– Struggle to make the progress or get the results you want?
– Get distracted by negative self-talk or pervasive doubt?
– Come up short of achieving your goals?
– Keep looking for that mental edge?
– Dread recovering from injury?
– Feel conflicted by fitting sport into the rest of your life?
Mindful Advantage is the powerful solution to these challenges and comes from psychological flexibility — not “mental toughness” as many of the more traditional theories advise — allowing athletes to adapt to any given situation during training or competition and excel to the highest levels possible.
Mindful Advantage is an integrative approach to optimum performance, emphasizing psychological flexibility, using core theories of Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT), contemplative philosophy and mindfulness practices.
Mindful Advantage will help you develop the confidence and adaptability to push through difficult moments in training and competition with a clear mind and razor-sharp focus.
The bodies of athletes need to stay flexible and adaptable in order to respond to the ever increasing physical demands of optimum performance. The minds of athletes must also develop and maintain mental and psychological flexibility to respond to the mental and emotional demands of performance at the highest levels.
“You must work hard not to be boxed in by a certain way so that you never get into a situation where there’s only one response — you ADAPT to what the situation calls for.” - Bruce Lee
Contemplative Sport Psychology Coaching
Would it be surprising to hear that we choose, subconsciously, the level of performance we are able to achieve?
Unless our bodies are simply unable to keep going, due to injury or complete shut-down, we all have the ability to push through pain and discomfort – as long as we’re able to move past the negative thoughts and emotions and stay connected to our committed values for the task at hand.
Traditional sport psychology, using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), would simply suggest that we turn our negative thoughts into positive thoughts by having “mental toughness” – through visualization, memory connection, positive self-talk or sheer will. But optimum performance doesn’t come from changing or getting rid of negative thoughts and emotions. In fact, the attempt to suppress, control or eliminate negative internal experiences (thoughts, feelings, emotions) often leads to an upsurge in the frequency and intensity of those experiences, which create more doubt and uncertainty, robbing us of confidence, motivation and the ability to perform. We think we can control thoughts and feelings but the more we attempt to suppress or change them, the more present and impactful they become.
The key to optimum performance is in changing our relationship with negative thoughts and emotions because they will almost always be there – as human beings, we have evolved to constantly have negative thoughts (which lead to negative emotions) as a form of basic survival.
The Mindful Advantage empowers athletes, using psychological flexibility, to adapt to and move through negative thoughts and emotions. By identifying the thoughts and feelings that are obstacles to moving toward things we value, we can change our relationship to those internal experiences, rather than changing the experiences themselves as CBT or Positive Psychology would suggest.
Ideally, athletes will commit to the full 8-week Mindful Advantage program to get the maximum benefits of psychological and mental flexibility. The first week involves an introduction to the program, basic mindfulness practice skills and assessments to identify specific roadblocks to optimum performance. The middle six weeks are the heart of the program, utilizing the six adapted modules Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT):
1. Acceptance: Acceptance of negative thoughts, emotions and experiences as part of being human.
2. Mindfulness: Awareness through mindfulness practices to observe and experience thoughts and emotions as they occur.
3. Cognitive Defusion: Tools to defuse negative thoughts and emotions that we tend to literalize and see as real, which significantly affects our behavior, choices and decisions.
4. Athletic Identity and Ego: Understanding that we are not defined by our thoughts or our stories but simply the context in which they exist. We are also not defined by our results or abilities.
5. Values: Instead of being controlled by our internal experiences (thoughts, emotions, sensations) we define and connect with what we value in our lives.
6. Committed Action: Taking action toward what we value by establishing and achieving goals along that valued path.
The final week is a summation of the six modules and an assessment of specific areas that might tend to need more attention and maintenance. The program can be repeated indefinitely to keep fine-tuning and honing psychological flexibility — especially in specific competitive situations or environments. Athletes may choose to work on specific modules outside of the 8-week sequence if they already have a sense of specific challenges or already feel confident in some of the skills and information in specific modules.
For athletes — and anyone who face make-or-break moments, mastering the mind and the breath can be the difference between achieving valued goals and going home empty-handed.
Just as bodies need to stay flexible and adaptable in order to respond to the ever increasing physical demands of optimum performance, mental and psychological flexibility must also be developed and maintained for the mind to respond to the mental and emotional demands of performance at the highest levels.
Mindfulness Meditation Coaching
“Sitting Meditation gives us a way to move closer to our thoughts and emotions and get in touch with our bodies.” – Pema Chödrön
“Meditation teaches you to see your spirit separately from your body. Your body feels pain, but you can choose to let your spirit fly beyond the discomfort. If I had learned to make this distinction while I was a professional triathlete, I’d have considerably more hardware collecting dust on my shelves today.” – Ironman triathlon legend Julie Moss
“Meditation is not a matter of trying to achieve ecstasy, spiritual bliss, or tranquility, nor is it attempting to become a better person. It is simply the creation of a space in which we are able to expose and undo our neurotic games, our self-deceptions, our hidden fears and hopes.” – Pema Chödrön
“In meditation practice, we learn to acknowledge and recognize our thoughts without acting on them. We’re no longer quite so fooled by appearances. Our mind becomes more flexible, because we begin to see our own projections.“ – Sakyong Mipham
“When you understand the source clearly, you’ll see that the ripples of your mind have nothing to do with you; you’ll just watch them, without attachment, no longer compelled to overact every time a pebble drops.” – Dan Millman, Way of the Peaceful Warrior
Meditation can be an obscure and abstract practice. For some, it is a relaxation technique based on the goal of emptying the mind of thoughts. For others it is a grounding and centering ritual with more a more spiritual focus.
I have been studying and practicing Shamatha Vipassana meditation since 1995 and have come to the stark realization that it is impossible to keep the mind from thinking — it is simply part of our nature as human beings to plan, figure things out, ruminate about the past and worry about the future. The key is to observe these thoughts with non-attachment and non-judgment as an opportunity to gain insight and understanding into your own state of mind. There is no suppression of thoughts or changing negative thoughts to positive ones as many techniques suggest.
As part of the Mindful Advantage, meditation simply brings the internal dialogue to the forefront of the mind and into consciousness and awareness so that habitual patterns and stories can be recognized and released.
The practice involves the mindful focus on the breath along with the gentle return to the present as the mind wanders. It is a cultivation of a moment–to-moment awareness of changing perceptions in a neutral, impartial way. The result is bodhicitta or awakened heart and mind, leading to greater mental and psychological flexibility and, ultimately, the confidence and power to accomplish highly-valued performance goals.
Why aren't traditional practices the best way to get that mental edge?
Traditional techniques such as goal setting, imagery, mental rehearsal, arousal/anxiety control and self-talk are based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and are typically used as “control-based” interventions. They are used to control, change or suppress unwanted and performance-damaging negative thoughts or emotions. Recent studies have shown limitations in their effectiveness due to the amount of time and energy athletes spend trying to make them work instead of focusing on the tasks at hand. With less attention on trying to control aversive emotions such as fears, anxiety and self-doubt the athlete’s attention is freed up to focus more effectively on relevant moment-to-moment information for best performance.
What is Psychological Flexibility?
Psychological Flexibility is the ability to be fully present and open to our experiences so that we can take actions guided by our values, leading to a life that’s rich, meaningful and characterized by doing what matters to each of us, personally.
What is Contemplative Coaching?
Contemplative simply means that there is an emphasis on developing and maintaining a mindfulness practice such as meditation—this is really the key to initiating lasting change.
Contemplative Coaching is really about reprogramming the mind – transforming a reactive mechanism into a creative tool. It’s about turning your mind into an ally rather than an adversary to be defeated. Mindfulness practices are the foundation to create changes in your relationship to sport.
What is Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT)?
Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT) is a behavioral training modality that focuses on valued engagement in sport. Acceptance, defusion, mindfulness, self-as-context, values and committed action are all practiced to promote greater flexibility in the service of living in accordance with personal values for long-term, sustainable success.
Jeffrey Cole is a Board Certified Coach with a Master’s degree in Contemplative Counseling Psychology from Naropa University. With his broad perspective on the depths of the human experience, he offers compassion, understanding and unique insights into motivation and behavior. His integrative approach is strength-based and solution-focused coming from a contemplative foundation with an emphasis on mindfulness and the power of intention. He is equally skilled at developing an individual’s voice, power and confidence as he is working from a systemic perspective addressing elements of organizational effectiveness.
He has been working with amateur and professional athletes for over twenty-five years as a soigneur, sport psychology coach, mindfulness meditation coach and massage therapist on the UCI Pro Tour, World Cup and World Championship competition, the Tour de France VTT, the Tour of California and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
Through Jeff’s experience with elite-level endurance athletes, who must constantly endure tremendous physical and psychological pain, he has learned first-hand what it takes to be a champion and consistently perform at the highest level of sport. Specifically, it is overcoming the negative internal dialogue, which often occurs sub-consciously, that has the potential — if not handled effectively — to lead to making choices and decisions that can negatively affect performance.
As soigneur, Jeff has worked with some of the top cyclist in the world including Tour de France Champions Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans, World Champions Mark Cavendish, Sara Ballantyne and Jerome Chioti, Olympic medalist Jakob Fuglsang and all around cycling great Jens Voigt.
Competitive athletic participation has always been a part of his life. He currently enjoys running, cycling and skiing events and is a two-time US National Alpine Masters Snowboard Champion.
Board Certified Coach: Center for Credentialing & Education
Master of Arts in Contemplative Counseling Psychology: Naropa University
Certified Meditation Instructor: Natura Institute
Shambhala Guide: Way of Shambhala