Want a High Performance Mind?

Combat soldiers, surgeons, ER professionals, Olympic athletes and others that face extreme-stress situations involving judgement must all develop high performance minds to be successful.   Cognitive performance in extreme circumstances has been studied closely and training programs and techniques have been developed and tested.   How to use these techniques to build a high performance mind will be a frequent topic on the Next Brain Blog.

For example, The Mind Fitness Training Institute,  is in the news for a program they have  for training the minds of US combat soldiers. They just completed a pilot study that demonstrated how mindfulness training techniques can improve working memory and affective response (or emotional control).

Soldiers in the program start by mastering attentional control and concentration using a mindfulness training technique.  A briefing document explains:

“At first, exercises emphasize building concentration by focusing on one object of attention, such as the breath, contact between the body and the floor or chair, or sensations within specific body parts. This single focus of attention is maintained throughout a practice session; when attention wanders, it is returned to the object of attention. Later in the course, exercises require attending to body sensations during movement and “shuttling” the attention between inner sensations andouter experiences (i.e., sights or sounds).”

This technique is used in many other  programs that promise to build a high performance mind.  An important finding because it tells us:

The first step in developing a high performance mind is to practice attentional control and concentration using a very simple training technique.

And you don’t need to have an extreme-stress job or attend a special training program to get started. Here is what you do:

  1. Rest comfortably by laying down or sitting
  2. Close your eyes if you want to
  3. Focus on your stomach and feel your breathing
  4. Pay attention to all your bodily sensations in your belly as  move through the complete breathing cycle of inhaling and exhaling
  5. If you mind wanders to another topic or sensation return your attention to your belly and the cycle of breath.

Your only task here is to bring your mind back to the sensation of breathing every time it wonders. Sounds simple but it takes practice.  And what you are learning is invaluable – how to control your own mind!

15 minutes per day for a week should produce a noticeable result.  At the very least you will have first hand experience in attempting to control you attention in a systematic way.  If you try it and please share your experience by leaving a comment.