Meditation improves self-awareness, concentration, and self-control. Building these skills will help with performance consistency, particularly in extremely high pressure situations like the ones faced by first responders. When the pressure is on, or when you experience a threatening situation, you instinctively experience a stress response that prompts automatic reactions which tend to decrease your level of performance execution. In order to respond optimally in high pressure situations, you must train yourself not to act on your fight or flight impulses, and instead focus your attention on things that will help you accomplish your performance goals. Meditation can train you to do exactly that. But how?
At its core, all meditation involves the deliberate monitoring of thoughts and impulses. Mindfulness skills grow out of 3 realizations:
- You can choose not to act on your impulses
- You can choose not to believe your own thoughts
- You can choose where you focus your attention
These are three of the most important lessons from meditation because they increase your ability to stay focused and in control when the pressure is on.
You can choose the type of meditation you practice in accordance with the mental skill you are looking to train:
Mindfulness meditation trains the skill of self-control by emphasizing non-judgmental self-awareness. Sitting with non-judgmental awareness of one’s thoughts and impulses builds the realization that you do not need to act on your impulses or believe your thoughts. Try labeling the thoughts and sensations you experience and watching them with curiosity. Notice how they change and dissolve even without action.
Concentration meditation trains the skill of focus by emphasizing sustained attention and awareness of becoming distracted. You can think of your ability to concentrate as a muscle that will grow and improve with practice. Try counting your breaths, and notice how many you can count until you become distracted. The most difficult task is noticing you have become distracted and using your concentration muscle to refocus on counting breaths.
As with all skills, the more practice and repetition you do, the less mental effort the skills take to use. With enough practice, these mindfulness skills can become automatic habits no matter the situation.