Can REBT and mindfulness work together in performance settings (and beyond)?

REBT and mindfulness-based psychological treatments both began life in clinical settings before broadening out into performance settings such as sport and business. Typically, however, REBT and mindfulness have been applied as distinct approaches. This is true both clinically and in performance settings. As part of my PhD research with Loughborough University, I am exploring whether REBT and mindfulness can work together, in a more integrated fashion, within performance settings.

Philosophic overlaps and divergences

In a recent commentary published in the Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, colleagues and I argue that there may be reasons to feel optimistic about the potential for REBT and mindfulness to integrate effectively in performance settings, and perhaps even beyond.

This is because there are evident philosophical overlaps between REBT and mindfulness. For example, both approaches aim to help individuals view events and experiences clearly and respond to them in a healthy manner proportionate to reality. They also both emphasise the importance of acceptance for psychological wellbeing – an observation made nearly twenty years ago by Dr Albert Ellis, the founder of REBT.

There are also some important divergences between REBT and mindfulness. For example, REBT requires judgement of thoughts, whereas mindfulness promotes non-judgemental awareness of thinking. Unlike mindfulness, REBT does not require meditation, but nor does it preclude it. We do not feel that these divergences rule out integration but suggest that practitioners skilfully manage these differences.

A ‘mindful rational’ athlete or executive

By training a capacity to step back and ‘witness’ thinking and feeling, mindfulness may help individuals in high performance settings to see more clearly how their beliefs influence their emotional, cognitive, and behavioural outcomes and help them to course correct if ‘hijacked’ by irrationality. Indeed, appropriately integrated mindfulness practice alongside REBT-based work may help individuals to cultivate a mindset that is grounded in the present, less distracted and more task focused, potentially enhancing performance outcomes.

A hypothetically ‘mindful rational’ athlete or executive will have fostered an allowing and more harmonious relationship with unwanted thoughts and feelings (for REBT nerds, at ‘C’ in REBT’s ABC model), helping them to remain present, aware, and focused in the heat of sporting or business ‘battle’. By simultaneously holding rational beliefs about themselves, others, and life (at ‘B’) – acquired through timely rational enquiry – the ‘mindful rational’ athlete or executive could respond more flexibly and adaptively to adversity, allowing them to focus on achieving their goals.

Real world examples

This is great theory I hear you say, but how could REBT and mindfulness align in practice? Well, in the run up to a presentation at work, a business executive may engage in irrational belief disputation to move from irrational anxiety to rational concern. However, in the moments just prior to giving the presentation, a grounding-oriented mindfulness exercise (e.g., noticing the senses or anchoring to the breath) may help the executive remain present and focused on delivering the high-quality presentation.

Similarly, by bringing awareness to their present experience, mindfulness meditation could help an athlete become less attached to past competition failures, allowing them to recognise that the only thing which truly exists is the here and now. From which, they could examine their current irrational beliefs about failure more broadly, better equipping them for inevitable future failures.

These are just two of many examples where REBT and mindfulness could potentially dovetail in performance settings. For more of our thinking on this topic, check out our article. Going forwards, research may shed light on whether REBT and mindfulness can work together effectively to help people operating in high-pressure, high-performance settings.

Paul Young

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