Seeking the winning edge with biofeedback

Biofeedback can help us find the line which separates winning from losing - a line that has often been described as being as fine as a razor’s edge.  You and I know that peak performance is about both mind and body somehow working in harmony. We strive for hundreds of hours for that one moment of success. We have have sacrificed and polished our technique but so has everyone else and it's not enough.  Biofeedback and physiological monitoring can provide vital insight into our mind-body state. It can give us the leverage to truly discover peak performance and learn to make this our natural state. Sound good? I thought so...

There is an old martial arts anecdote from Japan.  The archer, competing for a clay vessel worth nothing shoots with great expertise; she effortlessly and gracefully hits the target each time. When the prize was increased to a bronze statue, the archer noted tension in her body and a slight tremble in his hands as she raised the bow.  Only with great effort could she hit the target.  When the prize increased to a gold statue, she noticed her eyes would not focus. She could barely still her trembling hands and finally she released the arrow to miss the target. The laughter of the crowd increased her shame

Some things don't change. We have visualised and meditated to banish the stress and anxiety of performance yet we still feel that creaping sense of dread as the event approaches. We wish we could find the key to just unlock that last vital secret to success because deep down we know that we are somehow defeating ourselves.

One of the abilities that world class performers have, is an ability to trip instantly into a highly resourceful “state’.  Your state is a blend of how you think and feel in the moment and this absolutely determines what behaviours are possible for you.  It is these "behaviours" that determine your results.  What represents a resourceful state varies with the situation. Sometimes that necessary state might be relaxed and calm - other times high adrenaline.  Sounds simple doesn't it but it is challenging to manhandle yourself into a high performance state.  Unless your an All Black performing Ka Mate.

Imagine the scenario for a moment. Thousands are watching you in the stadium and millions around the world are focusing on how you perform. As you are in the public eye, any hesitation or slip will be echoed in the newspapers tomorrow and used to punish you time and time again - so you had better be good.  Why is that we punish us ourselves again and again for every single mistake?

Let's say your event is the high jump.  You have practiced for thousands of hours and the technical aspects of your performance are honed to that razor's edge.  You are physically fit and your opening attempt is sure to be well within your capabilities. And yet, as you stand on the runway you are vaguely aware of the sensations of fear overtaking you.

Fear of failure produces muscle tension; and tension constricts the blood flow and slows the reflexes.  You notice your breathing is much too shallow and this is resulting in contraction of opposing muscle groups and a reduction in coordination. 

As fear surfaces your clarity of focus becomes fuzzy.  Your monkey mind lets random thoughts intrude and disturb the wellspring of your energy.  Your state - that package of what you feel and imagine, combined with that little voice of self-talk - is not as resourceful as it might be. Yet you know that you need to be in a 100% resourceful state to succeed with your jump.

With visualisation and mental rehersal you manhandle your state as close to 100% as you can manage and set off down the runway.  Soaring gracefully over the bar, everything looks great but sadly your trailing leg grazes the bar and in the last instant it is knocked down.

Here you lie - the bar is down and so are you. Your state is at 0% and in two minutes you have to go again.  And when you go again, because you need to be a high performer, you will somehow have to get your state back to 100%.

This is the essence of peak performance. The ability to rapidly and effortlessly get to a 100% resourceful state at will.  As you are a champion in the making you use your two minutes wisely. You are in tune with your body and your mind. Change one - and you influence the other.  You know your stuff after all. All you need do is trust yourself. And yet trusting yourself just now is not so easy as it was on the practice ground.

You make peace with failure in this moment and break the cycle of tension and failure.  You adjust your posture now and breathe calmly as the tension melts away.  Athletes at the highest level learn to make peace with failure. They treat it like an old friend playing a practical joke.

The reason biofeedback is such a powerful tool is it lets us learn about what is happening inside our nervous system in response to the requirement for high performance. It taps into information which is critical to high performance and yet we are not normally consciously able to access this never mind learn to control it.  By monitoring our breathing, our heart rate, our muscle tension, our skin temperature and even how we are sweating we are taing into the ebb and flow of our autonomic nervous system; the part of us that governs our response to stress and pressure. If we lose our balance in this system we lose the ability to perform at our best.  With biofeedback principles we can not just graps how we really respond to pressure we can really learn to defeat what trips us up and blunts that edge of performance.

Elite athletes and teams have learned already to apply biofedback and its lessons.  We are looking to broaden the adoption of these powerful ideas. Why dont you join us?