How often do you feel “in the zone” when gaming, and what does that mean for you? Does it mean that you’re hyper-focused and completely tuned in to what’s in front of you? Or does it mean you’ve forgotten your surroundings and are on pseudo-auto-pilot? Playing “in the zone” is ideal, but really only if you bring mindfulness into the mix.

Now, some of you might be thinking that “mindfulness” is just a fancy buzz word or something only for hippies or yogis or hyped-up CEOs. But in truth, practicing mindfulness can benefit everyone, and as plenty of gamers have found over the years, it can especially enhance your success in gaming. Let’s discuss.

What is mindfulness?

First things first: What actually is it? You can find many definitions for mindfulness out there—Psychology Today defines it as “a state of active, open attention to the present,” and the American Psychological Association defines it as “a psychological state of awareness, the practices that promote this awareness, a mode of processing information and a character trait.” But Mindful.org takes a more colloquial, and perhaps, therefore, more immediately applicable, approach in its definition, saying:

“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”

Each definition focuses on different things and has its own terms, but the gist is the same: Mindfulness is about calming your thoughts so you can be present, stay present, and let go of negativity.

It’s a practice

That all sounds great, but how do you do it? What does it look like to practice mindfulness?

Experts will tell you that to cultivate mindfulness, you start by making mindfulness practices a regular part of your day. Think of it like training. When you’re training for a gaming tournament, you build in all the hours of gaming practice, plus whatever physical training and exercise components, you need into your day, in order to get yourself in top shape so that you don’t even have to think about it. It’s the same thing with mindfulness—to really make it second-nature, you have to practice and put in the time. The bonus is that if you build it into your daily routine, like gaming training and physical exercise, all pieces of the puzzle reap the benefits.

The main ways people practice mindfulness are through meditation and breathing exercises, and sometimes through more physical practices like yoga, qigong, or tai chi. For all forms, the idea is to focus on the present. Here are the basics:

  1. Start with your breath. Simply breathe in and out through your nose on an even count, slowing down your breath and thoughts.
  2. Bring your attention to your environment. Notice the sounds and smells around you, more deeply than you normally do.
  3. Localize focus on your body. Take a mental scan of your body, going from head to toe, and really concentrate on how each body part is feeling in that moment.
  4. Notice your thoughts and let them go. As each thought comes in, try to let it slide on through, without dwelling on it, without judging it. Just in and out.

Oftentimes, people like to have a mantra or phrase, that they think on each inhale and exhale to bring a defined intention to their meditation practice—things like “let go,” or “in, out,” or something more specific, like “I am capable, I am brave.”

For more guidance on how to start your meditation practice, check out this guide by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center or this one from Mindful.org. There are also several meditation apps, such as Headspace and Calm, that make it easy to start, even with as little as five minutes a day. And if you’re on the younger side of things, The New York Times has an article on mindfulness for children.

How it applies to gaming

Sometimes called “moment-to-moment awareness,” practicing mindfulness has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety and change our reactions to high-stress situations positively. It’s been found to help people find clarity of thought, increased focus, better memory, and more cognitive agility and the ability to self-assess.

Any of these sounding relevant to you?

Most video games are inherently stressful. You’re often in intense environments and situations trying to navigate multiple elements of surprise, physical tension, and fast-changing dynamics, all the while striving to improve your skills and take in more and more as you get better. Needless to say, that’s a lot of things to handle, and our own “Win Well” Gamers Health Survey found that, because of all these factors, a large percentage of gamers experience increased anxiety and even anger while gaming. Mindfulness can help make all of those factors more manageable.

By practicing mindfulness in general, you can start to teach yourself how to re-route—how to recognize when you’re getting more stressed out in ways that are unhelpful, and then how to ultimately pull back from the edge and handle the situation with a wider perspective. You can teach your mind how to stop itself from ramping up negative, anxious thoughts, and instead focus on positive actions and things affecting you in the present moment, rather than projecting things you see now into what might happen in the future. When you’re gaming, that’s key. Instead of taking reactionary steps in the game, with a mindful approach, you can better keep all the variables (or zombies or fighters or dragons) in focus and take measured steps forward that will keep you on even footing throughout.

Gaming as a tool

So, not only is mindfulness a tool and practice that can really help gamers in and out of the game, but gaming itself can help you with mindfulness, too. We’ve touched on this idea in our articles about improving your in-game focus, the positive effects of gaming on the brain, and gaming and happiness, but essentially, games can allow you to access a “flow” state—a.k.a. a highly focused and energized state of being where outside stimuli fall to the wayside. Well, when you’re conscious of that state and how you’re moving through it, that is in and of itself a form of mindfulness. And while mindfulness can be difficult for some people to achieve or practice, games can help people reach that state. In fact, the objective is similar between the two: to get the individual, or player, to be able to see through the distractions and focus on the most pertinent task at hand—the present.

See? Mindfulness and gaming go hand-in-hand, and we promise that using the two in conjunction with each other will help improve your performance and experience as a gamer, as well as your mental state and experience outside of the gaming world.

Be mindful, and Win Well.