Mindlessness is defined as acting and reacting in the moment based only on experiences and lessons learned from the past. You might wonder, isn’t it good to learn, to have habits of reaction in performance? Well, the answer is yes and no! Here are a few examples when mindlessness is not a good thing.
Fear of Losing:
Imagine an athlete whose team has “always” lost to an opponent and they are preparing to compete against this opponent. Instead of focusing on how to beat them, they could spend the week anxious and imagining about how bad it will be to lose again, to that same team. With this mindset, the team is exercizing mindless: they will be quicker to give up and less likely to look for new ways to beat their opponent. And also just think about all the energy and attention wasted that week anticipating the misery of losing.
Bored in Practice:
We have had many clients who go to practice with the intent only to put up with practice, to go through the motions to just get it over with. Once we met one Olympic hopeful who reported when rowing for two hour practices that her main point of awareness was on the anticipation of the turn-around point at the one hour mark, so she could turn around and get off the water as soon as possible. When asked about what she focused on to improve – like the placement of her oar in the water, the feel of the boat moving with the right pressure from her legs – she replied only with a blank stare. After noting this and talking about how she spent her mental energy in practice we, together, marveled at all the time she now could be present and improve, instead of wasting hours and hours of mindless rowing.
Missing key cues in competition.
How about a basketball player who is a great defender but reports that she is “not good on offense.” Such a player will be to quick to pass the ball away and predictably will miss out on taking a simple lay-up or shot when open. We have all witnessed basketball players like this – they may not be an 80% 3-point shooter but surely after playing for a few years they could in most instances make an easy two points if they would only look for the open shots.
Ellen Langer, a social psychologist at Harvard, is a respected expert regarding her research on mindfulness. She does an unusually good job at articulating just what you don’t want – a mindlessness approach to creativity, performance and living. She refers to mindlessness as an inactive state of mind, a state of mind in which you are not present to what is actually occurring before you in your environment (e.g., the open, easy lay-up).
Her summary of a mindless state:
When in a mindless state, an individual operates much like a robot; thoughts, emotions, and behaviors (hereafter just behaviors) are determined by ‘programmed’ routines based on distinctions and associations learned in the past. (Bodner and Langer, 2001, p. 1)
This means that if you remain in a mindless state, our past can determine what happens in the present. Ellen Langer often refers to the mindless state as “operating like a robot.” This can work well until the environment around our robotic ways has changed. When mindless, you are less able to react wisely to your environment, to learn, or to adapt and adjust.
When mindlessness in sport (or any performance realm) you lose out on opportunities to improve or to respond more wisely to what is showing up in front of you or within you. With the 7 minute mindfulness techniques we offer you a method of the most effective interventions currently existing. Certain mindfulness techniques balance different areas of the brain. The stress response starts to disconnect. Mindfulness brings natural order back to the artificial chaos.
Learn more about 7 minute mindfulness