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3 mindfulness techniques used in the NFL

1. Expect, evaluate, and control

Why it works: Learning how to process automatic thoughts and emotions can help everyone perform their best, says Russ Rausch, a partner at Chicago-based Vision Pursue who provides mental training to rookies on the Atlanta Falcons. This three-step process helps you stay level-headed when things don’t go smoothly. “For players, being able to get back into the moment more quickly without being sidetracked by emotions is incredibly powerful,” Rausch says. 

Try it: First, write down something that you expect to give you anxiety today, like an upcoming race or a difficult conversation at work. Then, write down how you think the situation will play out and evaluate the emotions, such as frustration or discomfort, you may feel as a result. Finally, write down everything you can control about the encounter, like your training or the tone of your voice. Perform these three steps any time a specific event is causing you stress or anxiety so you can respond rationally.

2. Single-point focus

Why it works: This strategy requires you to focus—and inevitably refocus—on one thing and one thing alone. With practice, you should be able to concentrate on a single point of interest (like a work task) in busy environments (like a loud office). This can help NFL players stay focused when rowdy crowds or opponents threaten to distract them.

Try it: Sit somewhere quiet in a comfortable position with good posture and pay attention to the four segments of your breath: the inhale, the pause, the exhale, and the pause. Spend 4 seconds on each. “When your mind wanders, questions, or critiques, swiftly refocus on the breath,” Gervais says. Continue for 5 minutes.

Once you’ve mastered this in a still space, progress by focusing on external items like the flickering light of a candle or the horizon. The ultimate test is practicing single-point focus (whether on your breathing or something else) in a hectic environment for eight to 20 minutes, Gervais says. Make the practice a daily habit by stacking it with something else you do every day, like brewing coffee.

3. Walking scans

Why it works: A lot of people struggle to sit down and meditate, so Rausch often asks players to be mindful on the move instead.

Try it: Start walking in an outdoor area away from cars, then perform a body scan. First, embrace the sensation of your feet making contact with the ground, then work your way up the body to the hands, then up again to your face and the tip of your head. Notice how the wind or sun makes your skin feel.

When you’ve addressed every sensation, scan your surroundings, like the people and buildings passing by. Finally, bring your awareness to the sounds. Notice all of them together, then focus on a single noise and try to block out the rest. After 5 minutes, take a few seconds to gradually slow to a stop. Repeat daily.