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To Up Your Entrepreneurial Game, Try These Pro Athlete Tricks From the World Cup

Professional athletes are increasingly turning to mindfulness to sharpen their focus and improve their game. The same techniques can make you a more productive leader.

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BY Elisa Boxer - 10 Jul 2018

To Up Your Entrepreneurial Game, Try These Pro Athlete Tricks From the World Cup

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

As England advances to its first World Cup semifinals since 1990, star midfielder Fabian Delph credits a surprising strategy with keeping him on the ball: mindfulness.

Delph is among a growing number of elite athletes using mindfulness to channel the intensity of a stressful situation into a competitive advantage.

Sound a bit like entrepreneurial life? Actually, being a small business owner requires a strikingly similar set of skills to that of a professional athlete: The ability to think quickly and clearly, stay focused, avoid distractions, and make quick decisions with lasting consequences.

Plus, your team is counting on you.

The same techniques that professional athletes use to get "in the zone" can make you a more productive leader. Here are three you can try right now:

1. Be the eye of the hurricane.

It seems counterintuitive that stillness breeds alertness. But giving yourself just a few minutes of silence each day helps you reconnect with your center. And that helps you respond to stressful situations from a place of presence, rather than react from a place of panic.

George Mumford, author of The Mindful Athlete, has worked with world-class athletes like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. He's a big fan of using stillness to cultivate presence.

"Think about the eye of a hurricane," Mumford writes. "No matter how intense the storm, or what's swept up in its gale-force winds, that calm blue center is always there. We all have this quiet center within us."

Finding that center is just a breath away.

Try this: On your next exhale, visualize your breath landing in a spot just above your belly button. As you inhale, feel your breath rising from that same spot. Exhale, send the breath back down there.

Just a minute or two of this conscious breathing to and from your core is enough to ground you in your center. If you make it a daily practice, this is where your body and mind will begin to go in times of stress.

From this place of stillness, you're better able to think clearly, stay on task, and make mindful, meaningful decisions.

2. Say hello to negative feelings.

It's no fun feeling hurt, anxious, afraid, or any other so-called negative emotion. But suppressing those feelings only makes them fester and grow.

In Buddhist thought, resistance to suffering is what really creates suffering. A key tenet of mindfulness is acknowledging and embracing every feeling that comes up--just letting it be-- without judging it as good or bad.

Embracing negative feelings was the subject of a 2014 study using Division 1 basketball players at George Mason University. Researchers had the players practice mindfulness techniques focused on "acceptance of negative thoughts, feelings and emotions." Participants reported "greater mindfulness, greater goal-directed energy, and less perceived stress" compared to the control group.

A simple way to practice accepting negative emotions is by getting curious about the location of those feelings in your body. Is anxiety showing up as sweaty palms? Is fear making your heart race? Is your jaw clenching in frustration?

The next time you're feeling a difficult emotion, pinpoint its physical location. And breathe into it. That's all. Nothing to fix or resist. There is tremendous freedom in allowing the whole gamut of emotions.

When you stop fighting against what is happening inside you, you stop fighting against what is happening around you as well.

From this place of acceptance, you're less caught up in distractions. You're more grounded in your body. And you're more present to decide your next move.

3. Remember your natural ability.

As entrepreneurs, we wear so many hats that it's sometimes hard to remember which one actually fits. But remembering what you're naturally good at is crucial to success.

Phil Jackson, former Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers coach, holds the record for the most NBA championship titles. In his book, Eleven Rings, he writes about using meditation techniques like stillness and mindful breathing to bring his players back to their center and remind them to perform the tasks they're naturally good at.

In the book, he shares an example of a Lakers player who "loved to chase down balls on defense. If his mind was focused on scoring points at the other end of the floor, he wouldn't be able to perform either task very well...By playing with his natural abilities, he activates a higher potential for the team...The whole begins to add up to more than the sum of its parts."

So during those few minutes a day when you're sitting in stillness and breathing into your core, remember your "why."

Which part of your business comes most naturally and resonates with you most deeply?

Chances are, by re-focusing your efforts there, you'll rise to the top of your game. And lead your team to a win.



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