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The psychology of sport touces upon a great number of aspects of sport performance. Arousal regulation is one of them, which refers to entering into and maintaining an optimal level of cognitive and physiological activation in order to maximize performance. The use of meditation and specifically mindfulness is a growing practice in the field of arousal recognition. The Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) Theory is the most common form of mindfulness in sport. The MAC approach was developed by connecting the more traditional scientific knowledge base on human performance and self-regulation to more contemporary findings to do with meta-cognitive processes, emotion regulation, and acceptance-based behavioural interventions. The Psychology of Enhancing Human Performance: The Mindfulness-acceptance-commitment Approach (Springer Publications) is written by the originators of the MAC model, Frank L. Gardner och Zella Moore, and is reviewed by Henrik Lemel, former kayaker now studying sport psychology at Lund University.

Appealing in its rebellious way

Henrik Lemel
Department of Psychology, Lund University

Frank L. Gardner & Zella Moore
The Psychology of Enhancing Human Performance: The Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) Approach
314 sidor, inb.
New York: Springer Publishing Company 2007 (Springer Series on Behavior Therapy and Behavioral Medicine)
ISBN 978-0-8261-0260-7

In the world of psychology, many have heard of the Acceptance Commitment Theory, the ACT. It was developed by Steven C. Hayes and his colleagues and is sometimes called “the third wave of behaviour therapy”. For those who haven’t heard of the ACT, it’s an approach that contradicts the modern cognitive-behavioural perspective by teaching clients how to accept thoughts, memories and feelings, without trying to reduce or control these internal states.

With roots in ACT and highlighting Mindfulness as a tool, focusing only on performance enhancement, Frank L. Gardner & Zella E. Moore have developed MAC, the Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment approach.

Gardner and Moore, editor-in-chief and associate editor, respectively, of the Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, presented their new approach in The Psychology of Enhancing Human Performance from 2007. They are both professors of clinical psychology with experience in practicing clinical psychology and working with professional athletes. Their previous colloborative work was Clinical Sport Psychology from 2006.

The Psychology of Enhancing Human Performance has three major parts, [1] theoretical and empirical foundations of traditional and MAC performance enhancement methods, [2] strategies and techniques of the MAC approach to enhance performance, and [3] case studies from real clients trying out the MAC approach.

The book provides the reader with an introduction about factors that effect human performance, and arguments for a different approach than traditional theories and models of human performance, which have suggested that one can develop psychological skills in order to control and reduce thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. By presenting scientific evidence that shows only marginal effects on performance of using these skills, they conclude that efforts to reduce negative thinking and emotions do not work since they are not consistent with what the performer experiences and feels at that moment. So instead of trying to reduce and control unpleasant internal states, Gardner and Moore suggests that the athletic performers should instead work on the relationship with their thoughts and emotions.

Reading the second part of the book gives the reader applied knowledge about the MAC. Here, one gets the opportunity to follow seven modules in how to to use MAC on clients, each representing one or several meetings. Each meeting has a theme, where the first meeting describes the rationale behind MAC to the client, and the last meeting teaches the client to maintain and further develop acceptance, mindfulness and commitment. The rest of the meetings cover interesting learning processes like cognitive defusion, which is described as the way in which the client learns to “distinguish between what is and what the mind tell us it is” and poise, which is defined as “the ability to perform as desired while experiencing whatever thoughts or emotions that are triggered by the situation”. Central to all the modules are exercises, which the client should perform in and between the sessions, for example the “Brief Centering Exercise” which is a mindfulness exercise that helps the client to focus on the present moment.

Throughout the book, the authors use interesting examples and end with two real cases, showing that performance enhancement not only is about sport but also other life situations that might require optimal performance.

The book is most useful for those who work with applied sport and exercise psychology in a modern behaviouristic way. But it could also be used as a text book for psychological studies at advanced level, as it provides the students with a new perspective of how to understand performance enhancement.

The book is appealing in its sort of rebellious way, rejecting traditional performance enhancement methods in the “old-school” of sport psychology. The methods suggested are attractive and logic in a human experience sense. But could it really be that self-talk and other self-regulating techniques are as wrong as the authors describe them as? As appealing as I find this book, I would still have liked the authors to admit that there are actually fundamental parts of traditional sport psychology that are assessing human performance in a similar way as MAC. Good examples of this are task-orientation and process goals, both being methods that are somehow similar and related to mindfulness: To be in the present moment.

© Henrik Lemel 2012.

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