To perform my best at work and life, I’ve tried various approaches to find what brings the highest return. I’ve found that there are several areas in which the right behaviors can have a big positive impact. I get my best peak performance results when I focus on the areas I list below. These are the top 5 that help make sure I feel and do my best.
Trial and Error
I didn’t learn overnight what works best, and it even took me ages to become aware that slacking on these had such a negative impact on my performance. But having learned what works, I’ve come to rely on these basics to ensure that my brain and body function their best.
Much of this may seem like old news by now, but I know many people who don’t incorporate even the basics to support better performance. When I stop to think about it, I realize that it took me many years to even gain a good understanding of what my body needed to operate at its best.
So in the spirit of sharing what will likely work for you as well, here’s what I’ve learned over the years.
My Top 5 Ways to Achieve Peak Performance
1. Eat to Support Peak Performance
I’m not an evangelist on any specific type of diet except that which works best for your body and brain. I’ve followed many different diet prescriptions over the years, and I’ve learned what helps me perform my best.
For me, I’ve learned that I must avoid gluten at all costs or things get ugly. Some foods make me swell. Others make me groggy. Some even make me sleepy (I’m looking at you, pancakes). Knowing what I need to eat (and avoid) to perform my best has taken trial and error, but I’ve gotten it dialed in pretty well.
It becomes even more critical before important presentations or other times when I need to operate at peak performance.
2. Get Enough Sleep
People have different sleep needs, and I’ve come to learn that I require a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night. Any less than that and I don’t perform my best. I don’t think as clearly, and even my diet suffers since I crave sugar to counter the negative impacts of insufficient sleep. And I certainly don’t have as much energy.
Sleeping at least 7 hours, and eight preferably, helps me perform at my best. I’m clear-headed, more positive, and have more energy. I have more patience for family and co-workers. So many positive benefits.
The quality of sleep is also important. The nights that my daughter climbs into bed with me and kicks throughout the night can reduce the quality of my sleep. I feel it the next day.
Some people brag that they can function on very little sleep. However, in the October 2015 issue of Scientific American, the cover story shares research done by sleep researcher Robert Stickgold. The study explains why it’s critical that we get sufficient sleep. The article shares the following about the importance of sleep:
[Sleep] is involved in a ‘multitude of biological processes—from the inner workings of the immune system to proper hormonal balance, to emotional and psychiatric health, to learning and memory, to the clearance of toxins from the brain.’ Losing a few hours of shut-eye depresses various functions, reducing our cognitive and memory powers, souring our mood, even reducing our body’s ability to defend against infections.”
For parents reading this, you’ll remember those days when you first brought home your little bundle of joy, and several days later that tiredness from sleep deprivation set in. That deep-in-your-bones sleepiness that you’d never even knew existed. It turned me momentarily into a monster: I kicked our cat across the room. It screeched as it flew through the air, slammed against the wall, and ran as fast as possible out of the room. I called my husband and said, “Get home now.” He didn’t even ask questions, the dear. He just said, “I’ll be right there.” We didn’t see the cat for days.
Of course, that’s an extreme example, but the need for sleep is real.
If you want to read more interesting research findings on sleep deprivation and the role sleep plays in your health, check out this article from the Atlantic: How Sleep Deprivation Decays the Mind and Body.
3. Stay Hydrated
I start each day with a big glass of water – even before my first cup of coffee. It helps wake me up and clear my head. Throughout the day I make sure to drink enough water to keep my energy and mental clarity up. This involves keeping a water bottle on my desk and drinking water throughout the day. When I start to feel tired or sluggish, I find that drinking water helps give me a boost.
Much study has been done on the benefits of drinking water. This WebMD article explains that we lose water daily through breathing, skin evaporation, urine, etc. and it must be replaced for good health. “Your body is composed of about 60% water. The functions of these bodily fluids include digestion, absorption, circulation, creation of saliva, transportation of nutrients, and maintenance of body temperature.” The article goes on to list benefits to skin, muscles, diet, etc.
Mayo Clinic has a diagram that shows Functions of Water in the Body.
This article by the U.S. Geological Survey shared information presented by H.H. Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry 158, that “the brain and heart are composed of 73% water.” The brain uses water to manufacture hormones and neurotransmitters. It’s not just good for weight loss and pretty skin.
I recently read the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, by John J. Ratey. I’ll admit that my primary reason for reading it was to motivate me to exercise more. I’d slacked off in the past year, and needed motivation to move more. I know as a result of attending a 5:30 am fitness boot camp for years that I perform my best when I’m getting adequate exercise.
I was surprised at the number of times, when people found out I went to the gym, they responded with, “but you don’t need to lose weight!”
I had other reasons for exercising. I found that when I exercise I handle stress better, I sleep better, and I have more energy and improved cognitive functioning.
John Ratey’s research supports what I was experiencing – that exercise supports cognitive functioning. He shares studies of research participants who performed better on academic tests when they exercised in the morning. His research shows that exercise impacts your neurotransmitters and can help with a multitude of issues: depression, Alzheimer’s, anxiety, and hormones, among others.
Christopher Bergland’s article in Psychology Today, Physical Activity Improves Cognitive Function, describes the findings of two studies “showing that physical activity done today can benefit cognitive function for decades down the road.”
I previously wrote about meditation in my article 5 Ways to Quickly Improve Focus. There I cite several studies that show the benefits of meditation. I find that it helps calm my mind when I find it hard to focus and when my thoughts are racing, and I need clarity. It also lifts my mood, and I’m more positive and patient. And it’s such an easy thing to do.
These are the practices that I regularly use to ensure that my brain and body function at peak performance. There are other practices I incorporate at different times to dial-in even more: supplements, gratitude practices, etc. But the items above lay a solid foundation.
If you’ve not paid attention to how any of these behaviors impact your performance, start to do so. Experiment in these areas and see the improvements in your life.
Where will you start first?
Share in the comments below if you have practices you follow and your experience with them. I’d love to know.