Our society is a little backwards. We say work harder so you’ll be more successful and that will make you happier. However when we work hard and achieve success, we then just push our expectations higher. So our brains never really get to revel in that successful feeling and immerse itself in happiness.
Why don’t we work backwards? Studies have shown that “happier” people perform better in many contexts. Doctors make quicker more beneficial decisions, and students perform higher on tests. This is because these “happier” people have more internal resources to dedicate to their successes, in other words they have fewer negative distractions. Research has done studies that ask participants to increase their happiness levels. This is done by learning to live in the moment, increasing gratefulness, engaging in random acts of kindness, engaging in meditation and regular exercise. If we could increase the happiness of our athletes they would have more personal resources to put into sport. We could help athletes enjoy their sport despite the outcome of competition.
Increase an athlete’s happiness? That sounds like quite the daunting task for a coach. I’m telling you it doesn’t have to be. In fact, it may actually make coaching easier in the long run. Here are a few simple things you can do to assist your athletes in becoming happier more productive assets to your team.
Living in the moment: As humans we tend to spend only 53% of our time actually living in the present moment. We are constantly worrying about or anticipating future situations or analyzing and reliving those in the past. We don’t give ourselves the opportunity to get lost in the present moment. Matt Killingsworth found that the more we let our minds wander, whether our thoughts are negative or positive, the less happy we tend to be. So how do we stay in the present moment and how will that improve sports performance? When you realize your mind is wandering and you aren’t focused on the task at hand, silently name 5-10 things that are positive and within your present experience. For instance if an athlete is at practice and they realize they are thinking about their weekend plans or last nights TV episode, they might recite these five things silently: 1) I am outside on a beautiful day and the sun is shining. 2) I am surrounded by teammates that I enjoy spending time with. 3) I am playing the sport I love. 4) I am about to take a fly ball. 5) I feel confident in the way I’ve been performing at practice. These thoughts immediately bring the mind to the present and keep thoughts focused on the task at hand. This immediately increases the mental focus of athletes and helps them to perform at a higher level because they are using product thoughts to aid their body’s performance. Matt Killingsworth’s Ted Talk
Count your blessings: Expressing gratitude to someone else has been found to increase happiness by 25% according to research. Those who are thankful for the good things in their life tend to be more optimistic, energetic, empathetic, and generous. It’s easy to dwell on the negatives in this fast paced, ever changing, social media crazed world we live in. Give your athletes a chance to be grateful for the positive things in their life everyday before or after practice. Team members, as well as coaches, can share out loud 3 things they are grateful for, or you can have teammates partner up to share their gratitude for the life they are living. Being grateful for the way things are today is another way of living in the present moment and keeping distracting thoughts at bay.
Random acts of kindness: Researchers have conducted studies where they give participants $20 dollars. The participants are either told to spend that money on themselves or someone else. Results suggest that those participants who spent their money on other people were happier and more satisfied with their purchases than those who spent it on themselves. Happiness research has come to the conclusion that random acts of kindness leads to living a happier life. As a coach you can make this part of your team culture. Make it apparent to your athletes that generosity, selflessness, and kindness are highly valued on your team. After all they are key characteristics of a good teammate. Set up friendly challenges where athletes strive to outdo each other in the number of random acts of kindness they commit in a day. It can be things as simple as lending a stranger lunch money, giving a stranger a compliment, bringing a teammate a new hair accessory, or bringing a special snack for the whole team to enjoy after practice. These acts of selflessness will show the athletes that they are in this together. When someone is willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the group others tend to feel more secure and are willing to put forth more effort. Knowing that their teammates are putting others before themselves will help the team come together and be stronger on their rise to victory.
Regular exercise: Since I am focusing on sports regular exercise is something that you as a coach are already taking care of. However, sometimes the workouts we get as an athlete aren’t enough. Encourage your athletes to do more off the field, keeping our bodies healthy is a foundational step in attaining higher levels of happiness.
Meditation: I’ve never been a promoter of meditation but a Ted Talk I watched a while back gave me a new perspective. We all know it’s imperative that we let our bodies rest; sleep is the time when we recharge our batteries so we can function at the proper levels the next day. As athletes we stretch our muscles, and rest our bodies between practices and competitions in order to heal and reboot. However, we never give our mind this courtesy. Our minds are constantly going 100% all the time. We are thinking, worrying, wondering, focusing, calculating all day long, and then when we go to sleep we dream. Our minds never get a moment to shutdown and reboot. This is where meditation comes in. Giving the mind the break it needs can be the key to seeing the world and ourselves in a whole new light. Ask athletes to take ten minutes out of their day to do absolutely nothing; no mind wandering, no texting, no TV, no reading, just being. Ten Mindful Minutes Ted Talk
Using this philosophy and working “backwards” to success will show your athletes that you care about their well being. When an athlete knows that a coach cares about them as a person and not just an athlete that aids in the teams success, they are more willing to go above and beyond for that coach. Increase their happiness and in turn increase their commitment to the sport, and their drive for success. Happier athletes are more productive athletes simply because they have more resources to put forth.
Quote of the day:
“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” – Omar Khayyam