What Science Says About Achieving Peak Performance

I’ve peaked . . . not in the sense I’m going downhill now . . . but rather experiencing peak performance.  My first peak experience was memorable because it was a time in my life when I was the most self-conscious and questioning – a teenager in high school. I vividly remember, during a discussion, hearing my own words coming out of my own mouth, articulate, composed, effortlessly making the points I wished to make. I was peaking and flowing.

As an adult I’ve had a few times when I felt in the flow.  Looking back, each time met the 5 criteria described by Hans Hagemann and Friederike Fabricius in their book “The Leading Brain: Powerful Science-Based Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance”

The main points Hagemann and Fabricius describe as the basis for creating peak performance:

  1. Creating psychological safety
  2. Regulating negative emotions
  3. Not entering a stress state.
  4. Gender and age matter.
  5. Leaning towards rewards, not threats.

“Peaked” by Peggy

1. Psychological Safety

Hagemann emphasizes that the most important thing that underlies peak performance is psychological safety.  If you are working in a climate of respect and appreciation,  you can do your best. 

If you are trying to perform well, using energy to inhibit negative emotions will take away from your performance.  “Two systems in your brain are competing. That leads to not being focused on anything anymore.”

To regain cognitive control, recognize and ‘label’ how you feel”.

Labeling emotions by Peggy

2.  Stress

In situations where you feel threatened, your stress response increases, which makes you physically stronger, but reduces your ability to think well.  

The stress response directs blood flow to the muscles – for fight or flight – and away from your brain.  The stress response says this is the time to act not deliberate and debate.

Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself.  That will send more oxygen to your brain and help you refocus.

 3.  Regulate your negative emotions 

When you try to inhibit negative emotions  — anger, frustration, disappointment — your rational and emotional systems  compete with each other.  

Name your feelings, either outloud or on paper, so your brain doesn’t have to busy itself trying to tamp down negative feelings and distract you from, consciously or unconsciously, performing well. 

4.  Lean towards rewards, not threats

In a “threat” state, “you get a rush of cortisol in your bloodstream – it’s that stress response making your muscles stronger, but and cutting off your cognitive thinking.  

Figure out what the pay-off will be in the situation and place your focus on the reward at the end (just like athletes do).   Your brain will help you “flow” toward it.

5.  Gender and age matter.

Hagemann refers to a “performance profile” as the amount of intellectual arousal needed to help an individual achieve peak performance. The amount of arousal needed to be at your peak are different for different people, and maybe for the same person at different ages. The amount of intellectual arousal makes a difference between men and women, old and young.  Some people are “sensation seekers,” and need a lot of arousal to hit their peak. That means they are often running on testosterone (he calls it “a very male thing”) while others can hit their peak with fewer stresses placed on them.

Both men and women have sensation seeking personality traits (like thrill rides, thrive on taking chances).   If you need a lot of arousal use the stress response to your advantage.  Relabel it as excitement and intently focus on the reward.

Have you ever been in “the flow”, had a “peak performance”?

What was it like for you?

(PA)

“The Leading Brain: Powerful Science-Based Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance” by Hans Hagemann and Friederike Fabricius

http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/the-leading-brain/

 

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What on earth is a “Nappuccino”?

I always have more than one book in progress:  One for when I’m tired and need mindless entertainment; one for when I’m alert, is informative and grows my neuro-connections.  

I found a book* that addresses both and surprised me with a tip on napping. When I was younger naps were a waste of time.  Now, I appreciate the “restorative power” of catching a mid-day snooze.  Here is a good recipe for a…

 “Nappuccino”

Want to maximize your Nappuccinos? Here is what you do:

  • Find the best time for your nap. When is your energy low point? Your mood low point? For most of us, it is about 7 hours after we wake up. 
  • Create your nap environment – someplace comfortable: the floor, bed, couch, bathtub (EMPTY) –  definitely low lights and NO cell phone.
  • Set a timer, nap 10 to 20 minutes, you will feel more alert and function better, without waking with that groggy feeling.

Here’s the kicker that surprised me:

The  Nappucino

Drink a cup of coffee! That’s right, drink coffee before you nap. It takes the caffeine about 25 minutes to kick in, so you’ll get the perfect amount of napping time and then you’ll wake up with the caffeine boost.  Who woulda thunk it?

There’s also evidence that habitual nappers get more from their naps than infrequent nappers. Practice makes perfect – I’m taking a Nappacino every day until I am an expert.

(PA)

*”WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” by Daniel Pink 

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The Longer Your Telomeres, The Longer You Live

“Telomeres – the caps at the end of our chromosomes – protect the DNA within our cells. The longer our telomeres, the less our likelihood of chronic disease and signs of aging.”

“Have you wondered why some sixty-year-olds look and feel like forty-year-olds and why some forty-year-olds look and feel like sixty-year-olds? While many factors contribute to aging and illness, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn discovered a biological indicator called telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes telomeres, which protect our genetic heritage.”

“Dr. Blackburn and Dr. Elissa Epel’s research* shows that the length and health of one’s telomeres are a biological underpinning of the long-hypothesized mind-body connection. They and other scientists have found that changes we can make to our daily habits can protect our telomeres and increase our health spans (the number of years we remain healthy, active, and disease-free).”

“THE TELOMERE EFFECT* reveals how Blackburn and Epel’s findings, together with research from colleagues around the world, cumulatively show that sleep quality, exercise, aspects of diet, and even certain chemicals profoundly affect our telomeres, and that chronic stress, negative thoughts, strained relationships, and even the wrong neighborhoods can eat away at them.”

Lifestyle factors known to modulate aging and age-related diseases might also affect telomerase activity and have all been linked to shorter telomeres.

  • Obesity
  • Insulin resistance
  • Cardio-vascular disease processes (related to oxidative stress and inflammation)
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to pollution
  • Lower physical activity
  • Psychological stress
  • Unhealthy diet

You can counteract your “biological clock” by reactivating telomerase through diet and lifestyle interventions

With intensive lifestyle modification, a low fat diet, regular physical activity, and mental stress reduction (by yoga and meditation), telomerase activity increases significantly in peripheral blood mononuclear cell.

Specific nutrients provide all the necessary building blocks to support telomere health and extend lifespan like:

  • Folate 
  • Vitamins (B, D, E, C) 
  • Zinc
  • Polyphenol compounds such as resveratrol 
  • Grape seed extract 
  • Curcumin

Rich in those vitamins and minerals and a good source of antioxidants are foods like: Tuna, salmon, herring, mackerel, halibut, anchovies, cat-fish, grouper, flounder, flax seeds, sesame seeds, kiwi, black raspberries, green tea, broccoli, sprouts, red grapes, tomatoes and olives.  “These, combined with a Mediterranean type of diet containing fruits, vegetables and whole grains would help protect our chromosome ends [6270].”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4761710/

*The Telomere Effect,  A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer by Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, Dr. Elissa Epel “A groundbreaking book coauthored by the Nobel Prize winner who discovered telomerase and telomeres’ role in the aging process and the health psychologist who has done original research into how specific lifestyle and psychological habits can protect telomeres, slowing disease and improving life.”

 

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Why you can’t stop checking your e-mail

Our brains are wired to constantly seek novelty, and every new email that lands in our inbox with a ping sends a dopamine-fueled shiver of excitement through our cerebrum. Turning off notifications and setting and communicating clear email . . . can disrupt that addictive dopamine loop.

Addicted, by Peggy

But behavioral science would suggest there’s more than just neurotransmitters at work.

“a factor that may be driving our inability to disconnect is the peak-end rule, whereby people tend to judge an experience based on what it felt like at its most intense point and at the end. In other words, what we remember most about our inbox is just how awful it feels to face all those unanswered emails — that endless, running to-do list of other people’s priorities — that have piled up while we were away.  So we keep checking just to avoid that pain.

Another factor could be our human predilection for making decisions based on short-term payoffs, like deciding to fall back into a warm bed in the morning rather than get up and exercise.
“We love to get things ‘done,'” explained Iris Bohnet, a behavioral economist at the Harvard Kennedy School. “Email is terrible for that. If you only respond to these 10 emails, it feels like an accomplishable task.”
 

Ironically, if we did stop checking email, we really wouldn’t miss that much. In a survey, Daniel Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke, found that only 11% of the emails in our inboxes require immediate attention. The other 89% can wait.

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Write About Past Failures to Help You Succeed In the Present

Having taught journal writing workshops for decades it’s apparent to me that very few people are avid journal keepers, including myself.  Most of us, however, can do periodic writing to relieve stress, resolve problems and most of all give our brains get an objective view point.

In psychological jargon the “objective observer” actually helps us “reprogram” painful, hurtful, stressful, difficult memories.  There are lots of ways to access our “objective observer” – meditation, guided imagery, the arts – and writing is one of the quickest.

Write on! by Peggy

Research have shown that writing about negative events or emotions is emotionally therapeutic and can even benefit the immune system.  Interestingly other studies have shown that writing about one’s worries before a high-stakes exam can boost test scores.

Here’s a particularly interesting study:

How Writing About Past Failures May Help You Succeed In The Present

by Alice G. Walton

“They say failure is a necessary part of success, but it doesn’t always feel that way. A new study in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience not only supports this connection but adds an interesting twist, finding that reflecting on past failures—by writing about them—may help us stay calm in the face of new stressors. The team found this in the lab, but based on past evidence, it likely applies to real life, too.”

“The researchers, from Rutgers University, University of Pennsylvania and Duke University, had people come into the lab and write for 10 minutes about either a time they’d made mistakes or failed at something in the past, or about an unrelated topic (a movie they’d recently seen). The team predicted that writing about a past failure would actually reduce a person’s stress level during a stressful situation in the present, whereas writing about the random topic wouldn’t have any effect.”

“To stress the participants, they subjected them to a well-known Trier Social Stress Test, in which participants have just a few minutes to prepare a five-minute speech, which they have to deliver in front of the researchers, or in this case a researcher posing as a “speech expert.” If that weren’t enough, the participants then had to count backwards by 13 from 2063. Finally, participants carried out a straightforward test of attention and reaction time.”

“As the team predicted, people who’d written about a past failure didn’t show the typical stress response (measured by the stress hormone cortisol) to the stress test, compared to the control group, who’d written about movie plots. They also did better on the tests of attention, making fewer mistakes, and ending with higher scores on average.”

“Because the control group still wrote, but about an unemotional topic, the authors conclude that it’s not just the writing, but the reflecting on earlier failure, that seems to have the stress-reducing effects.”

“We didn’t find that writing itself had a direct relationship on the body’s stress responses,” says study author Brynne DiMenichi in a statement. “Instead, our results suggest that, in a future stressful situation, having previously written about a past failure causes the body’s stress response to look more similar to someone who isn’t exposed to stress at all.”

https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2018/03/24/how-writing-about-past-failures-may-help-you-succeed-in-the-future/#12991c2d13bc

Check out an easy tutorial on writing. Click HERE

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Hot to stop your SuperWorry

Mind races.  Unsettling worry or concern repeats itself over and over.  No solution.  No relief.  Can’t sleep.  Can’t concentrate on anything other than your SUPER WORRY

It doesn’t feel like it but your brain is doing this for your benefit – Relentlessly focus your attention on a potential (albeit imagined) threat to help you stay safe.  Three parts of you brain start firing in lockstep:

  • The orbital frontal cortex gives you the feeling you made a mistake or there is danger.
  • It signals the cingulate gurus which generates the neurochemistry of anxiety.
  • The caudate nucleus usually allows thoughts to flow from one to another, but it stops doing this.
  • These 3 parts together keep person locked into worry, an obsession with something thy fear.

You may even realize that the worry is not rational, or the fear is not imminent.  It’s your brain locked into a feed-back loop and won’t let you escape from the worrying thoughts.

Mousey Worry by Peggy

You can rewire your SuperWorry into SuperRelief

Talk to your brain – silently or outloud:

  1. Thank your brain for doing what it was created to do.  Don’t be mad or upset with your brain. It’s a good brain.
  2. However, relabel the problem as a brain problem, not an imminent threat. The real problem is not what you fear, it is the brain is getting locked into a position and isn’t moving on.
  3. Pick something positive or neutral to focus on instead.  Ideally something pleasurable.
  4. Repeat this as often as necessary.  It takes time for your brain to understand it doesn’t have to protect you in this way.

Here’s an example:  Thank you brain.  You don’t need to keep reminding me that (an earthquake will happen, someone will break into the house, I will get fired).  I’m safe right this minute.

When brain focuses on something over and over, it strengthens the brain neuro-connections. When you stop the thinking the connections are weakened.  Think of it like a wilderness trail – The more the trail is traveled the path gets wider and the dirt gets more and more compacted.  Stop walking on the trail and it becomes overgrown, impassable and no longer used.

Use it or lose it 
Any deviation from the neuro-connection path weakens it.  Every time you interrupt and then stop the thought about the fear and redirect your thoughts it gets easier. The more you  practice the more the neural links to the worry weaken and new positive neutral pathways are generated.

PET scans have shown that the brain pathways actually change when you perform the four steps.

Use this process for small worries, not just big ones.  

Sources:

Norman Dodgie,  “The Brain that Changes Itself” 

Jeffrey M Schwartz, “Brain Lock”  

I have WHAT? . . . WHERE? . . . you may too and not know it

I had chronic medical conditions (fibromyalgia/heart arrhythmia) lurking in my body long before I was aware of them. Just recently I went for an adrenal check-up wondering if that was part of my chronic fatigue.  The doctor said my adrenals were fine – I breathed a sigh of relief.  He went on to announce that I had Hashimoto’s Disease.  I was floored to learn my immune system was destroying my thyroid gland without even telling me.

What do heart disease, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, gout, asthma, and other chronic conditions have in common? Inflammation!

Get the facts about inflammation and what it’s doing to your health BEFORE it kicks you where it hurts.

The Dangers of Inflammation*

There are two kinds of inflammation—acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term). While acute inflammation is an essential part of the healing process, chronic inflammation can lead to many of the health conditions plaguing people today.

Linked to chronic disease. It turns out inflammation is a key player in a wide range of chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease.

 Allergies can lead to inflammation. Sometimes the immune system becomes hypersensitive to allergens like dust and pollen. Repeated exposure to these allergens can lead to inflammation, which, left unchecked, can cause tissue damage.

Inflammation and your joints . In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks itself, leading to inflammation that can damage tissues. The inflammation associated with gout can, over the long-term, cause joint damage and a loss of mobility.

The effect of inflammation on the brain. Even your brain is susceptible to inflammation.  inflammation can alter blood flow to the brain, leading to tissue damage and cognitive decline. Inflammation can also lead to the creation of damaging proteins linked to Alzheimer’s.

Besides medicines, there are powerful anti-inflammatory “influencers”—such as eating fruits, vegetables, and nuts, minimizing stress, getting more sleep, and quitting smoking—which can help you take charge of chronic inflammation and prevent or reduce its damaging effects.

(jw)

Reference:

*Understanding Inflammation. guide from the experts at Harvard Medical School