How Athletes Use Mindfulness To Achieve Greatness (And You Can, Too)

Tips from the USC Performance Science Institute.

Kobe Bryant (left) and Paul Pierce. Photo by Keith Allison/Flickr.

How do athletes train themselves to maintain a rugged mindset in the face of challenge? Staying connected to the present moment — or mindfulness — is a key component of performance science research. Numerous top athletes and coaches, such as NBA coach Phil Jackson, NBA All-Star Kobe Bryant, and NFL coach Pete Carroll, have long touted its benefits in sports.


We all need tools to help us in high-pressure situations at work or school or in our interpersonal relationships. Mindfulness has even been shown to help with everything from bullying prevention to technology overload to helping us deliver better presentations at work or motivating team members. But until recently, many of the strategies and tactics recommended to meet this need, particularly when it comes to our daily habits, were left to intuition and non-repeatable methods.

The USC Performance Science Institute was launched to try to change that. Housed at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, the new research lab is focused on bringing groundbreaking performance science to the masses.

Drawing on interdisciplinary research and insights from top athletes and coaches, like Bryant and Carroll, as well as business leaders and experts, such as Arianna Huffington and Brene Brown, the institute’s team — led by business professor David Belasco, high performance psychologist Michael Gervais, and neuroscientist Glenn Fox — believe the same skills Carroll teaches his athletes can be applied to the mindset training of the next generation of performers, leaders, and entrepreneurs.

GOOD caught up with Fox to find out what a high-performance mindset and mindfulness is all about and how we can apply the latest research to our own lives.

What are some resources you recommend for someone who’d like to start a mindfulness practice?

Luckily, we live at a moment when there are many great ways to get started. And, no matter how long one has been practicing, we’re all beginners anyway (or at least I think we should maintain a beginner’s curiosity no matter how much time we’ve practiced). So, that said, some of my favorite authors come from a Buddhist tradition, though their teaching is largely secular. I like Pema Chodron, Charlotte Joko Beck, Noah Levine, and Alan Watts quite a bit for getting started and thinking about the mind carefully. I prefer books over apps, but apps can indeed be great — our own Allen Weiss here at USC released the Mindful USC app which has many great meditations. Just get started wherever you are and stay curious about the process.

In your Jan. 26, 2018, podcast, one of the key takeaways from the study you discussed was that people must apply themselves wholeheartedly to make mindfulness effective. Was this something Bryant spoke about during his recent visit to the institute?

For those like Kobe who perform already at a very high level, they may have a head start on mindful practice since they clearly are detail-oriented and able to focus in the present moment. I think part of why Kobe is drawn to mindful practice is that he is already driven to details and is likely very observant of his own state, and mindful practice may have accentuated some of his better habits to begin with.

The researchers found that mindfulness interventions were helpful as a protective measure for training and for reducing anxiety. Why is this important for athletes?

Like any other profession that deals with high-pressure situations, anxiety and fear can be debilitating. Mindfulness is an approach that has been found to be effective at understanding some of the roots of fear and anxiety and to see it more clearly so that performance can continue in light of fear. It’s something meant to be understood and considered carefully but without having it be something that paralyzes and inhibits us from taking the risks needed to perform at a high level.

Glenn Fox. Photo courtesy of USC Performance Science Institute.

In your Jan. 13, 2018, podcast, you referenced a classic study and the growing body of research your institute is working on in studying competition and intrinsic motivation. How can youth coaches and parents apply these learnings?

We’ve all heard a lot about “rewards” as the key to motivating behavior, and it’s tempting often to reward success on the field, but according to research, this is actually not an effective way to get people to grow and develop. The key is to change the underlying joy and passion that needs to accompany early learning stages and to encourage students to learn and find value in the struggles and trials as part of a longer process. Building a healthy sense of “competition” against one’s self is one way we think coaches and teachers can do that.

Anything else we should know about the institute, what’s going on in performance science as it relates to athletes, or further readings on these topics you recommend?

There’s a lot of great work. In the coming weeks, we’re going to start a special collaboration with Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global website, so hopefully people can read our work there. Other great thinkers in the space are Anders Ericcson, who wrote “Peak.” Also, fantastic work from Edward Deci and his book “Why We Do What We Do.” Those two books will give anyone a fantastic glimpse into how to perform a little better, and they’re both based on sound research.

Sports
via Smithfly.com

"Seventy percent of the Earth is covered with water, now you camp on it!" proudly declares Smithfly on the website for its new camping boat — the Shoal Tent.

Why have we waited so long for camping equipment that actually lets us sleep on the water? Because it's an awful idea, that's why.

"The world is your waterbed," Smithfly says on its site. But the big difference is that no one has ever had to worry about falling asleep and then drowning on their waterbed.

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While it is possible that one could wade into the water, unzip the tent, have a pleasant slumber, and wake up in the morning feeling safe and refreshed, there are countless things that could go terribly wrong.

The tent could float down the river and you wake up in the middle of nowhere.

You could have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

This guy.

It could spring a leak and you could drown while wrapped up in eight feet of heavy nylon.

A strong current could tip the tent-boat over.

There isn't any way to steer the darn thing.

This guy.

Mashable shared a charming video of the tent on Twitter and it was greeted with a chorus of people sharing the many ways one could die while staying the night in the Shoal Tent.

Oh yeah, it's expensive, too.

Even though the general public seems to think the Shoal Tent is a terrible idea, according to the Smithfly's website, it's currently sold out due to "popular demand" and it will be "available in 6-8 weeks." Oh, and did we mention it costs $1,999?

Lifestyle
via zoezimmm / Imgur

There are few more perniciously dangerous conspiracy theories being shared online than the idea that vaccines cause autism.

This has led to a decline in Americans vaccinating their children, resulting in a massive increase in measles. This year has already seen over 1,200 cases of measles, a disease that was eradicated in the U.S. nearly 20 years ago.

A 2015 Pew Research study found that 83% of Americans think the measles vaccine is safe, while 9% think it's not. Another 7% are not sure. But when you look at the polls that include parents of minors, the numbers get worse, 13% believe that the measles vaccine is unsafe.

There is zero truth to the idea that vaccines cause autism. In fact, a recent study of over 650,000 children found there was no link whatsoever.

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A great example of the lack of critical thinking shown by anti-vaxxers was a recent exchange on Facebook shared to Imgur by zoezimmm.

A parent named Kenleigh at a school in New Mexico shared a photo of a sign at reads: "Children will not be enrolled unless an immunization record is presented and immunizations are up-to-date."

This angered a Facebook user who went on a senseless tirade against vaccinations.

"That's fine, I'll just homeschool my kids," she wrote. At least they won't have to worry about getting shot up in school or being bullied, or being beat up / raped by the teachers!"

To defend her anti-vaccination argument, she used a factually incorrect claim that Amish people don't vaccinate their children. She also incorrectly claimed that the MMR vaccine is ineffective and used anecdotal evidence from her and her father to claim that vaccinations are unnecessary.

She also argued that "every human in the world is entitled to their own opinion." Which is true, but doesn't mean that wildly incorrect assumptions about health should be tolerated.

She concluded her argument with a point that proves she doesn't care about facts: "It doesn't matter what you say is not going to change my mind."

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While the anti-vaxxer was incorrect in her points, it must also be pointed out that some of the people who argued with her on Facebook were rude. That should never be tolerated in this type of discourse, but unfortunately, that's the world of social media.

Here's the entire exchange:

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The post received a ton of responses on imgur. Here are just a few:

"'In my opinion...' 'I believe...' That's not how facts work."

"You're entitled to your opinion. And everyone else is entitled to call you a dumbass."

"'What I do with my children is no concern to you at all.' Most of the time, true. When your kid might give mine polio, not true."

"If my child can't bring peanut butter, your child shouldn't bring preventable diseases."

It's important to call out people who spread dangerous views, especially how they pertain to health, on social media. But people should do so with respect and civility.

Health

He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

He risked his life to leave a "historical record of our martyrdom."

via Yad Vashem and Archive of Modern Conflict, 2007

In September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. By April 1940, the gates closed on the Lodz Ghetto, the second largest in the country after Warsaw.

Throughout the war, over 210,000 people would be imprisoned in Lodz.

Among those held captive was Henryk Ross. He was a Jewish sports photographer before the Nazi invasion and worked for the the ghetto's Department of Statistics during the war. As part of his official job, he took identification photos of the prisoners and propaganda shots of Lodz' textile and leather factories.

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via Imgur

Every few years there's something that goes mega viral because people can't decide what it is.

There was the famous "is it blue and black, or white and gold" dress?

There was the audio recording that said either "yanny" or "Laurel."

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Rochester NY Airport Security passing insulting notes to travelers caught on tape www.youtube.com

Neil Strassner was just passing through airport security, something he does on a weekly basis as part of his job. That's when a contract airport security employee handed him a small piece of folded cardboard. Strassner, 40, took the paper and continued on his way. He only paused when he heard the security employee shouting back at him, "You going to open the note?"

When he unfolded the small piece of paper, Strassner was greeted with an unprompted insult. "You ugly!!!"

According to Strassner, and in newly released CCTV of the incident, the woman who handed him the note began laughing loudly.

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