Colombian weightlifter Oscar Figueroa, British Olympic diver Tom Daley, and American gymnast Gabby Douglas all come from different walks of life, and they all compete in very different Olympic events. But when it comes to Rio 2016, they all share one thing in common: they have the weight of their countries on their shoulders, and millions of people expecting them to perform to their best potential in the most heated battled in the world of sports: the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
The sheer weight on these athletes’ shoulders would be enough to crush a mere mortal. But Olympians like Tom Daley, Gabby Douglas, and Oscar Figueroa are not your average humans. For countless years they’ve been training ready for the Olympics. They’ve trained their bodies to become the ultimate fitness athletes. And they’ve trained their minds too, using everything from positive affirmations to visualisations to get their heads in the game.
And as we now enter the Olympics, there’s one things that’s clear. No matter what sport you do, meditation will help you to do it even better.
Weightlifting, diving, and gymnastics require very different training regimes that focus on different disciplines, gymnastics focusing on balance, physical flexibility and grace; diving focusing on split-second movements to get the body into the right position to perform aerobatic displays; and weight-lifting focusing on sheer strength and determination.
But what weightlifting, diving, and gymnastic have in common is this: When the stage is set and the thousands of audience members gaze down on them, the athletes have to fight away the mental stress and anxiety. They have to focus absolutely on the task at hand. They have to be in the moment, ready to perform.
It’s a skill every single one of us could use. We might not be Olympic athletes, but life throws stress at us no matter who we are. The ability to focus single-mindedly on the task at hand is a key strength. When the mind focuses all energy on one objective, we tap into our innate mental and physical strength, and we can overcome all challenges.
To establish this mental strength, this Zen-like focus and single-minded determination, athletes like Tom Daley, Gabby Douglas and Oscar Figueroa turn to meditation, the 2500 year old practice that has been scientifically proven to strengthen the mind and to focus our attention like an arrow so we can put all our energy into the one thing we are doing at any given time.
Oscar Figueroa came to Rio 2016 with the weight of the world on his shoulders. A silver-medalist in London 2012, Figueroa was hotly anticipated to take home a medal, despite the fact that he had to fight his way back into competition in January after a back operation.
Surrounded by 60KG weights and biceps so large they’d impress even Hulk Hogan himself, Oscar Figueroa finds inspiration from a much quieter source: nature. His love of nature helps him to overcome the pressure his country puts on him.
Speaking to Rio2016.com, Oscar Figueroa says, “There’s a lot of pressure because the Colombian public have very high expectations of their weightlifters and they expect great results.” It’s here that the importance of meditation for athletes become clear. All athletes face pressure. How d they overcome it? “I meditate a lot and I like to be in regular contact with nature,” Figueroa says.
Despite the fact that Oscar Figueroa walked into Rio 2016 off of a back injury, and with many people doubting his ability to compete, he lifted a staggering 318KG to take home the gold. It goes to show, no matter how strong a person’s body might be, mental strength is equally important, even in an event like weightlifting.
The pressure Oscar Figueroa felt is matched by British diver Tom Daley.
Daley is regarded as the best diver in Great Britain, and every British diving fan is placing their faith in Tom Daley’s abilities.
Having competed at London 2012, where he took home the Bronze for the 10m platform event, Tom Daley knew full well the burden of stress and anxiety that such a gargantuan event can place on a person. This time he came prepared.
To help get his mind into the right space, Tom Daley has been using a meditation app called Headspace. In an article on ESPN.co.uk, Tom Daley says, “I massively recommend [the Headspace app]. Lots of the English Institute of Sport guys are actually using it. It’s helped me massively.”
Headspace uses basic meditations to help an athlete (or anyone else seeking relaxation and focus) to get into the moment and to calm their mind. “It’s mainly focusing on my breathing, being completely in the moment and not getting ahead of myself,” says Daley. “Not focusing on things that have been and gone. If I do a bad dive, that’s in the past, move on. The next dive is a completely separate thing. It’s just about being really present in a particular moment.”
The state of being ‘present in a particular moment’ that Tom Daley mentions here is known as Present Moment Mindfulness and is famously taught by meditation teachers around the world. Present Moment Mindfulness helps to silence thoughts so that consciousness is focused on the reality of the moment. In other words, is about focusing on what’s happening in the moment.
Tom Daley compliments the Headspace app with other meditation techniques. “Every morning I do 10 minutes of mindfulness where I do meditation and I use that in competition and every day life. I’m getting better and better in being able to zone in on what I need to focus on.” That’s one of the best things about Headspace; it can readily be used in conjunction with other meditation techniques.
Daley has been using Headspace for several months and says he has seen serious improvements in his mental state. “I started at the beginning of this year and I’ve done it every day since. It’s helped me massively and I feel like that’s one of the reasons why this year I’ve been the most consistent that I’ve been in competition.”
This new mental headspace helped Tom Daley to secure the bronze for the Men’s synchronised 10m platform event.
While Tom Daley was diving into pools, Gabby Douglas was tumbling over the gymnastics floor and swinging around the uneven bars as part of the highly dominant Team USA in women’s gymnastics.
Gabby Douglas knows all about the pressures of the Olympics. She was only 16 when she competed at the 2012 London Olympic Games, where she became the first African-American woman to win the all-around title.
Coming to Rio 2016 as an accomplished 20 year old already with a gold medal to her name, the pressure on Gabby Douglas is different this time around. Gone are the nerves of the unexpected. Here are the nerves of an athlete expected to come in one of the top positions of the fiercely competitive women’s gymnastics competitions.
Gabby Douglas has specific techniques for handling the pressures and stress of the Olympics. She makes sure to ignore any negative comments, and to only listen to positive ones.
Speaking to People.com, Gabby Douglas says, “When I go on my Instagram or Twitter, for the most part I see comments like “I love you!” or “first like!” or something like that,” she says. “I have no idea where to go and find negative naysayers.”
Bolstering this ability to zone-out negativity is a meditation practice that Gabby Douglas firmly believes in. Before her events start, Douglas makes sure to clear her mind of thoughts and to focus on the present moment. “I love just meditating on scripture,” she says. “The one I love says, ‘I’ve crossed the finish line, I’ve done everything that I’ve done, and now waiting for me is a gold at the end of the day.’ ”
Douglas, Daley, and Figueroa all advocate the importance of meditation for athletes. When you’re training day in day out, thinking about that important final day, the day when you’ll be put to the test, when all the weight will be firmly on your shoulders, the best thing to do is to know how to zone-out the noise and focus on the task at hand.
It’s a skill we could all use a little more of.