Mindfulness Practices Help With Focus
Sports psychologist George Mumford tells a UA audience that sharper listening skills can "create space" in life, giving people the capacity to withstand the storms within.

By Jamie Manser, UA Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry
May 12, 2015

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George Mumford: "Listening entails vulnerability because it means that we can be influenced."
George Mumford: "Listening entails vulnerability because it means that we can be influenced." (Photo: Jamie Manser)

In a world that embraces instant gratification, working at breakneck speed and the myth of multitasking, George Mumford presents a different approach to life: using mindfulness to focus on one thing at a time, and as a means to cultivate trust, wisdom, energy and poise.

Mumford, a sports psychologist who has worked with NBA coaches and players, spoke on "Pursuing Excellence With Grace and Ease" recently on the University of Arizona campus, in a talk hosted by the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry. He explained that the power of mindfulness is in "bringing awareness to the process of hearing on purpose in the here and now" and listening without an agenda.

"Mindfulness is a way to allow yourself to hear as if you are hearing it for the first time, creating space to hear as if you haven’t heard it before," Mumford said. "That’s a challenge because the mind has a mind of its own.

"Listening entails vulnerability because it means that we can be influenced," he said.

Mumford said such practices can give people the capacity to "be still" amid an inner hurricane.

"If you look at the hurricane, there is all of this turmoil going on, but in the middle of it, there is this silence, this stillness, this ease," he said. "We have that ability to rest in that place. We can have this quiet, relaxed receptivity, allowing things to come and go and not getting stuck in the story of it, and the views and opinions about what happens.

"It’s understanding mindfulness as a way of creating space from stimulus response. So if somebody says something to you, instead of a knee-jerk reaction, you can just say, 'OK, how do I want to answer that?'" 

Alfred W. Kaszniak, a member of the Confluencenter’s Contemplative Traditions Working Group and an Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute professor who also holds faculty lines in psychology, psychiatry and neurology, said Mumford's visit was "to help make mindfulness practice more accessible to a wider range of individuals at the UA and in the wider Tucson community." 

Javier Duran, the Confluencenter’s director, said that one of the center’s goals is to sponsor engaging and free programming that examines humanity’s grand challenges. 

"The eclectic nature of Mumford’s talk, which included elements of cognitive science, sports medicine and Eastern philosophy, represents the innovative and interdisciplinary work in which the Confluencenter invests," Duran said.

Garry Forger, also a member of the Confluencenter’s Contemplative Traditions Working Group, said that Mumford’s visit was something new and different for Tucson.

"It’s a great outreach to the community, and I think something that people might not necessarily associate with the UA," Forger said. "I think it gives the UA another boost and people realize that the UA isn’t just about optics and science and all the things that get the big publicity. We’re also doing this other stuff that’s really cool and also has an impact."

George Mumford’s book "The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance," was released by Parallax Press on May 12. His talk on "Pursuing Excellence with Grace and Ease" can be viewed here.


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Jamie Manser

UA Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry