How to Use “Noting” in Meditation & in Workouts
Written by TJ O’Brien
Meditation helps just about everything, we know that. If you weren’t aware of the many benefits of meditation, get with the times and give it a try! Here’s a good way to get started and a technique called “noting” that can improve not only your life, but your workouts and what you get out of them both physically and mentally.
I use an app called Headspace to meditate each morning after breakfast for 10-20 minutes. The app lets you meditate in increments as short as 3 minutes, so there is no excuse for missing a day.
Consistency is key, and the app is gamified – that is, it gives you little nods of encouragement as you add days to your “run streak”, the number of days you’ve meditated in a row. I could extol the virtues of mediation and this app for the length of an entire post, but I’d like to instead focus on one element of the meditation that has aided me in staying calm, present, and focused in the gym – a technique called “noting.”
Noting During Meditation
Picture yourself starting to meditate. Most sessions start by bringing general awareness to things like gravity, how each body part is feeling, and to the breath. At its most simple, the objective of the meditator is to focus on the breath’s rise and fall.
Many types of meditation, including Headspace’s, encourage you to count the breaths – one with the inhale, two with the exhale, and so on up to a count of ten before starting back at one. The goal here is NOT to quiet the mind or suppress thoughts. Imagine that you are on the side of a busy road, with the cars representing your thoughts. Instead of trying to jump in the middle of traffic and stop these thoughts, you instead observe them quietly from the side of the road and let them pass.
Back to the breath – you’ve been counting your breaths, in and out up to ten, when all of a sudden you realize that you’ve been distracted by one of those errant thoughts. Here is where a technique called “noting” comes in.
In the moment where you realize that you’ve been distracted you note, “oh, that was thinking,” or “oh, that was a feeling”. The way in which we note is almost detached from the thought itself, it’s gentle in its nature, and allows us to create some distance between ourselves and the thought.
This makes it easier to let go of the distraction, and gently return to the object of focus.
At first, the temptation is to catch every errant thought and feeling, and label it with a note, but that quickly becomes tiring. We only need to note the distraction when we realize that we’ve been lost in thought. And when we are able to make some space between us and the thought, we can effortlessly return to the object of focus.
Noting in Your Workout
Now, picture yourself in the gym. Perhaps it’s the lifting portion of class and you’re doing 5×5 back squats. You’re object of focus is executing the most perfect squat you can so you’re keyed in to your breath, your bracing, and your form. On your third rep, your bar path is forward and you get pushed to your toes. As you ascend, errant thoughts start to distract you from your next rep…
“I still have two more reps and more sets to go!”
“Why did I let that happen?!”
This is where the noting technique comes in. Instead of judging the rep or the thought that followed it, our narrative can be a gentle, “oh, that was thinking” or “oh, I was forward on that one.”
These notes are free of judgement and are delivered “matter-of-factly,” such that we can create distance between ourselves and thought and bring our mind back to the object of focus: squatting that one rep to the best of our ability.
As a coach, I see the most application for this technique in high-skilled movements where failure is almost guaranteed – think double-unders or handstands. But I personally enjoy the challenge of staying focused on a longer, grindy, Metcon, where there is often enough time for us to to let our minds wander, especially when under fatigue.
Try practicing this technique the next time you’re in the gym. Focus on being gentle and matter-of-fact with your (internal) tone. And of course, the best strategy to master this technique would be to add meditation into your daily routine. Apps like Headspace and Calm are great!