5 Ways to train your brain for Peak Performance. 

The reason this blog is called [s]PEAK Up! 

1. To focus on the idea of going UP, like a peak (Mountain)
2. To enforce the idea of speaking in a way which raises your gaze and therefore your performance.

A major focus of our work at Deshun Deysel & Associates, is to bring home the idea that our thoughts govern our actions and repeated actions culminate in our performance. Therefore, does it not make sense to find the best way to manage (or indeed master) the art of thinking effectively? The topic of effective thinking has been covered by numerous experts, like Daniel Goleman, Martin Seligman, Carol Dweck, Viktor Frankl and others. In fact, these concepts have become mainstream since the worldwide popularity of 20th Century icons like Oprah Winfrey and Steve Jobs spread everywhere. My aim here is to simplify theory and make the concepts digestible for us mere mortals.

The myth of successful thinking - If I can dream it, I can do it!

Sure this can be true! All successful ventures started with a dream, an idea. But, actually, having the idea alone is not the full story. Effective thinking goes beyond a simple idea or concept. Like the saying goes: A dream without a plan is simply a wish! In previous blogs I've covered the importance of setting meaningful goals. This blog will, hopefully, unpack the importance of thought techniques to activate higher levels of performance.

1. The power of our internal dialogue

Our internal orientation to the external environment is strongly reflected in the way we speak to ourselves. I say 'internal dialogue', because it's about the relationship between our thoughts and our speaking. Have you ever asked yourself a question and then answered it? Me too! Increasingly as I get older! 

How do you speak to yourself when good things happen? Do you reinforce that you're good at something, that you deserve the feeling of success or that you had something to do with that success? Or, do you dismiss it as 'luck', 'it could've happened to anyone' or 'it wasn't that great.'

I fell into the latter category for a large part of my life. Nothing I ever did was worth celebrating. I didn't give myself permission to feel good about my accomplishments. The result? I became a 'starter, but not a finisher'. There are many reasons for this unfortunate emotional orientation to my goals, but ultimately it produced lacklustre results in an increasing and continuous downward spiral. The older I became, the less I set meaningful goals for myself and the less I had performances to celebrate. So, with this emotional orientation to my actions, I would say things like: "I'm never any good at this", I don't like to put effort into things, because I always fail". Wow! Did you know that there is no evidence anywhere in the world that this kind of thinking causes high performance. Once I came across material, which helped me understand how this worldview is shaped, I was able to to take little steps towards a brighter outlook. 

Firstly, I looked out for tiny things I was doing well. I started to make deliberate mental notes about my smallest accomplishments. It was awkward at first, because I wasn't accustomed to thinking positive things about myself. This requires practice! Effective thinking is not an accident. You must commit very consciously and deliberately to capturing an erroneous thought when it happens. Then secondly, the secret lies in rewiring that though into a positive one - as quickly as possible. The best question to ask yourself when you're not happy with your performance is - 'how would I like this to be the next time?' 
This question does two things: 
1. It steers your mind towards a future picture (vision, idea, goal). 
2. It makes you think of the positive way in which you could handle the same situation. This simple act rewires the brain to enhancing future performance. For instance - I'm a regular offender in the department of procrastination. The way I try to speak to myself is: "I love the feeling of freedom I get from getting things done!" It has really worked so far. This brings me to the next point. 

2. Visualisation

It seems like we humans were blessed with the gift of foresight or imagining the future. We take this for granted, because images come to us so easily. However, the ability of forethought is unique to human beings, which allows us to create the future before we arrive there. Caution: it works for both a positive outlook and a negative outlook. What do I mean by this? Well, we have the capacity to "think forward" in a positive and constructive way, but also in a negative, destructive way. What does constructive forethought look like? Imagining and believing in something good or exciting as a result of a goal we've set. If you've come across the concept of vision boarding, the following thought technique will be familiar to you. 
There is a formula for effective visualisation - the IxV=R formula. It simply means Imagination x Vividness = Reality
Let's unpack it;
Imagination - Picture based concepts.
Vividness - Clear, tangible imagery.
Reality - What is or becomes real to us.
In other words, if we use our forethought with clarity and tangibility it will eventually manifest in real life. 

Worrying works this way too! Have you ever worried yourself to death  that something awful is going to happen? Have you ever been surprised that it actually does happen? The IxV=R formula works both ways.
It stands to reason then, that the best way to use this simple formula, is to take our thoughts captive and use a deliberate and conscious process of thinking to make real the future we want! All a vision board does, is to help you bring your concept of the future to a tangible level.

3. Ownership

The interesting thing about being an owner is that one feels generally more responsible. It's not usually a guilt-induced sense of responsibility. I reckon that it's responsibility which stems from feeling proud. A person who is proud of the thing they own, is more likely to take care of it. So it is with our goals. Have you ever noticed that - if you were forced to sign up for something - or even if you force yourself, that you're much more likely to avoid doing it. In fact, in the world of Self-Image Psychology, it has been proven that - when people are feeling coerced into doing something - they do one or all  of three things:
1. Sloppy Work - doing just enough to get it done. Not giving it your best.
2. Creative Avoidance - other 'priorities' suddenly jump to the front of the queue.
3. Procrastination - which often results in the above two behaviours.

When effective thinkers are faced with a task they don't like, they are extremely good at taking ownership first. How does one take charge of and even enjoy doing something you don't like doing? Effective thinkers are effective Self-Talkers. They simply speak themselves into a condition of ownership. It might sound something like, "I choose to do this, because I can see/feel the benefit for myself in completing it." They may even say a thing like "no-one is forcing me, I signed up for this". This last approach is a little harsher, but it seems to get good results! 

As a mountaineer, this approach has really helped me overcome some difficult situations, especially when it came to leaving my comfy sleeping bag for the arctic climes outside my tent. 
Me: "Why are you here?" 
Myself: "To climb the mountain." 
Me: "Who's making you do it?" 
Myself: "Me". 
Me: "In other words, you're choosing to be here?" I
After doing this for a short while, my mum's tone of voice would take over; "...then shut up and do it!"

4. True Grit

So much about life and goals is really just about sticking things out. I recently came across a wonderful talk on TED by Angela Lee Duckworth, which illustrates what truly makes people successful over the long haul:

More often than not, the really successful people in life and business, are those who are willing to push their effort beyond breaking point. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins calls it 'long obedience in the same direction'. It is a simple principle of tenacity or perseverance. High performance, then, is not always about being on a mountain top. To the outside observer, high performance sometimes manifests as getting nowhere. The main thing for the doer, is to always remain focused on the 'why'. 'Why am I doing what I'm doing? If this question can be answered with satisfaction and consistency, then you have what it takes to stick things out!

5. Create deliberate 'a-ha' moments

Have you ever just done a random thing and suddenly had the most brilliant idea? Why do these ideas always seem to come while you're in the shower or out for a walk? Well, I pondered this question for decades, until I came across the following theory:

On the average day, the human brain goes the four stages or phases. 
1. Beta - emitted when we are consciously alert, or we feel agitated, tense, afraid, with frequencies ranging from 13 to 60 pulses per second in the Hertz scale. 
2. Alpha when we are in a state of physical and mental relaxation, although aware of what is happening around us, its frequency are around 7 to 13 pulses per second.
3. Theta more or less 4 to 7 pulses, it is a state of somnolence with reduced consciousness.
4. Delta when there is unconsciousness, deep sleep or catalepsy, emitting between 0.1                                    and 4 cycles per second. 

This means that our Alpha stage is the most likely to provide us with solutions. We're still consciously aware of our environment, but we're not in a high sate of concentration or anxiety. As the brainwaves relax, they become more suceptable to subconscious suggestion. Our subconscious is the deep reservoir of all our thoughts, beliefs and experiences. Sometimes the answers are within us, but the Beta stage (during working hours) keeps us so distracted that we are not open to solutions which may be lying within us. Hence the strange timing of of our best ideas.

During a coaching process, a good coach will provide an environment which is free from distraction and interference. In such an environment, prompted by the right questions, a coach can provide fertile opportunity to unearth the 'a-ha' that we've been walking around with. You can also provide you own coaching moments by taking regular breaks away from distractions and asking yourself some stock questions, which you can find in the Peak Performance Toolkit™ Diagnostic. Great solutions are easier to come by than we think. We simply need to pre-programme ourselves with a goal (or problem we want to solve) and then allow space and time (deliberately) for it to manifest.

Happy thinking!


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Deshun Deysel - Global Speaker, Thought Leader, Moderator, Peak Performance Toolkit™