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Eight Surprisingly Simple Ways to Boost Your Performance
We all try to pack as much into our days as we can. Between work, family, and personal commitments, our schedules fill up quickly. Many people have become so skilled at the art of multitasking that exhaustion sets in an unwanted side effect of the busyness of our lives. Whether it's the 24/7 work cycle, omnipresent technology, or the work-family balancing act, from time to time we can feel like we’re just not functioning in top form. So when important events and commitments pop up – like a job interview, business presentation, or coordinating your child’s birthday party – rising to the occasion can feel overwhelming.
While it’s tempting to reach for second (or sixth?) cup of coffee or a sugary snack to get a quick boost before an important event, there are much healthier and more effective ways to restore energy and ready oneself for the responsibilities that lie ahead. Researchers have made a lot of progress in recent years, unraveling how the body and brain perform their best, and what we can do to keep them in top form.
If you’re preparing for an important event, whether mental or physical, major or minor, there are steps you can take to boost your performance. It may be helpful to think about improving performance in two parts. The first is how you prepare for the occasion over the preceding days, weeks, or months: this includes practicing your moves, honing your skills, and developing your inner drive and motivation. The second part of performance is how you gear up – or settle down – for the event itself: focusing on your task, readying your brain, and steadying your nerves are all important parts of "show time" itself.
Based on the newest research in science and psychology, here are some of the best-proven – and sometimes quirkiest – methods for boosting your performance as you prepare to tackle your important event.
Phase One: Laying the Groundwork for Peak Performance
How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, Practice, PracticeWe all know that rehearsing activities, whether a speech or a sport, improves performance. But if you can’t physically rehearse an activity, just imagining you’re doing it can actually help your performance. For example, studies have found that people who mentally practice a new skill have a significant improvement in performance during the real thing, compared to people who do not spend time visualizing their performance.
One French study found that the participants’ autonomic nervous systems were activated in similar ways during mental volleyball practice and in actual practice. This suggests that mental practice helps train the nervous system and lay down the brain networks that will be used during the real thing. So if you’re not able to engage in an actual practice right now, try a little "warm up" in your head – you might be surprised to find just how much it hones your skills.
Challenge YourselfPractice makes perfect, but it is often the case that to really master material and perform our best, we have to ask more of ourselves when we practice. One University of Southern California study showed that different centers of the brain are activated in simple vs. "mixed up" practice. People in the simple practice group merely executed the same motion repeatedly when trying to learn a specific arm movement, while people in the "mixed up" group alternated movements from time to time, forcing their brains to solve the problem in different ways through out practice. Through a series of tests, the researchers showed that the "mixed up" group was processing the motion in higher centers of the brain.
When we practice things in the same way over and over again, we aren’t processing the skill very deeply. It turns out that memory – mental and motor – is enhanced when we engage in practice that is more challenging and requires us to reconstruct the activity from different angles. Whether you’re working on your backhand, your short game in golf, or a monologue, changing the way you practice will help prepare the brain for what comes at it during game time.