The practice of meditation provides a verifiable scientific model of mental training tools and techniques that transforms connections in our brain systems that can be used to boost peak mental performance. The practice of meditation has been proven in changing the neuroplasticity of our brain systems. Specifically, the changes have been seen in reaction and recovery from stress, ability to develop compassion and empathy for others, dampens unconscious biases, retrains habits for focus and concentration, and transforms our sense of “self”. These now proven results to develop mental mastery and improve the quality of our lives opens the door to anyone who is willing to make the commitment to meditation for peak mental performance.
“Peak performance is a state of executive functioning” adapted from Greg Wells, Ph.D. Executive functioning by definition “is a set of processes that have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. It’s an umbrella term for neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation.” (Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Laurie Dietzel) In fact, people who experience a state of peak mental performance often report a sense of ease in one’s abilities, ability to sustain, select, and allocate focus and concentration, self-confidence, eliminate distractions from self-rumination and mind wandering, and not having a fear of failure. What few people realize that peak mental performance is trainable.
Probably the most popular form of meditation is mindfulness meditation. In the most basic sense, it’s a technique that teaches you to focus on a meditation object such as: breath, areas of the body, sensations, sounds, something in the environment, active meditations, and certain types of yoga. Basically, you choose a meditation object of attention for the duration of the meditation. Then you practice maintaining your attention on it for the entire time. Sounds easy, right? Well, if anyone has actually sat down to meditate, it’s extremely challenging.
Once you sit down to meditate, you’ll experience the inner workings of your mind. You’ll most likely be bombarded with memories, thoughts, impulses, anxieties, fears, emotions, and any other melodramas in your mental landscape. These inner workings of your mind are all distractions to remove your attention off the meditation object. If you are a beginner, you’ll probably be swept away from this onslaught of mental busyness.
During a mindfulness meditation session, you are first training yourself to notice when your attention wanes from the meditation object. At the first moment you notice that you’ve left your object of attention, gently guide your attention back to the meditation object. It then becomes a practice of leaving the meditation object and returning back to it over and over. Each time you meditate you are training your mind to not cow-tow to your impulses, thoughts, emotions, etc. This intense training through mindfulness meditation retrains your habits for focus and concentration—a key characteristic in peak performance.
A second key component to peak performance is the ability to eliminate or dampen distractions from mind wandering and self-rumination. Mind wandering and self-rumination are distractions that cause you to perform poorly. During an episode of mind wandering, you are busy thinking about how every event impacts yourself. Then, your mind develops a narrative about past events and upcoming events where the only focus is on how it affects you. Next, your mind continually replays these narratives over and over whether it favors you or is an upsetting one. If mind wandering is left to travel its usual loop of replaying outcomes you’d prefer not to happen, your performance will most likely be doomed. However, if you train your mind to recognize mind wandering, you can train your mind to refocus itself on the outcomes you’d like to occur.
Self-rumination similar to mind wandering is a distraction to reaching a level of peak mental performance. If a mistake were to occur, your mind would continually replay this mistake over and over again, hijacking your focus. If not noticed right away, this lack of focus and concentration could cause a series of mistakes causing you to bomb the performance. Meditation practices play a crucial role in your ability to recognize self-rumination is occurring. Over time, researchers have documented that the neural connections to the “default mode network” (the location in the brain where self-rumination and mind wandering live) dampens in meditators. (Altered Traits by Daniel Goleman & Richard J. Davidson)
Another component to achieving peak performance is through the meditation practice of visualization—a powerful mind-body connection tool. If the performance is an important one, it’s easy to develop anxiety about it. One way to manage this anxiety is to visualize you at the upcoming performance. Then, see yourself evoking your abilities and preparedness that already exists within you. In this form of practice, you are visualizing the connections of your mind and body to perform at your abilities. This ability to cope and manage performance anxiety is a key skill in achieving peak performance.
Your ability to manage stress is essential for peak performance. Not all stress is bad. You need some stress to boost your energy and level of performance. If you look at the featured image, you can see as stress levels increase so does your level of performance. But if it increases too much, you diminish your level of performance.
Along with other mental training tools like neurofeedback, meditation techniques can help you to manage your stress to maintain a healthy tension and operate from a peak performance level. Breath control is a mindfulness technique that can help you to optimize stress. When you notice that your stress level is too high, you can use breathing techniques to slow your breath and heart rate down. Our BreatheIn MindOn APP is a great tool to practice slowing down or speeding up your breath rate. On the flip side, if you notice you are lacking eustress (beneficial stress), you can start increasing your inhales and decreasing your exhales to get your heart rate up and reach a state of peak performance.
Another powerful common meditation technique to train your mind from self-focus is to focus on the health and well-being of others through love and kindness meditations. Love and kindness meditations are used to develop compassion, empathy for others, and decrease, if not eliminate, unconscious prejudices.
Now you may be asking what does compassion and empathy really have to do with peak performance? The simple answer is that it has everything to do with peak performance. First, it is a practice of focusing your mind to stay in the present moment. When you begin to see people without the lenses of criticisms, prejudices, and judgments, you begin to see them for who they really are in the present moment. Second, how do you handle those negative feelings you harbor for one of your employees, vendors, opposing team, or boss? How do you react when you are faced with them? In short, those negative feelings are distractions from what you are trying to accomplish. Distractions block peak performance.
Also if you are so self-focused, you don’t see and recognize the efforts of your employees, your team, or your vendors, you set yourself up to perform at less than optimum levels. All humans crave to matter in all levels of their lives. We all have an inherent need to be seen, understood, and valued. The more you practice compassion and empathy towards others, the more they feel seen, understood, and valued. When this craving is met, they are willing to put forth any effort necessary to support you or your team in reaching peak performance levels.
The most common way to practice a loving-kindness meditation is first to begin with someone special to you and send them all the positive feelings you have towards them and say something like:
“May you have peace, strength, health, and ease”
You then repeat this exercise with someone you harbor negative feelings for—a difficult relationship. Then someone you don’t know, or maybe a group of people. Lastly, you practice sending loving-kindness to yourself. Now different places in the world change the order, but I have found this order works well for people in the United States.
When you retrain your mind to eliminate these mental disturbances that become distractions from the present moment and you train your ability to focus, concentrate, and maximize stress, you are left with a trained mental state that is confident, focused, fearless, and effortless. From this mental state, you can just let go of distractions and perform at the best of your ability.
Now reaching peak mental performance is not something you can buy or be gifted. The rewards are only for those who train for it and it will take a steadfast commitment. One of my yoga instructors on the west coast, Robin Pickel, states “meditation is like digging a tunnel from New York to California with your hands.” Ouch! That statement pretty much sums up what you are up against, but the fruits of your labor are so rewarding; it’s worth the sacrifice because you will develop control over the totality of your mind. You will no longer be dragged around and enslaved by the perils of an untrained mind. You can and will be able to truly develop the mental toughness and conquer yourself. Meditation for peak mental performance trains your mind to work for you.
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