Peak performance is for everyone

How peak performance is relevant to everyone's life

When I first discovered neurofeedback around 2016, I learned that in addition to helping specific conditions, another application of this technology was to enable peak performance. Athletes, executives, musicians, and other “elite” performers could be trained to perform even better. But I quickly realized that when we investigate the brains of these “elite” performers, we often see the same old patterns that we see in everybody else!

Certainly, there are some specific things we can do to optimize certain activities, and in the realm of elite performers it can take some real detective work to understand their unique brain, their activity of choice and crack the code to peak performance! But the general formula is the same for all of us – take inventory of our situation and identify the obstacles, and then systematically remove the obstacles until our innate talent shines. And in fact, as human beings we all face some common obstacles – including the elite performers.

Managing Arousal for Peak Performance

A generic starting point for peak performance could be the Yerkes-Dodson Law, a psychological principle that describes the relationship between arousal (or stress) and performance. It suggests that there's an optimal level of arousal or stress at which an individual's performance is at its best. Studies like “Regulation of arousal via online neurofeedback improves human performance in a demanding sensory-motor task” (Faller et al., 2019) show how neurofeedback can be used to train improved self-regulation to perform a sensitive operation better and more easily in a virtual reality flight simulator.

Italian soccer team

In 2006, the Italian soccer team attributed their World Cup win to a special neurofeedback training program. While the details of the protocol used were guarded, they are speculated upon in “’The Mind Room’ in Italian Soccer Training: The Use of Biofeedback and Neurofeedback for Optimum Performance” (Wilson et al., 2006). It is likely that they focused on reducing emotional reactivity, inhibiting self-talk, and easily entering a relaxed mental and physical state where they could be ready for action – like optimizing for the Yerkes-Dodson law. These principles have been applied successfully and considered a “secret weapon” for many high performing athletic teams. But really – who wouldn’t benefit from this?

Intuitive Abilities and Peak Performance

Another aspect of peak performance involves developing our intuitive abilities, allowing us to tap into a realm of intelligence beyond our conscious mind. This can serve as a source of inspiration and creativity, enabling us to develop novel solutions, make intuitive decisions, and plot innovative pathways to success. Brain training can be effective in honing these intuitive skills, nurturing a deeper connection with our inner wisdom and creativity. If you have been following the Biohacking movement, you have no doubt heard of several boutique clinics that offer this kind of service!

But does it make sense to jump into altered states of consciousness as our first stop in the pursuit of peak performance?

Greek academy students

In the ancient Greek mystery religions, aspirants typically had to spend considerable time – years, sometimes even decades – studying the foundational intellectual knowledge and doing the work on themselves to “purify their mind” before being introduced to the greater mysteries. This strict learning process wasn’t arbitrary gatekeeping, it had a very specific purpose. The mysteries typically revealed very subtle and nuanced insights, deepening intuition, and without a solid foundation the aspirant may misunderstand and be led astray – and find themselves further from the truth instead of closer to it.

Peak Performance and the Hero's Journey

The quest for peak performance is not so different than the hero’s journey, or the path of self-development within these mystery religions. Just as the hero embarks on a transformative quest filled with challenges and growth, along the journey to peak performance we confront our inner obstacles and overcome our limitations. Both narratives involve facing fears, embracing personal development, and discovering untapped potentials. On this journey it’s important that we understand the territory and have a good map, so that we can do the necessary preparation for each challenge we will face.

Towards a Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is well known for offering a structured framework for understanding human motivation, goal setting, personal development, and various aspects of human behavior. It provides insight into how we can achieve a balanced and fulfilling life by addressing our fundamental needs and working towards self-actualization.

We can conceptualize brain training for peak performance as a hierarchy of needs, with foundational needs and higher-level capabilities built on top of each other. I conceptualize this hierarchy of needs as such:

Bay Area Peak Performance's hierarchy of needs

1. Metabolic Health

Metabolic health is fundamental. It provides energy to your body and brain, as well as forms new cells. We'll ensure this foundation is strong before diving into brain assessments. If any issues arise, we may advise consulting a functional medicine expert for stabilization. We can also suggest cost-effective tests to detect potential problems.

2. Autonomic Balance and Tone

The next step is achieving autonomic balance and tone. Based on our assessment, we tailor your training plan, which may include autonomic stabilization for improved stress management. You'll gain flexibility in shifting between sympathetic arousal and parasympathetic response, reducing stress-driven reactions.

3. Remove Obstacles to Peak Performance

The crucial step is removing obstacles. We address significant barriers to peak performance, identifying and eliminating hindrances that impact our focus, habits, or negativity rooted in dysregulated brain patterns. Through neurofeedback and neurostimulation, we enhance your nervous system's self-regulation, allowing you to leave those roadblocks behind.

4. Continuous Optimization and Flow States

After addressing major obstacles, this is where we get to the serious optimization! We can fine-tune your brain's performance to enhance creativity, information processing, and achieve flow states more easily, helping you reach your personal sweet spot.

5. Spiritual Development and Altered States

Beyond this lies the realm of spiritual development and altered states of consciousness. While it's conceivable to explore altered states without first establishing a solid foundation, our experience shows that the most fruitful outcomes emerge when we build upon a strong and stable base.

Once we perform your neurocognitive assessment, we will develop a brain training plan aligned with these principles and help you along your own hero’s journey!

Flow States

Steven Kotler, co-author of “Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work” and other books, presents a view of peak performance centered on the concept of “flow,” a mental state where individuals experience intense focus, effortless action, and a sense of timelessness. According to Kotler, achieving flow is essential for peak performance, allowing people to tap into their full creative and cognitive potential. This perspective highlights that peak performance is not limited to elite performers or athletes but is attainable by anyone in all aspects of life. The key is to find activities and challenges that match one’s skills and interests, creating the conditions for experiencing flow and maximizing one’s potential.

Stealing Fire © 2017 by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal

Stealing Fire © 2017 by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal

Steven Kotler and Rian Doris’ Flow Research Collective has decoded the neuroscience of flow states and offers some impressive best practices on hacking greater access to flow into our lives.

I’m excited to be enrolled in the January 2024 cohort of their High Flow Coaching program! I will become a certified peak performance coach, and by pairing these approaches: 

  • Training your brain from the inside out to clear up inefficient thinking patterns that are no longer serving you, and

  • Establishing best practices from the outside in to focus your attention on what matters.

We will have a highly effective approach to helping you reach your own ideal peak performance.

All Brain Training is for Peak Performance

When I was first learning about neurofeedback, there was a quote from Peter van Deusen that stood out to me – saying that “All neurofeedback is peak performance training.” This continues to resonate for me – we all have conditioned thinking and behavior patterns that get in our way, that inhibit the truest expression of ourselves, and if we clear those up – anyone and everyone will perform better!

© 2023 - 2023 James Croall - All Rights Reserved.

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