Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 January 2016
The publication of this text and the fact that you are reading it at this very moment are clear indicators of a great achievement – mindfulness theory and associated interventions have made a mark on the field of sport psychology and have changed the way many sport psychologists worldwide think about their athletes’ performance and overall well-being! Yet although mindfulness has garnered increasing attention within sport psychology since the early 2000s, important and related concepts such as emotion regulation haven't quite received the attention within sport psychology that they deserve. Mindfulness and emotion regulation are inextricably connected, and as such, greater efforts to incorporate these scientific advancements into sport psychology research and practice are warranted. To this end, the present chapter considers athletic performance enhancement from the perspective of mindfulness and emotion regulation in order to further this line of inquiry and promote increased discussion of these theoretically linked constructs.
Mindfulness- and acceptance-based interventions for performance enhancement, represented first and most notably by the Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) approach (Gardner & Moore, 2004, 2007, 2012; Moore & Gardner, 2001), have garnered increasingly supportive empirical data for their efficacy (Gardner & Moore, 2012). These intervention approaches work via substantially different mechanisms of change than more traditional change-based models of performance enhancement (Gardner & Moore, 2012; Moore, 2009), essentially by decreasing reactivity to internal experiences such as cognitions and emotions through greater acceptance/tolerance of these states, coupled with enhanced moment-to-moment awareness (i.e., task-relevant focus of attention) and enhanced activation of behaviors toward one's goals and values.
Contemporary developments in the emotion sciences, specifically regarding the processes underlying the regulation of emotion, illuminate ways to better understand mindfulness/acceptance-based interventions. Yet in order to coherently connect the theoretically linked constructs of mindfulness and emotion regulation, it is useful to reflect first on the nature and function of emotion. In turn, this allows us to better understand the purpose and processes of emotion regulation.
The Nature and Function of Emotion
From an evolutionary perspective, emotions can help human beings adapt to the daily challenges they face by preparing us to respond both physiologically and behaviorally to direct and indirect situations, facilitating in the decision-making process, and effectively navigating numerous interpersonal challenges (Gross & Thompson, 2007). As presently conceived, emotion consists of three basic components (Barlow et al., 2011). The first component is physiological, resulting in a subjective “feeling” state.