3 Keys To Elite: Embrace the now

This article examines the third key to becoming an elite purposeful performer: embracing the now.

Embracing the now is perhaps the most fundamental rule in everything you do. It’s about being personally centered, self-accepting, and fully present. It’s a feeling of security and confidence washing over you, effectively releasing fluttered and worrisome thoughts. It’s the unconscious commitment of rehearsed movement patterns in an effortless flow of mind-muscle memory. And the best part, you can affect your ability to get there, again and again.


What it takes

When speaking to a group of fighters, I routinely ask their value of the mental game in training and competing. Typically, the majority respond favorably to the value of the mental game. However, when asked how many hours a week they devote to strengthening their mental skills, the response is often dissimilar to their assigned value. Lack of awareness, stigmas, and other misconceptions toward mental conditioning entail some of the reasons for this.

During competitive training phases fighters establish a progression of development – involving techniques, confidence, and vision for what’s to come. When not fully present, the development of these becomes broken, and the ideal forming of these areas is interrupted. For those fighters who are fully present with a strengthened sense of self, interrupted flow is of no concern. But for others who train with a limited, semi-committed self, such training hiccups can gain subtle and unnoticed momentum. On fight day, compounding interest of unchecked and negative experiences erupts like an overwhelming tsunami, eradicating confidence and purpose. Fighters who embrace the now are fully immersed in their environment, dictating the flow of the fight.


Where it takes you

Embracing the now is about many things, but lets examine the concept in its raw form. Fighters need to embrace what is happening in the now, accepting that some of it is out of their control, some of it is chance, and some is simply the opponent performing well. All of this must be accepted, for, when you can’t fully accept then you’re blinding yourself, and you can’t fully perform. Embrace the now and your performance is more apt to be fluid, aligned with mind-muscle memory, and free from distracting thoughts and unwanted emotions.

How to get there

Here are three essentials to effectively perform in the now:

  1. Perform with purpose. Everyday provides infinite opportunities to purposefully strengthen your skillset, yet, most fighters simply go through the motions presented to them. They eat when hungry or when they know they should, and train when directed to. But maximizing these and other daily experiences to the fullest is a defining edge.

Everyday, fighters should have an outline of their intentions and goals. Create a self-directed approach to achieve 1-3 goals in areas important to you, including: training, nutrition, and self-development. Include details about achievement strategy, technique and other performance-related intangibles, and include a space to write reflective thoughts evaluating your progress each day. Doing so can dramatically enhance your focus and sense of purpose, while also preparing you to be your best self for the next day.

  1. Depth breaths. Depth breathing is an essential technique for reorienting in the now. It involves a conscious decision to momentarily separate oneself from the action and deep breathe into the abdomen (not the chest), effectively releasing tension throughout the body, and to clear the mind. Deep breaths into the chest and shoulders only constricts muscles in those areas, and won’t allow an opportunity to replenish. With practice, depth breaths can occur during: breaks in training, when stepping away from an opponent, in guard, and always between rounds.

Practice depth breathing every day. Begin by inhaling through the nose, allowing air to expand your diaphragm to stomach, and gently releasing the air from your mouth. Notice where your air is amassing in your body. Attune your focus to expand your diaphragm and stomach only, and allow your shoulders to remain rested. For advanced training, you may count the number of seconds you inhale, hold, and exhale your breaths. Challenge yourself to a 5, 6, 7 – seconds of inhalation, hold and exhalation. Extending time length will help condition you to perform depth breathing more readily during training and fights.

  1. Cue words. We all have internal dialogues commanding our attention and influencing our actions. These thoughts can be self-fulfilling – either enhancing or weakening our progress. To help perform in the now and flush out unwanted thoughts choose effective cue words to rehearse both during and away from performance-related scenarios. They should be short, simple, and personally relevant and significant.

Effective cue words help create a desired action or response to particular situations. They provide mental templates for mind-body synergy and flow, and they can renew focus and confidence. For example, ‘now’ can be an effective cue word because it redirects the mind to what’s most important, and it helps eliminate past and future thoughts. Conscious or not, there’s a good chance you currently use some words to for specific situations. If so, examine these to determine their usefulness and rehearse those most effective. Provided are examples of cue words to consider, and to influence your development of others:

  • Flush: to release unwanted thoughts and refocus
  • Accept: to be comfortable with what’s occurring
  • Flow: to relax and be in the moment

Like anything else you want to improve, you must rehearse your cue words. Practice them in all applicable scenarios, and refine them as needed.

Learning to embrace the now involves ongoing self-coaching. You must take conscious and deliberate action to direct your focus to the present, and to performing without fear or inhibition. Three essentials can support your ability to embrace and perform in the now: perform with purpose, depth breaths, and cue words. Forge a solid trust in yourself, in the essentials, and in the process. With disciplined practice and full commitment, you’ll be on your way to a greater self and competitor.

I have over ten years of performance training through my experiences in coaching, mental conditioning and edutaining of groups and individual clients. My diverse athletic experiences as a college football player, triathlete, mixed martial artist, and coach, have helped intensify my awareness for cultivating elite-level success across various sport, performance, and tactical disciplines. I regularly consult with professional athletes and organizational leadership, including, NFL, UFC, MLB, NBA, NHL, WTA, and PGA, as well as CrossFit, and NCAA competitors and staffs. I served as the Mental Performance Specialist with the US Army Special Forces, Director of Mental Conditioning with the Evert Tennis Academy, and I direct in-house consultation and leadership development with public and private sector organizations. I’m available to provide dynamic and interactive workshops for your organization and large-scale symposiums.

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