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3 Punishers of Peak Performance


It’s that time of year again. The turn of the calendar over to day 1 of 365 days of opportunity to do better, be better and feel better. If you’re like the millions of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions each year, you probably have something in mind that you’d like to improve upon during the next several hundred days of your life. But what if I told you that eliminating some of the most punishing saboteurs of your performance at ANY new (or existing) action you would like to accomplish might be where you need to start?

The statistics say most people will give up on their New Year’s resolution by the second month of the year. There are plenty of reasons a person decides to push eject on those January 1 goals. Sometimes, the aim is too lofty, or you can’t take the appropriate time to achieve the goal. However, one crucial consideration is how well the individual planned to succeed at their goal – including removing obstacles that stand in their way.

When it comes to peak neurological performance, of which I am a diligent student and proponent, you can take plenty of actions to help your brain make you better – at anything. So, it stands to reason that if your brain can help you perform well, it can also contribute to poor performance based on the fuel and care it receives.

Alcohol Consumption – Whether you’re an elite athlete or a business executive, the consumption of alcohol in American culture is a celebratory and relaxation ritual. Unless it’s done to excess, occasionally drinking alcohol is a pastime many adults believe is harmless. But I am here to tell you, your brain keeps score of your drinking habits, whether you get “drunk” or not. The neurological research literature consistently points to a reduction in physical balance, reaction time, visual acuity, fine motor skills, and more regarding acute alcohol consumption. The neurological impact evidence may lead people to reason that their performance is only inhibited while they’re under the influence of alcohol. Though the impact of alcohol consumption after the “buzz” has worn off is unique to the individual, plenty of research indicates that the effects do linger and negatively impact our sleep, mood regulation, cognitive function, memory, and learning.

Inadequate and Low-Quality Sleep – How well do you sleep? How you answer that question depends not only on the number of hours you sleep each night but also on how restful that sleep is. If you’re like most adults, you’re lacking in both sleep quality and quantity. Health issues, nighttime distractions such as screens in the bedroom, a lack of exercise in the daytime, and, as mentioned above, alcohol consumption all play a role in how well we sleep. I’ve written extensively on how sleep impacts performance, especially for athletes. But you don’t have to be an athlete to understand that if you want to get better at just about anything in life, you’ve got to be sure that your sleep hygiene is on point. In other words: you can train, practice, or strive until the cows come home, but if your sleep life is dismal, you won’t achieve peak performance levels at anything you try to do.

Unaddressed Stress – To be clear – sometimes life is stressful. In my practice, I have come to understand that no two people process stress in the same way. We’re all unique. We arrive at this life with various generational, hereditary, and socioeconomic backgrounds and experiences. But I can say for sure that stress that doesn’t have an outlet (exercise, mindfulness meditation, or psychotherapy, for example) has a negative impact on performance. When stress is elevated and ill-managed in an individual, it can impede performance on tasks or activities that require attention, memory, decision-making, reaction time, and an accelerated rate of fatigue.

Now that you’ve read through these three punishing impacts on peak performance, where do you stand? Do you notice any areas that you can address so that the performance goals you want to achieve are set up for success from the jump? Getting better at anything takes time and diligence, to be sure, but if you’ve found yourself running up against walls on your goals, year after year, it might be time to address these issues as the potential bricks stacked against your efforts. Once you do that, you might be surprised at how much easier (not faster, necessarily) it is to attain those goals. It will be well worth the effort, I promise.