TAKE CARE OF YOUR PEAK PERFORMANCE DNA
Why do some people find it easy to work at their peak, while others feel the goal is frustratingly elusive? The answer may lie in your DNA.
Although peak performance relies on a variety of factors, including the scope of an assignment and especially the environment you’re working in, there are three crucial neurochemicals that combine to help you perform at your utmost best: dopamine, noradrenaline, and acetylcholine.
These three we call the DNA of Peak Performance.
D is for Dopamine
Of the three neurochemicals that make up the DNA of Peak Performance, dopamine is the best known and the most notorious, probably because of its association with excitementand risk.
Dopamine is the fun neurochemical, the life of the peak performance party. It seeks sensation and anticipates gratification. Dopamine provides a drug-like reward that makes you hungry for more. Unfortunately, as with many drugs, the high wears off and you often need more the next time to get the same effect. This explains the enthusiasm you may feel when you start a new project and why the thrill isn’t usually as strong after you’ve been working on it for a while.
The best way to introduce dopamine into your workday isn’t always simple, but it’s remarkably straightforward. It’s probably no coincidence that the things we find most rewarding are usually the things we are good at. So seek out tasks that are already in line with your strengths and then strive to devise ways to keep them both rewarding and new.
N is for Noradrenaline
Of course, “new” can also mean challenging, too. Noradrenaline is released when the brain responds to a potential threat, whether it’s large, like a hungry lion, or small, like an unwelcome e-mail. Tasks that are strange or unfamiliar can also trigger a threat response. When that threat is overwhelming, your brain’s reasoning capabilities shut down. On the other hand, when a task is too simple or routine to elicit even the slightest resistance, your performance can suffer, too. The best performance comes when you strike a balance between routine and hysterical, when you tackle a task that you know you can achieve, but that takes you just a little out of your comfort zone. We call this being “slightly over-challenged.”
Seasoned peak performers recognize the need to stay on their toes. If you are feeling too comfortable or your work has become too easy and predictable, it’s time to seek new adventures. Other people might be satisfied with your performance, but if you’re feeling bored or as though you’re operating on autopilot, it’s important to keep the noradrenaline flowing by challenging yourself. That’s one of the reasons why professional musicians are constantly changing their repertoire even when their audiences might be quite content to hear the standard tunes played over and over again. They need to remain challenged in order to perform at their best and stay focused.
A is for Acetylcholine
Acetylcholine is the neurochemical that sharpens that focus. If the task you tackle is both rewarding and challenging, focus will often come naturally. Yet most of us operate in a world that’s overflowing with distractions. Telephones, e-mails, whatsapps, hybrid working, increased screentime and our colleagues are all competing for our attention. Although mistakenly perceived as a boon to productivity, multitasking is a sworn enemy of peak performance. If you have difficulties resisting the siren song of your electronic devices and focusing your attention on a single task, consider scheduling what we call a “meeting of one.” Set aside dedicated time for yourself, where distractions are actually eliminated instead of simply ignored and where interruptions are as unwelcome as they would be in a high-level meeting.
DNA isn’t destiny
Although you can use tricks and techniques to incrementally raise and lower your levels of dopamine, noradrenaline, and acetylcholine, keep in mind that DNA isn’t destiny. The best way to encourage optimum levels of all three is by playing to your strengths and by working in the right place. If you are constantly feeling either bored or overwhelmed, then you may need to make a fundamental change to the kind of tasks you handle or the way in which you are working. Adjusting your hours, altering your work environment, or reallocating responsibilities with coworkers can all help. With the right work environment and the right mix of these three neurochemicals, it should be easier to achieve the consistently satisfying level of performance that many of us seek but so few of us find.
The importance of Conscious Breaks
The most important thing about DNA is that these are amino acids which we use during the day and are depleted over time. The only way to recharge your DNA is by taking conscious breaks. If you know me and work with me, it is something I encourage everybody to take seriously. If you don’t take conscious breaks, you most probably are exhausting yourself.
A conscious break, is a break where you do nothing but daydreaming, breathing consciously, going for a walk. Nothing that activates your brain, that has to do with a screen. The rule of thumb is that if you do the deep work where you really are challenging your thinking, analytical mind, you can work for about 60-90 minutes on one single task and then your DNA needs a recovery time of about 15-20 minutes. If you do shallow work, like answering emails or texts, you can work for 50-60 minutes and then need a 5–10-minute conscious break.
So, if you want to boost your overall PEAK performance. Take care of your DNA.
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