Athletes are largely judged by their performances during big events. Peaking at the right time allows athletes to translate most of their arousal or stress evoked by these big occasion into performance by moving along the Intended Performance part of the above curve.
If an athlete is over-trained, carrying a niggling injury, competing at too high a level, etc. chances are that their Actual Performance will fall on the downward sloping part of the curve.
This is a relatively straightforward concept for Sporting Performance where all the rules are well laid out, performances are easily determined and usually confined to a single event or a series of events over a season.
This equation also applies to the job market. Increased work performances are generally judged by meeting the targets for a set period according to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). And we all know that these increased performances won't magically manifest while we are ticking over in our comfort zones.
When it comes to Wellness Performance, though, the opposite often applies. No hard and fast rules seem to apply, KPIs are not easily discernible (except for the more obvious ones like not smoking, drinking in moderation and eating less junk food) and they are definitely not confined to a particular event or season.
Indeed, Wellness Performance is best judged over a life time. We’ve all heard stories of the old man who smoked all his life yet lived to see a 100, or the little old lady who never exercised a day in her life, yet is still going strong at 100. . .
Despite all the confusion around Wellness Performance, though – what/what not to eat, how much/hard to exercise, how much to sleep, how much to work, etc. etc.- most people probably have a fair idea of what they need to change, yet often don't have the will power, time or energy to bring about the desired changes.
Ekkekasis and Zenko’s (2016) proposal that conflict between Type I and Type II processes drive physical activity decision making also well describes the apathy surrounding improving ones’ Wellness Performance. Type I processes are unconscious, involuntary and rely on experience and emotional connotations, whereas Type II processes are conscious, voluntary and rely on information and reasoning.
According to this schema, although individuals do acknowledge the beneficial effects of physical activity (Wellness), a tendency to interpret physical activity as less pleasant than other competing alternatives frequently results in a capitulation to negative Type I processes.
A closer inspection of the Performance-Arousal curve highlights that an increase in performance, whether in work, sport or wellness, always necessitates an increase in arousal/stress. While it may on the surface appear to be an oxymoron, aligning our work and wellness performances (thus allowing us to tap into the same bodily arousal) may well result in the most beneficial outcome.
Let me first qualify the oxymoronic part of this argument by looking at the analogy of a F1 racing car (F1 or Friesian). Modifying a racing car so it can reach higher speeds will result in the car’s brakes, wheels, engine, etc. wearing out quicker. So it boils down to what is most cost effective for the F1 team – to drive faster or to prolong the driving distances.
I say oxymoronic, because replacing racing car parts, even the whole car or a driver, forms part of the above cost effectiveness equation.
Not so with replacing our body parts or our entire body.
A greater emphasis on KPIs always necessitates greater arousal/stress levels in the body, indeed bodily arousal/stress is one of the key ingredient of any human performance. My research thus focuses on finding ways of increasing the arousal in the body along the healthy tension part of the curve to thereby maximise the bodily performance, whether in sport, wellness or work.
My research is informed by my experiences of regaining my own health and well-being following a crippling cycling accident (The Day my Life Changed) in combination with my research measuring Performance-Arousal curves over the whole gamut of humanity. From peak performing athletes and high powered businessmen through to students, retired folk, cardiac rehab patients and people with spinal cord injuries.
A clear picture emerges of how to elevate the healthy tension in the body to thereby enhance performance in the heat of the moment and for the long haul. Maintaining a healthy tension in our bodies amidst all the stressors of modern living is dependent on two main ingredients.
1 – A quiet, but focused brain
2 – A relaxed, but energised body
By a quiet brain I mean thinking must be minimised and awareness must be heightened.
In a relaxed body the low frequency vagal activation of the heart and viscera must predominate, while the sympathetic drive to these organs must be moderated and shifted to the spine and core musculature.
This can only be achieved if you are 'in your body' and you maintain the correct body posture.
Without all the pieces to tie it together it took me a good 2 years of solid effort before I succeeded in decluttering the conditioned behavioural prompts in my brain, taught my heart and viscera how to relax and my spine and core muscles how to be energised.
Now that I know what it takes to maintain that healthy tension in my body, keeping fit and healthy has become a lot simpler and a lot less effortful.