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:
- Creating psychological safety
- Regulating negative emotions
- Not entering a stress state.
- Gender and age matter.
- Leaning towards rewards, not threats.
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”.
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?
“The Leading Brain: Powerful Science-Based Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance” by Hans Hagemann and Friederike Fabricius