I recently began playing golf in an attempt to boost my brainpower. As Bobby Jones once said, “Golf is a game played on a five inch course, the distance between your ears”. Golf is no doubt a mental game, but it’s more than that. While it certainly challenges your brain it also stimulates areas that are often left out of our daily routine – things like play, social connection, physical activity, fresh air – and if you can master it, relaxation.
Because most of us are used to going non-stop during our workday, it can be quite uncomfortable to try to slow down and relax. This constantly chaotic pace stimulates a continuous flow of stress hormones in the brain and body, which have been shown to be addictive. Once you get used to this rush, eliminating sources of stress becomes uncomfortable. Try it right now. Close your eyes, focus on your breathing, and just relax. Quiet your mind. How long does it take for you to shift back into thinking mode?
Activities such as golf provide us with something to focus our attention on something that is challenging but also enjoyable. In fact, if you allow distractions of your day to creep back into your mind there is an immediate shift in your ability to focus on the present moment. This shift usually leads to a tensing of the body and a decrease in your game play. If you are not fully present, golf will quickly let you know. The concentration necessary for golf makes it a perfect activity to boost your mental energy by increasing your ability to relax, be in the moment, and build your mindfulness muscle. Here are a few tips for best practice:
1 – Breathe. One of the quickest ways to relax your body and quiet your mind is to focus on the physical sensations of breathing. If you fully tune into your breathing experience, your mental energy will follow and you’ll be able to bring your attention to the here and now. Try to follow the sensation of your breath as it passes through your nose, into your airway, and expands your chest and belly. As you exhale, feel a sense of calm relaxation flowing throughout your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes.
2 – Believe. In order for mental energy training to be effective it’s important that you see it as a priority. Making it a priority will help you be more consistent. Most people recognize that it’s important to take care of one’s own self in order to be able to take care of others. But we sometimes lack the commitment to make it a priority. Acknowledge the fact that being more mindful and managing your mental energy more effectively will allow you to be healthier and happier. And it will also improve your mental performance when you return back to work mode or engage with friends and family.
3 – Be Patient. Recognize that most of what we do happens with our brain on automatic pilot because we’ve operated in a certain way over a long period of time. Most of us have trained our brain to multitask and function in survival mode, resulting in high levels of chronic stress that wear us out. This is our “norm”, but it’s not where we are most effective. Shifting into a new way of managing our mental energy requires practice to re-train our operating system to better serve us. Like your golf game, with time your ability to manage your mental energy will improve if you remain consistent.
Dr Heidi Hanna is a San Diego Women on Course member and author of SHARP: Simple Strategies to Boost Your Brainpower. Visit her site: http://synergyprograms.com/