy thinking.

Action does not replace quality thinking. We don’t get better by being busier. We get better by focusing our minds and thinking with specificity and depth.

I’m captivated by what is being discovered and understood about the brain and the capacity of our mind— how we can grow through neuroplasticity, seek optimal performance, learn more efficiently and explore the potential. I recognize the mental impact and potential of meditation. It’s a mindful, empowering skill that can enable higher mental capabilities and focus. It should be a part of every high achiever’s daily schedule.

With greater awareness and mind control, we can take everything that we are in time, effort, work — and reduce it, concentrate it, focus it into a greater potential. It’s a way to transform and transcend, to grow in our potential every day. We can train ourselves to achieve more in less time.

When we meditate, we essentially learn to develop focus and awareness. We learn to notice our brain, and what it’s doing. It’s unbelievably liberating, even at the most simple level, to start taking notice. Once we start to take notice, we start to understand how our mind works.

If you have issues with anxiety and fear around performance, or if you are like me, and often you just can’t get that balance between the internal and the external in the zone every time, these meditation skills are invaluable. They also give you tools for sleep which is invaluable when you are anxious, traveling, or jet-lagged.

It’s amazing to me, considering all of the many years I’ve been conducting, that I left performance relatively up to chance for so many years and didn’t explore this potential. I think of all of those great performances and not-so-great performances that I’ve left to the whim of my mind’s perception, rather than having the understanding and power to control my mental state more deeply.

Meditation will be the tool that will get you to understand how to have better control over your thoughts. It will empower you by revealing your mind to you, and give you the skills to manage how you think. Awareness will make you more effective in everything you do.

3. Think deeply

The importance of timelessness and space cannot be overstated in our quest for inspired performance in our lives. We need open time to explore and expand on our big ideas, creativity, and unique thoughts and experiences.

Read and think deeply. Make open time in your life to have depth in your thinking and learning. Read Cal Newport’s book “Deep Work” to understand the importance of sinking, every day, into some deeper thinking time.

This empowers you when it comes time to perform because you’ll have the confidence and understanding that comes with deep thinking, with the depth of who you are. You’ll have the wealth of potential sitting right there in your own mind, ready to work within those performing moments. Great performance requires spontaneity. You’ll see your brain spark in the moment with the deep thinking that you have enriched it with — new connections and relationships lighting up in concentrated energy of the performance.

4. Establish a cycle to train your mind

Build a cycle into your life that harnesses your best self and empowers you. To make big changes requires commitment every day. If you want to make a lasting change in your life, it’s about how you practice, repeatedly, daily, and weekly.

Every single day should have at least three parts:

  • Contemplative, spacious, thinking, learning creative space
  • Work, driving, accomplishing action space
  • Time for self (including family, emotional, human, personal time)

Find your own where and when to harness your deep thinking self (the time where you best connect to your subconscious brain and creative powers). For me, it’s the morning and I get my best connection to it when I tap into my quiet, post-sleep mind (with added coffee). It’s so important to not allow yourself to be distracted during this precious time. No phones, no texts, no emails. Be committed to this. Distraction ruins your flow. Schedule distraction time — make some rules and don’t check emails until your scheduled time.

Find a time in your day to take action while learning, and see how it works for you. I walk when I need to memorize. I try not to waste time being half-committed. I notice that things seem to flash and engage more when I’m moving. Cal Newport talks about productive meditation in his book “Deep Work” and connects to this idea in his own way:

“The goal of productive meditation is to take a period in which you’re occupied physically but not mentally — walking, jogging, driving, showering — and focus your attention on a single well-defined professional problem. Depending on your profession, this problem might be outlining an article, writing a talk, making progress on a proof, or attempting to sharpen a business strategy. As in mindfulness meditation, you must continue to bring your attention back to the problem at hand when it wanders.”

Structuring how we best think is part of the success of any cycle we create. I like Newport’s thoughts on combining motion with productive meditation. But harnessing creativity is also where we find our uniqueness, our goods, and I think it’s incredibly important to create timeless, agenda-less space in our daily cycles as well. Going for walks, sitting on a park bench, or going to a cabin in the woods for a week and musing with freedom and openness is incredibly important to the potentials that are hovering deeper in our minds. Not all walks should have an agenda.

I marvel at the impact of timelessness. I’m passionate about tapping into the realm of the subconscious and find it fascinating to reach that special place where a certain degree of mental relaxation opens the door to bigger thoughts and new ideas — these moments where things flash when we don’t push with our minds.

A good cycle will empower your overall goals. If you’re a writer, you’ll recognize this. My own writing is constantly ignited by what I read. I’m amazed at how my brain takes what I know, and mixes that with the ideas and experiences of someone else. Through some sort of wizardry of connectedness, abstraction, and pattern making, our mind can create the most extraordinary new relationships. It wouldn’t work without the cycle.

Your cycle ensures that you are always engaged in each part of your life. Your self time re-energizes your thinking time, your action time brings about the change that your thinking mind has envisioned. They work together, reinvigorating each other, replenishing focus and energy.

5. Spend time being stimulated by others

As a conductor, I’m constantly interacting with other people, flying into new cities, experiencing new situations, hearing fresh perspectives. Left to my own devices, though, my natural choice might be to remain to myself — in quiet, lazy comfort. But when I get dragged out of myself, I find that every time that I interact with new situations and people, I’m impacted with fresh energy and stimulated into new ideas and interests.

I just returned from conducting the Quebec Symphony. After a period of not conducting due to COVID-19, my mind is buzzing with excitement for the experience of being on stage, working with new people, sharing stories, attempting to speak (poor) French. I can spend hours with the music in my head, but it doesn’t even come close to the feeling of sharing it with other musicians. I learn from them, they learn from me, we all create something.

Interaction with people and situations is what keeps us spinning forward. We’re always ready to make new connections, but we are limited within ourselves. We remain stuck within the confines of our own perceptions and perspective and can be jolted awake when we see reality from someone else’s.

Nature, too, has the extraordinary power to change our perspective. Every time I go for a walk in the forest or spend time immersed in the sensory world of nature, it seems to sort out something that was eluding me. It’s almost as if being immersed in the feeling, smells, sounds, and sights of nature allow the senses to dominate and turns off that part of our brain that controls and narrows our perspective and awareness. Our thinking mind recedes control and opens up to that same interconnected, open, relaxed mind that we sometimes experience in performance.

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