Archive of ‘Peak Performance’ category

Bring your ‘A’ Game! Peak Performance for Non-Performers

By: Shannon Haragan, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

By: Shannon Haragan, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

When you read the words “peak performance,” what images pop into your head? You may picture a world-class athlete, ballet dancer or top-ranked musician. Type the words into a Google image search, and you’ll find a collection of men in business suits, posing victoriously atop mountains they apparently just climbed, briefcases in hand, and not a hair out of place.

Yes, athletes, artists and top executives are performers, but the truth is we all perform. You are asked to bring your ‘A’ game on a near-daily basis. Both our professional and personal roles present regular performance demands, whether it be achieving a specific sales quota for the quarter, nailing that job interview, or hosting your child’s science-themed birthday party, featuring a wall-sized Pin the Element on the Periodic Chart game, and green punch floating in dry ice. Our world demands that we perform on a daily basis, and our physical, mental and emotional response to these demands can strongly impact the outcomes we ultimately achieve.

Of course, most of the time, we’re able to perform successfully, even if it means that we undergo temporary stress or anxiety. Occasionally, however, life requires us to step far outside our comfort zone, or to push our physical or mental limits, such as having to give a toast at your sister’s wedding, running in your first 5K, or asking for a raise. The field of performance psychology grew specifically from the world of sports, but its fundamentals can be applied to a variety of situations:

1. Arousal regulation

Your heart is racing, your breathing is shallow, you’re sweating, and you can’t concentrate. Your nervous system has gone into fight-or-flight mode, and you’re convinced you’re about to faint, vomit, or both. During these stressful moments, using deep, diaphragmatic breathing can help regulate your brain and body. Inhale slowly to a count of 4, hold it for 3 counts, then exhale for 7. Repeat several times. You can also practice progressive muscle relaxation: Isolate one set of muscles at a time, squeeze tightly for 3 seconds, then relax while exhaling, and move up to the next muscle set and repeat. The key with arousal regulation is to practice deep, slow breathing and muscle relaxation when you don’t need it, so your body knows what to do when you do need it.

2. Cognitive Restructuring

We all have those voices in our heads, and during times of stress, those messages are often mired in what-ifs and don’ts: What if I go totally blank? or Don’tfumbletheballdon’tfumbletheball! If your brain is centered on thoughts and images of what you don’t want to happen, those events are far more likely to take place. Instead, when an unhelpful thought enters your head, imagine a huge, red stop sign, and immediately stop that thought. Next, flip that unhelpful thought around, and turn it into something more useful: What is a positive alternative that you’d like to happen instead? Again, practice restructuring your thoughts during less stressful times, and you’ll find it easier to do when you really need to.

3. Visualization

Using mental rehearsal is one of the simplest but most effective ways to improve performance. Basically, this step involves mentally going through your performance with as much detail as you can include. This technique is commonly used by athletes, and years of research point to its effectiveness. Come up with a word or phrase that represents you performing at your absolute best, and hold those words in your mind along with your visualizations.

4. Goal Setting

What do you want to achieve wiith this particular event? Dream big! Don’t let those voices convince you to set the bar low. Instead of, “I just want to get through it with some modicum of dignity,” how about, “I want to wow them!” Break down your major goals into smaller goals, and assign tasks for each. Assign dates to complete each goal, and consider utilizing a system of accountability. Perhaps meet with another person to help each other stay on track.

5. Centering/Pre-Performance Ritual

This is where you put it all together. A few minutes before your event or performance, find some space to yourself. Stand in such a way that you feel grounded and stable, and focus on a fixed spot across the room. Breathe deeply and slowly, release any body tension through muscle relaxation, and focus on your word or phrase from step 3. Trust that you’ve worked hard, that you have everything you need to succeed, and now is the time to put the details aside, be in the present and commit to the experience!

Generally speaking, the practices of peak performance aim to shift you from your left brain, with its inner critics, black-and-white thinking, and fast (beta) brain waves, and more into the right brain, which is more kinesthetic, imaginative, and is where slower (alpha) brain waves originate. Being willing to get out of our own way is often the first step toward bringing our ‘A” game, ultimately helping us to reach and exceed our daily performance goals.

Bring your 'A' game

Mental Health and Wellness

Staying mentally fit can be challenging in our stressful, busy lives. Mental health or wellness is defined by the World Health Organization as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” It enables us to enjoy life and relationships, and embodies our physical, mental and social well-being. Like most things, our mental health will fluctuate. Circumstances, stressful life events, grief and loss, as well as positive events and relationships certainly will impact how we feel about ourselves and our world. However, we can also make positive choices and engage in behaviors that strengthen and maintain our mental wellness. Following are a few tips to improve and maintain your mental health.


Scientists continue to research and prove the benefits of exercise for both the body and brain. In addition to reducing stress and anxiety by increasing the body’s ability to manage mental tension, exercise also releases endorphins, creating feelings of happiness and even decreasing feelings of depression. There is evidence that for some people, exercise can be just as effective as an antidepressant in treating depression. Additionally, exercise has been shown to prevent cognitive (brain) decline which tends to happen as we age. Finally, working out often helps people sleep better, feel more productive, and improves positive self-image.

Leisure Time

Despite our busy schedules, it is critical for our mental health that we have “down” time. Playtime, hobbies, and rest are critical for all age groups and creates balance to deal with stress and the daily tasks at hand. Taking time to have fun, try new things, read a book, and engage in interesting activities contributes to feeling fulfilled and joyful. Play helps us be the best version of ourselves and creates space for creativity.


Sleep is critical for our bodies to heal and recover. Additionally, it improves our memory and attention, increases our ability to be creative and to perform at our best, helps with weight management, decreases stress, allows us to be more alert, and improves mood while decreasing anxiety and even feelings of depression or being overwhelmed.

Engage in Relationships

Biologically, we are hardwired for connection. Therefore, it is critical that we make time for the important people in our lives and strive for healthy relationships. Much of the way we feel about ourselves and our world is tied to our relationships. Research indicates that strong relationships contribute to living a healthy, happy, and long life. Our significant relationships serve as a platform for sharing our feelings (another important aspect of mental health and wellness), for creating traditions and memories, and for fulfilling our important needs of belonging and feeling loved. Additionally, being involved in community is an important way to feel connected, to give back through volunteer work and doing things for others, and to create a sense of togetherness.

Challenge Yourself

Learning new skills, taking on new things at work, creating fitness goals, or doing things that are out of our comfort zone improves mental fitness while creating a sense of confidence and accomplishment.

Spend Time in Nature

In addition to providing the body with Vitamin D through direct sunlight, research also shows that spending time in nature can boost cognitive function and creativity. Many people also find the great outdoors a space where they feel rejuvenated, more connected to themselves, and to others.

Make Time for Spirituality

Spirituality means different things to everyone, but a study published in the Journal of Religion and Health found spirituality linked with greater mental health. Specifically, they found that increased spirituality increased a sense of oneness and connectedness with the rest of the universe. Other studies show that people who consider themselves spiritual or religious report feeling happier than those that don’t.

Practice Mindfulness/Meditation

Mindfulness, defined by a study in Perspectives on Psychological Science, is “the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment.” Mindfulness meditation is shown to have many benefits including lowering stress, protecting the brain, providing insight, improving performance, emotion regulation, and may even lower depression among other things. For more information, click here.

Seek Help

Life can be difficult and even devastating at times. We all need help at various points in our lives. Dealing with stressors and sharing our experience and feelings with loved ones is an important part of mental health. And, while friends and family members can be a great resource, you also might benefit from the unbiased, professional view of a mental health professional. Should you find yourself in a situation where you or your family member needs support or help, call Austin Family Counseling at 512-298-3381.

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