I started my adult life as an athlete. After college, I played professional basketball in Europe for 12 years. I was used to the physical grind — 6 a.m. runs, hours of practice every day, etc.
At the time I was building my strength physically, but I still felt run-down at times because I wasn’t putting any emphasis on my mental and emotional resilience.
My slumps as a player could all be tied to mental blocks, not physical obstacles.
As I looked to mentors in the sports world, I noticed the top stars often cited a mindfulness routine to work on their mental fitness along with the physical.
To incorporate this into my own training, I started to try stretching for 10 breaths instead of setting a 30-second timer, with the goal of being present in the current moment and listening to what my body and mind wanted to tell me.
I incorporated present-focused thoughts into my physical routines, and it eventually crept into other areas of my life.
A mindfulness practice allows you to show up for yourself first in an effort to improve the other areas of your life. In the same way you need to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others, doing everything you can for the people around you without taking the time to take care of your own needs isn’t the answer.
Building an understanding of yourself is the first step in improving your relationships with others — whether that’s in business, friendships, families or romantic relationships.
I returned to the United States in late 2019, dealing with some level of an identity crisis. For the first time in my life, being an athlete wasn’t my defining characteristic. I had already lost some level of my purpose by the time the pandemic hit, with all its questions about priorities and what it means to be Black in the United States.
When my mind was swimming, I was eventually able to reconnect with my breath and look at my thoughts without judgment. The fruits of my mindfulness practices didn’t just make me a better athlete, they allowed me to weather a storm of change.
The goal of mindfulness and meditation are not to clear your mind of all thoughts. Instead, it allows you to come back to your breath or the intention of your meditation to bring greater focus to that area of your life.
Now that my playing days are behind me, I’m able to recognize the mindfulness focus areas that are easily translated into my everyday life.
In difficult times, frequently involving some kind of change, these five principles helped me to stay grounded and keep focused on my path to greater well-being.
An important part of the mindfulness puzzle is recognizing that you don’t know everything and keeping yourself humble enough to accept areas of improvement. In my time as a pro athlete, this could be incredibly difficult, since the required level of confidence can sometimes cross the line into arrogance.
Being able to take a step back to ask for help and pay attention to feedback isn’t easy, but it’s critical in striving toward that best version of yourself.
A successful mindfulness practice allows you to mentally weather the storms that would otherwise leave you feeling low. Staying confident in the fact that your practice is improving your mental and emotional strength allows you to find balance when those storms come.
There will be rough patches in life, but standing in your confidence during those moments will help to keep you grounded.
Developing your mindfulness isn’t something you try one time and are instantly great at. You also won’t be able to maintain your progress if you get to a good place and stop caring. Your mind is just another muscle, and to get to the results you want you’ll need to consistently train the same way you would focus on any other muscle group in the gym.
This gets easier as you learn to love the journey itself — not just the destination. There will be better days than others, but being able to go with the flow and find enjoyment in the process will help you to keep coming back to yourself.
We can probably all point to a moment in our lives where we were not as kind to another person as we would have liked to be, with the biggest motivator being a dip in our own mental well-being.
When we’re feeling our best mentally and emotionally, we’re able to help others and be courteous. Practicing courtesy supports a top level of mental wellness — it’s about putting out the energy you want to receive. (It doesn’t hurt being courteous to yourself too.)
For me, mindfulness and gratitude form a loop where each element further enforces the other. The more mindful I am, the more I notice the things in life that I can be grateful for. The more grateful I am, the more mindful I am of the little moments that mean the most to me.
If you aren’t thankful for the things you have now, you won’t be thankful for the things you’re dreaming of when they finally come to you. Mindfulness and gratitude are indivisible and using both can propel you into a more present and optimistic outlook.
As we collectively recognize Mental Health Awareness this month, let us remember that our mental health is something we would benefit from focusing on all year long. Making time to focus on oneself can easily be pushed aside with great intentions of helping others first or taking care of things in life either personally or professionally.
But in the end, we’re in our best shape for the world around us when we’re in our top form.
Editor’s note: Jason Boone is a former professional athlete and current ambassador of mental health and wellness. He is also the client growth director at Thnks. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.