In my last article, I introduced the Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment Approach to sport performance enhancement, as developed by Gardner and Moore (2004). I briefly outlined the structure of the MAC program, noting that it typically consists of seven weekly sessions. The purpose of the present article is to describe the sessions of the MAC Approach in greater detail, so that you may have a better idea of the aims of the program and what to expect if you pursued training in this approach. All sessions below are described as outlined in the Gardner and Moore (2007) treatment manual.
The first module of the MAC approach is largely psychoeducational in nature, as the rationale for the MAC approach and how regulating attention plays a role in performance is discussed. The paradoxical effect of attempting to control negative thoughts and emotions is described, and athletes are asked to consider simply allowing thoughts and emotions to exist as temporary events in the mind. A brief exercise is completed at the end of the module to demonstrate to athletes how to engage in the practice of mindful self-awareness. Athletes are asked to practice the exercise several times on their own time before the next session.
The second session of the MAC approach begins with the same mindfulness exercise and a discussion of the previous meeting. The rationale and importance of mindfulness is introduced, and a new mindfulness exercise is assigned for the next meeting. The goal of this session is to promote present-moment attention and a nonjudgmental acceptance of thoughts and emotions as they arise, as well as recognition that thoughts and emotions are temporary and are not absolute truths.
The third module of the MAC approach builds on the discussion of mindful awareness by introducing the idea of values-driven versus emotion-driven behavior. Values-driven behavior is described as a commitment towards behaving in a way that is in accordance with the athlete’s performance goals, even in the presence of temporary discomfort. Emotion-driven behavior is described as avoidance, where athletes may avoid situations that are uncomfortable in order to avoid negative thoughts, emotions, or physical states. Additional mindfulness exercises are introduced after the discussion.
The fourth MAC session is designed to discuss the concept of acceptance and poise. Poise is defined as the ability to willingly experience negative thoughts and emotions while engaging in values-driven behavior. Acceptance is contrasted with avoidance of uncomfortable thoughts and emotions. The main goal of the session is to help athletes develop a sense of poise and commitment while experiencing undesirable negative states.
Similar to the last session, the fifth module of the MAC approach is designed to enhance commitment by outlining the relationship between values, goals, and behaviors. Specific behaviors that reach an athlete’s performance goals will be defined, and the achievement of these goals as a reflection of engaging in values-driven behavior is also explored.
The sixth meeting in the MAC approach largely consists of the creation of exposure-based activities designed to enhance poise. Athletes identify difficult performance-related situations and group them into a hierarchy. Athletes are asked to engage in one of these difficult situations in the following week while keeping in mind the ideas of present-moment awareness, acceptance of negative thoughts and emotions, and commitment to values-driven behavior.
The final module includes a discussion of the entire MAC approach, a review of the main principles, and plans for the participants to continue to engage in future practice of the concepts of mindfulness, acceptance, and commitment after the program is complete.
As the MAC Approach continues to grow in popularity, more and more sport psychologists will begin to utilize the program with athletes, coaches, and teams. With a basic understanding of the principles of the MAC Approach, you can become more engaged in the program and develop a greater appreciation of the concepts of mindfulness, acceptance, and commitment, which will ultimately impact your performance in a positive way.