Focusing = Performance and Happiness

I read awhile back that a Harvard study revealed that when people are focused they are happier. This is actually an interesting yet not surprising finding. And it relates to one of the fundamental principles of mental game training for athletes.

But first why even endeavor to be happy? Here is a summary of benefits or findings related to people who are demonstrably happier than others:

The benefits of happiness include higher income and superior work outcomes (e.g., greater productivity and higher quality of work), larger social rewards (e.g., more satisfying and longer marriages, more friends, stronger social support, and richer social interactions), more activity, energy, and flow, and better physical health (e.g., a bolstered immune system, lowered stress levels, and less pain) and even longer life. The literature also suggests that happy individuals are more creative, helpful, charitable, and self-confident, have better self-control, and show greater self-regulatory and coping abilities. – Sonja Lyubomirsky Ph.D. Professor, University of California, Riverside

So, other than for the skeptic and proud pessimist, this list would appear compelling. Happiness seems like a good thing. Now back to the study that found that those people who focus on the present moment tend to be the happiest. The researchers say they’re confident that being distracted was the cause of unhappiness. It makes sense. When our minds wander they typically wander to pasts and futures. We may think about “the good old days” or “be sorry or regretful over past events” or “why me”. We may think about “possible futures” and “what ifs”. Neither the past nor the future do we have control over. We only influence how we view the past. And we only influence the future through a focus on current actions.

A problem with athletes is when their minds drift to the past and the future they are not performing in the present. Focusing on the present is a key to peak performance. And just as the researchers found “that being distracted was the cause of unhappiness” so it is for the athlete. When you are not focused on the present immediate performance task – you will not perform your best – you will not be pleased with your outcome!

Whether it is being happy in life, or having those greatly satisfying performances in sports, you have to be able to focus on the present. This is where mental game training (the skill to focus specifically in this case) can teach us skills that benefit both our athletic performances and our lives in general. A wandering mind yields low returns on your mental investment – athletic performance and happiness.

The key then is to generalize an applied sports psychology skill – the ability to focus/refocus – to the rest of our lives. When I work with youth athletes I make it a point for them to practice the focusing techniques I teach them in the classroom and at home. As well adults can use the skills at work.

By getting control of your focus through consistent skills practice you will also accomplish more and be more satisfied with your outcomes –  oh ya, and be happier in the process it appears!

By the way if you want to be included in the Harvard happiness research study; it is ongoing and you can sign up here.

Want to learn how you can focus better or become mentally tougher? Contact Coach Dean – your certified Mental Game Coaching Professional.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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