Mindfulness: The Laser Beam Of Focused Intention
Many people receive the best quality training money can buy but might never achieve “muscle mastery”. Why is this? The answer is “mindfulness.” With mindfulness you can do anything; without it, forget it, pal!
Intention is an important aspect of mindfulness – the process of paying attention in the present moment, purposefully, and non-judgementally. Teddy Roosevelt, an outstanding body builder, was such a pathetic weakling as a child that other kids used to beat up on him. His health was so frail that at one point he nearly died. Early in life he perceived what was happening to himself, and decided to change. He made it his intention to overcome these circumstances and become a winner.
His weakness was the ultimate motivation. For him it was literally “do or die trying,” and he had a long way to go! He fed his vision of self-empowerment with a strong desire for success that pumped him up emotionally. For many years he focused his intention on building his body, and at the same time built up his will power and his mind. As a military officer and later as our 26th President, he used both his physical and mental muscle to keep ahead of all competition. His larger-than-life image carved in granite on Mt. Rushmore is a testimony of a nation to the effectiveness of his inner and outer strength. He was a winner, and he liked winning big.
Results seldom happen out of context with need. To excel, you have to sort out your priorities and focus on what you really need to do. Roosevelt had the best training money could buy, but he also learned how to maximize the most efficient use of that training program through understanding the power of mindfulness— he built up his mental muscle as well as his mind.
How can you too become a world class winner? By understanding and developing mindfully, and using your most powerful muscle, your mind.
You may have the fastest car in town, but unless you have somewhere you really want to go, it’ll just sit there. Likewise, you may have a well-trained body but until you develop a strong desire to be a champion, you’re “not going anywhere.”
“That’s obvious enough,” you say, but the idea never occurs to some people, they have to have some kind of goal or vision of what they want to do before anything will happen. Do you really think Arnold Schwarzenegger built up his body just by going through the motions? Guess again.
Mindfulness Exercises for Creating Success
The four mindfulness steps in carrying out any successful activity are:
- Perception. Seeing what needs to be done.
- Intention. Focusing your mind in earnest on how to accomplish your mission.
- Execution. Putting this plan into action, tapping all previous training and resources.
- Integration. Feedback and integration: nurturing your self-esteem, storing helpful insights for later.
The most important and involved of these is intention. So let’s break intention down into four steps, to get a better understanding of what it is and how it works. Once you’ve sized up the challenge, the next four steps are:
- Decision. Deciding to accomplish it
- Focus. Developing a vision or creating a plan of how to accomplish it
- Motivation. Empowering your vision with strong emotion, excitement, desire, etc.
- Permission. Giving your brain the “go ahead” to execute the plan.
Several of these steps can happen at once, or so close together we can’t tell them apart. Sometimes the order of events changes, but it usually boils down to the same elements. For example, you may not have been on a bicycle for some time, but the minute you see it and mount it, your muscles instantly remember how to ride it. If decision, focus, motivation and permission all happen the moment you see the bike, then riding the bike will be easy. Likewise with swimming, salsa dancing, or driving a stick shift.
The scripts for these activities are stored in the cortex of the brain, even if you haven’t tried them in years. In a sense, they are like images on film or a photographic slide. The wall is completely blank until we switch on the lamp of our focused mindful intention and suddenly the image stored on the slide appears. Et Voilà!
Likewise, when you sit behind the wheel of the car or jump into the ocean with a life preserver, a certain lamp switches on and the inner image that the body expresses is that of the swimmer or the car driver. The lamp represents our intention. Even if you are somehow forced to sit behind the wheel of the car, no one can make you drive. But the moment you intend to drive you can. (Yes, torture, etc. could influence your decision, but it does so only by motivating your intention.)
Intention brings forth the stored image. This is much like loading an application from the hard disk of your computer into the active memory area — RAM. The results are determined as much by what images are stored in the program as what capacity of the computer (or your body) might be: You may be great at spreadsheets, but if a word processing program is activated, that’s what you’ll get, and you will not be able to generate a good spreadsheet.
You have probably heard the computer programmers’ term GIGO, “Garbage in garbage out.” Clearly, the quality of the program implanted within us during our early training is going to have a big effect on the athletic performance we exhibit, at least in the beginning. The complex image (mental program) stored in your mind may, fortunately, be dramatically improved by training in mindfulness. You can do this under the guidance of a coach or someone who understands the art and science of mindfulness skills and the body you desire.
When you take a photo, the image is fed to the film, or into the computer chip once, in a fraction of a second. If you want to clearly implant (or install) the mental image you wish to guide the behavior and condition of your body, however, takes a bit longer. Creating change in your body or its behaviors requires that you attempt to perform the exercise properly, get accurate feedback, then repeat the actions. This leads to a constant improvement in the quality of the stored image.
That is why intention alone is not enough — intention needs something to work with — a correct set of images. The best movie projector in the world won’t do you any good if you have only one lousy movie in your library. What you are looking for in athletic competition is perfectly honed movement, poetry in motion, a totally efficient, graceful, and powerful motion of the body that defies description. So you need to develop that inner image (mental program); this is part of mindfulness.
But how does perfected intention become perfected movement? How does the intention of a military strategist, such as Teddy Roosevelt, become translated into the mass movement of thousands of soldiers? Through the levels of command.
Once you motivate yourself, through passion, need, desire, etc., you switch on the laser beam of your intention. The image of the behavior you require is projected from your memory onto your motor cortex (which actually consists of millions of sensory neurons). Then, when you give it permission, your motor cortex, transmits the message, “Make it so.” This begins the execution process. Through a number of levels, the signal is relayed through a chain of nuclei and nerves down the spinal cord, and finally, through the motor neurons to special hybrid cells that are half muscle and half nerve called “motor units.” The result is what you physically see as muscle activity, whether it be lifting, running, shooting a basket, or moving your mouth and tongue to talk.
Regular exercise of your muscles is equally important. Obviously, you don’t get a good football team by just educating the quarterback alone, or requiring only your right tackle to work out regularly on weights. Likewise, it is important to educate and exercise everyone on your “neuromuscular team.” Well-designed exercise such as running, lifting weights or swimming affects the neuromuscular junction and within the fibers of the muscles themselves. It also works at the cerebellar level where balance is learned.
Many people, however, fail to realize how important it is to exercise and build up the strength of your intention. Here are some tips on how to do it:
- Get a Clear Perception of the Challenge. First get a good overview of the situation. Weigh the available options, then decide what your mission is and what your vision of this course of action will be. Ask yourself, “What do I really want out of this?” Then develop a clear image of it. (This is “outcome imagery,” where you visualize your intended outcome.) Remember, this is the ideal image that your goal-directed brain tissue will orient its behavior toward. Focus is essential.
- Visualize the Process. Next is what I call “process imagery,” (as opposed to “outcome imagery.”). This is where you visualize yourself running around the track, or boxing in the ring. This is when you visualize your strategy for this particular race or match.If visualization is new to you, start simple. Visualize circles and change their color. Visualize triangles and change their proportions. Close your eyes and visualize a scene, your childhood home, your girlfriend’s bedroom, your girlfriend. These simple pictures can be building blocks for more complex imagery such as visualizing your tennis stroke.
- Motivate Yourself!!! Next, exercise the mental muscles of your emotion. Open yourself to feel all your feelings, the highs and the lows. Allow your intention to turn on your passion (which is made up of several emotions). This is the high-octane fuel that makes the image from the cortex burn brighter. This emotional thrust changes your mind/body chemistry and helps you align your thoughts toward the goal, eliminating all unnecessary thoughts and distractions (especially negative thinking).Emotions have a profound effect on the unconscious mind, which in turn affects muscle performance. This is because there is a system of nerves called the Alpha and Gamma neurons, which carry messages about how we are feeling down the spinal cord. They modify the strength of the muscle reflex by injecting chemicals directly into the synapse between the motor neuron and the sensory neuron. This is why some thoughts can literally make you weak in the knees (not to mention other parts).Most activities, even the simplest ones such as jumping over a fence or picking up a stick, involve countless automatic instructions we learned as a child. Later they become “unconscious.” Similarly, the emotional attitude and reactions programmed in as a child continue to control our experience and behavior until you address your unconscious. You can change feelings and emotions by modifying your mental images!
- Feedback, The Breakfast of Champions. The last step in completing any successful activity is giving yourself positive feedback. When undertaking a difficult task, make sure you give yourself encouragement, the reward of a job well done, a positive esteem-building experience. When your feedback tells you that your plan did not accomplish the goal, you revise the plan until it works. In a way you mentally give yourself a pat on the head. For some, learning to give ourselves positive feedback is the hardest thing to learn. Do it regularly.
Suggested Programs and Resources
To assist you in mastering the skills in this article, I suggest you explore the techniques offered in the following guided imagery programs. In widespread use by professional athletes, the U.S. Olympic team, and decathlon winner, Dan O’Brien, these CD & MP3 Guided Imagery Audio programs have enabled countless champions and peak performers.
Begin Your Day the Olympian Way: The Fastrack to Leadership Gold
Run to Win:Program Peak Performance the Way Olympians Do
The Ten Minute Stress Manager
I Can: Achieving Self Empowerment
Power Of Your Mind To Manage Stress And Heal Your Body DVD
Emmett Miller, MD, pioneer Mind Body physician and co-creator of Holistic/Integral Medicine, created the world’s first meditation/guided imagery CD’s and MP3 downloads. His voice is un-equalled in its quality, and the healing states it induces enhance his poetic imagery.
Author of seven books ranging from Deep Healing: The Essence Of Mind Body Medicine, to Our Culture On The Couch – 7 Steps to Global Healing. His website, DrMiller.com, is the premier site on the web for self-healing, peak performance, personal growth, and global transformation.