The power of being present in your day to day life for active people and pro athletes
“Life is available only in the present moment. If you abandon the present moment you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply.” Thich Nhat Hanh
Meursault, the character from the novel, “The Stranger”, by Albert Camus, represents a man who does not feel any connection to anyone or anything. Without connection, he is almost like the living dead. Albert Camus used the term moment of awareness when Meursault suddenly becomes alive. This happens when Meursault learns he is going to be executed for the murder he committed. At this point he is filled with fear, anxiety and anger. In his despair, lying on the prison bed looking up at the ceiling, he notices the square of blue sky through the skylight. The sky is so blue – it’s the first time in his life that he has felt a sense of connection with the blue sky.
Perhaps like many people, he has looked at the sky from time to time and has not really seen it. Now three days before his death, he is able to connect with the blue sky in a deep way. He decides to live every minute he has left fully and deeply. He lives the last days of his life in his cell with that square of blue sky.
On the afternoon of the last day a priest comes to his prison cell to give him his last rites. He refuses them. He does not want to waste the last few hours of his life talking to the priest. He says, “The priest is living like a dead man. He is not living like me, I am truly alive.”
Living a Zuberant life means truly living your life. Being present produces total focus and connection to the moment. Savouring, experiencing, learning and growing using every one of your senses and experiencing it through every fibre in your body and mind. This is a state of knowing that is beyond the five main senses and it enables you to experience your life in a more fulfilled, happier and contented way. You don’t have to remain attached to the past, holding onto regrets and unhappiness. Thoughts of past negative experiences, yearning for a future “perfect” or fear of potential non-existing, negative, future event (that in reality never arrives) melt away because tomorrow becomes today as the short hand of the clock completes its circle.
The very awareness – mindfulness – reveals a desire to make the most of an experience and intense commitment to the opportunity at hand that turbocharges your personal growth. It gives you a level of perception that is like having a “third eye”. You “see” more, at a richer, deeper, more vibrant level. Through being aware, you are being open to insights and personal growth and wisdom.
“Living in the moment, means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future. It means living your life consciously, aware that every moment your breath is a gift” Oprah Winfrey
Being totally absorbed in the moment also brings with it a very keen awareness. There are no distracting thoughts in your mind to muddy the clarity of the moment. A heightened awareness brings an intuitive sense that allows you to just “know” exactly how to handle the situation at hand. There is no vacillation. There is no trepidation. There is no unease. You have a natural response that aligns with your essence and convictions and provides you with the ability to shape your destiny at that moment. There is just the sense that you are doing exactly what you need to be doing at that particular moment to be the best you can be. Being totally committed to the moment boosts creative energy and empowers your resilience and capability. There is a powerful energy that accompanies this intention that is perceptible to others and can increase your power of influence and depth of relationships.
As an athlete, being in the moment has significant advantages. In his TEDx talk, How endurance athletes are using the power of the now, Ned Phillips explains the power of the mind, in particular, realising a challenging goal by harnessing what Eckhart Tolle calls, ‘the power of now’. Ned never realised the importance of the mind until he partook in endurance races, in which the realisation struck; your mind has to take over, and focus not on the past, not the future, but only on the present. Naturally your body will follow. His first breakthrough came when he almost gave up on the goal of running the 125km around Singapore. As he was about to forfeit at the 100km mark, he simply began to focus on the next step. Not the finish, just the immediate step. This got him to the end.
Later, Ned tried in vain for three years to qualify for the Ironman World Championships at Kona in Hawaii. For a merit-based qualification, athletes need to finish in the top few positions in their age group in lead up events. While he was typically in the top 10%, he was a long way back from a qualifying position. Feeling dispirited, Ned eventually connected with a coach who told him that if he didn’t use the power of his mind, he would never get to Kona. The coach set him up with a physical training program, as well as a mental training regime. Every week he got 5 pages of mental training exercises. You can’t be thinking about what you’re doing if you’re thinking ahead, or thinking about the past. And if you’re not thinking about what you’re doing, how can you be performing at your best? By practicing staying in the moment, and by applying this skill, he finally managed to pull off his objective.
With this in mind, how can we apply the principle to our daily lives?
Staying in the moment, savouring the present, and being full attentional allows you to truly enjoy your experience. Enjoying the journey, experiencing feeling of “zuberance,” we can get out so much more out of life than drifting through each activity, distracted, and on autopilot. As someone has said, if you are not living in the now, you are not really living.
“Remember then there is only one time that is important – Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power” Leo Tolstoy
For peak performance, being in the moment and fully conscious can keep you level-headed and calm. When you are in the now, feeling your breath and the movement of your body and lungs, you feel less tension and stress which enables you to move with more power and efficiency. In our Living the Zuberant Life ebook, we explain how turning down the rational, thinking frontal cortex brain allows the cerebellum to take you into “flow”, or a state of zuberance; the seemingly magical mind-body place which enables endurance athletes to perform at their peak ability with seemingly little effort.
Ironman and 70.3 Pro, Tim Reed has been through periods of burn-out that sparked his interest in mindfulness, a vital part of living a holistic ‘well’ or ‘zuberant’ life. Pre-race preparation has changed for Reed, who incorporates specific mindfulness training in the months leading up to a race. On a daily basis, he lies down for 20 minutes and just listens to relaxing music and does mindfulness training “I’m racing with a sense of gratitude now”.
Adventure athlete Jason Magness believes the benefits of conscious breathing and mindfulness are huge. “Focused nasal breathing during activity can lead to increased cardiovascular and physical endurance, lower heart rate, less anxiety, more mental alertness, and even better proprioceptive balance.”
Howard Falco, in his article The Power of a Present Mind in Sports and in Life, tells the story of golfer Rory McIlroy on his way to winning the British Open. “I wasn’t thinking about the end result. I worked on staying in the process on every shot,” is what McIlroy said. “I wasn’t thinking about what it would mean or how many further clear it would get me,” he continued. That simple ability to stay in the moment is one of the key factors that allowed him to play his final round in a state of the greatest calm and control, allowing him to be at peak performance.
It’s one thing not performing at your best and coming second in triathlon or golf, but spare a thought for free solo climber Matt Bush. If he loses concentration and starts to ruminate on a problem at home, or his plans for the coming weekend while climbing without ropes, high up on a mountain face, he could slip and lose his life. Matt works in the zone of “complete presence, not thinking, but just being, and inhabiting the now.”
How do we even begin to cultivate habits like focus, persistence, and discipline against the ever-present expectation that we should always be on full multitask mode?
Simply, we start with ourselves. Daniel Goleman, author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, says that, “because attention is under siege more than it has ever been in human history, we have more distractions than ever before, we have to stay more focused on cultivating the skills of attention.” Cultivation is the act of practicing and doing it for real.
Many endurance athletes are now incorporating wellness practices, including meditation and yoga into their routines. These practices can increase your ability to endure physical discomfort while maintaining form, breathing pattern, and focus. After four or five weeks of daily practice; you get that little kick of healthy hormones, aiding your recovery, clearing your mind and reducing stress. Meditation reduces adrenaline and cortisol, which work together to increase your anxiety levels, lower your immune system, and reduce your ability to lose that tummy fat. This all stresses your body out and undermines your health. Meditation releases those good hormones like serotonin, oxytocin, melatonin, dopamine and DHEA which improve mood, sleep, stress and aging. Yoga has similar benefits to the neurochemicals.
Previously in our Destiny is a Choice series of articles, we spoke about doing what’s important and about getting started, rather than vacillating and procrastinating. The Destiny is a Choice model which shows how your fundamental conviction translates into cycle of empowerment. As your conviction (who you are being) grows, you begin to know what could be, and start to exhibit what you will be in your chosen future (your destiny). It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, both good and bad. It is within each of us to recognise and unveil the positive potential latent in us and kickstart the virtuous circle of destiny by choice.
ZUBER HACK: BEING PRESENT
With credit to Howard Falco, Spiritual Teacher and Author of, I AM: The Power of Discovering Who You Really Are, the following five main requirements are required to unleash the power of being present in your day to day life for creative space and energy.
- CONVICTION: A very strong intention and clarity of what you want to create.
- A belief that you are capable of achieving it.
- An ability to acknowledge the truth of your current circumstance in relationship to the goal.
- CONCENTRATION: A consistent demonstration of your commitment to the goal.
- ACTIVATION and an unwavering faith in the process and the ultimate outcome.
The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence – Daniel Goleman
Living the Zuberant Life ebook Ian Jones and Paul Blackbeard