Psyched Online

All We Got is The Present

By Paul Schienberg PhD.

Being in the Here and Now is a cliché used often in this culture. Few of us have experienced it – been able to spend significant amounts of time there – enter it by intention. Part of the human condition is to struggle with worrisome, frightening and anxiety provoking thoughts. They are connected to past events and the anticipation of negative outcomes. If we can keep our focus on the present, we discover that we have greater use of our strength, endurance, and skills. This is the condition we want to be in when playing any sport.

Learning from the past can have a very positive effect on your athletic performance. “What does he throw me when I get him deep into the count? Last time he got me out on an inside heater. He will try it again. “On clay courts, she likes to lob me cause I don’t have great footwork and tend to get caught at the net. If I charge the net too frequently, she’ll catch me. This golf hole always looks closer than it is. So, I will take a full swing. If he is already dribbling and decides to go to the basket, he hates going to the right. So, don’t go for the fake in that direction. As Bill Russell (the Hall of Fame Center for the Boston Celtics) said, “I got most my rebounds before the shots were even taken.”

Focusing on the past can also have a very negative effect on your performance. It can develop destructive attitudes towards certain situations. For example, a golfer saying, “I never get it over this creek and onto the green.” Or, every time I play the French Open, I just can’t get past the second round.” The past here is treated as a sense of negative destiny. The athlete approaches the present event as an inevitable failure. All biological functioning tightens up and, low and behold, history is repeated and the belief in failure is reinforced. The past is not being used as information to help the performance.

Over confidence can set in as well. Let’s say an athlete has been successful each time. ” “No problem! This is a piece of cake.” Doing the things that created an outstanding performance are not activated. Performance can drop off and defeat slips in. We must remember to stay present in the here and now. Sometimes it is more difficult to remember this when we have been winners than losers.

Another distraction is the “creation and watching” of an internalized fantasy of our golf ball sailing through the air – getting that extra lift from the over spin – then tearing down the fairway – leaving us with a small chip to the green. We see our opponents’ mouths drop open in total amazement. Sometimes these images can be so vivid that, when we “wake up” and see that the ball is still on the tee, we are shocked. Or, you are running down the sideline as the ball, in slow motion, floats into your arms. Then you are jumping up and down in the end zone with the ball in one hand. It is only then that you notice that your team hasn’t broken the huddle yet. You didn’t even hear the play that was called.

Visualization of an activity can be very helpful in producing a great performance. If you cannot imagine yourself hitting a backhand in tennis, it may be almost impossible to perform. Before you hit a bunker-shot, it is necessary to “see” your club passing through the sand and up into its normal arc. And a diver visualizes his/her legs and arms doing the twists and turns to make the two and a half gainer in the tuck position. Yes! These are all helpful – not in the moment of doing the event. You must be able to clear your mind of these distractions and enter the moment. Whatever you have used to learn the skill must be consciously put aside. It is time to play the game -be in the Here and Now.

Ah you say, “Easier said than done.” Right you are. If you haven’t taught yourself how to be in the “Here and Now” it is very hard to attain it at the time needed – and that time is the moment of activity. It is a skill like any other. It takes practice. But, if you have learned how to get there or here as they say, you will have at your command great power. Being in the here and now means that you are not there – you are here – not in the future or past – you are in the now. How do I train myself to do that? Try the following techniques.

Create a ritual before every action. You see many, if not all, great athletes have one. Chuck Knobloch steps out of the batters box, unwraps and raps his hitting gloves, rubs the barrel of his bat and steps back into the batters box. Tiger Woods stands behind the ball. He makes a mental line from the ball on the tee to where he wants it to go. Then he walks in an arc to stand beside the ball and takes two practice swings. Tiger moves closer to the ball, looks down the fairway once, takes two deep breathes and, then and only then, begins his stroke. These are rituals that help get them get into the here and now. If it doesn’t work, the athlete may step away for a moment and begin the ritual over again.

Learn to breathe. Being able to follow your breathing into your abdomen is very grounding. Take a few seconds and follow your breath through your body. Learn to do this by practicing it many times a day. Do not worry. No one will know you are doing it. Train your body to breathe deeply. If you are able to focus on the passage of air in and out, you will be in there here and now. When you are about to perform your body will know how to do it and you will be very present for the action of the moment.

Ground yourself! Take this literally! Feeling fully and strongly planted on the ground brings you mentally and physically into the moment. Often you see baseball players dig into the turf, feeling the ground beneath them. Golfers will sway and then come to a complete stop before the putt. Again this takes practice. Take a rolling pin with handles on each side. As you sit at home doing work at your desk or watching TV take your shoes and socks off – place one foot on each handle. Roll the pin back and forth. Focus on the feeling of your feet touching the pin. If you take a walk during the day, focus on your feet as you take each step. What does it feel like? Focus on it. You will be in the here and now. You can practice this anytime you move. It will calm your nerves and bring you to the task at hand in a strong and present manner.

When you are in the here and now, the likelihood of being in the Zone increases exponentially. One major factor of being in the Zone is being present without effort. Everything becomes easier to do. It just flows. We are fully attending without strain or stress. It just happens.

Finally, have faith that you have learned what is needed – that at the time of action your body will do what it needs to do for best performance. So, even though it may seem contrary or paradoxical, you must feel that you have put in the conscious practice time necessary – you have sized up the situation you are in – and now it is time to turn it over. Think of Indiana Jones’ and the Holy Grail. Indy must cross a chasm. In order to do so, he must take a leap of faith. We must have that faith that the bridge is there and ready to get us where we need and want to go.