My Circus Life is a brief weekly livestream show in which I share a lesson I learn in my adventures learning the arts and sports of trampoline, flying trapeze, and other circus disciplines, and discuss how they apply to life beyond the circus tent. Today was Episode 88: How to Win the Mind Game.
Over the summer, my weekly trampoline practice moves to the outdoor location of Trapeze School New York, on the roof of Pier 40, on the west side of Manhattan. Although I love being active outside, I don’t always love the added complication of dealing with the natural elements.
Today was overcast, with a chill in the air and a persistent wind.
My mind likes to tell me that the wind will blow me off of the trampoline and that I won’t be safe if I do certain tricks, like front summersaults, without safety lines.
This is an illusion. The danger is not from the wind, but from the mind.
According to my Dark Sky app, the wind was only 7 MPH — not strong enough to put me at risk. It should not affect my focus whatsoever.
But shoulds and reality are often two different things.
The mind wants to trick us into believing that we are in danger or at risk of being in danger. Even if the message isn’t one of danger, the mind is playing dirty, trying to divert our attention to different areas.
When our attention is diverted, then we are truly at risk.
In any case where my mind is telling me there’s a danger — whether because my body isn’t feeling up to the task or because the elements are playing tricks on me, I know I have two options:
(1) if there’s a real risk, and I don’t think it’s safe to bounce, then I shouldn’t bounce at all.
(2) if it’s not bad enough to keep me from bouncing, then I have to put it out of my mind.
The way to proceed is to be all in or not in at all. There’s no straddling the line.
This situation offers the opportunity and the challenge of honing focus: not allowing the mind to win at its mind games.
Of course, we’re talking not just about trampoline here. We are always battling for control with the mind. It’s easy o blame the external distractions, but the biggest distractions are internal.
How to Win the Mind Game
So how do we stand a chance at winning the mind game?
Let’s be clear that no matter what arena you’re playing in, the mind game is a constant battle.
That said, here are two strategies:
(1) Practice Mindfulness
When we practice mindfulness, we get out of the mind and look at the bigger picture. We step outside the illusion to see what is real. Standing outside the mind, we become the observer of our thoughts. This helps us discern what is “real, but not true.”
The feeling that the wind will blow me off the trampoline is real but not true.
The feeling that my ankle and knee won’t support me is real but not true.
Mindfulness is a muscle. The more we can work it, the stronger it is, and the more we can attune to what is true. Mindfulness takes us out of the stories we tell ourselves.
Through mindfulness, we win the mind game by using our observation of the mind.
(2) Listen to the Body
The mind and body are in constant communication. Most of the time, the mind has a thought and sends this to the body in the form of a physical sensation: a stomach full of butterflies, a surge of adrenaline, or a lump in the throat. We tend to interpret those signals in a certain way, although we also know that we can tell a different story about the same signals. For example, the physiology of fear is also the physiology of excitement.
The body also can, and does, initiate the conversation. The problem is that most of us were not trained in how to listen to what the body tells us. Through the practice of activities that expand our awareness of the body and the mind and body connection, we can learn how to hear what our body tells us.
In the same way that the mind tells the body what to feel, the body can tell the mind what to think. When we focus on listening to the body first, we lower the volume on the mind’s message.
This is a constant practice, because we must focus on quieting the mind. Otherwise, listening to the body will trap us in a feedback loop that the mind initiated.
I have a daily practice of listening to my body. I take inventory. We communicate.
Even still, I could feel my mind winning the game today.
Awareness Before Change
Rather than being a cause for defeat, the awareness of how the mind is winning opens the door of opportunity to take back control.
Awareness is the first step to change.
Often, people tell me that they can’t meditate because they can’t silence their thoughts.
Let’s be clear on something: I don’t think anyone can fully silence their thoughts for a long stretch of time.
The point of meditation is to notice when you’re lost in thought. Once you notice, you come back to the breath. For however long you sit, that’s the process: focus on the breath, get lost in thought, notice you’re in thought, come back to the breath. Rinse and repeat.
This is exactly what played out today in trampoline practice: once I saw how my body was playing into the illusion, I focused on the signals from my body: it was not giving me fear signals. By honing in on the calm within, I was able to take back control and ignore the wind.
I use this same process when I’m working. Staying focused is a constant struggle for me. I don’t even need help from external triggers to get distracted. Practicing the rituals of mindfulness and listening to my body train me in the habit of noticing and coming back.
That’s how we win the mind game against the mind.
My Circus Life started as a weekly Periscope broadcast. I now broadcast on Facebook live. I also upload each week’s episode to my Vimeo channel. You can watch a replay of today’s episode here.
I’d love to know what questions you have about trampoline, flying trapeze, or anything else. I will answer them in a future episode!