Tag Archive | Peak Performance

Optimal Oscillation

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is the optimal oscillation pattern for maintaining peak energy throughout the day?”

“I’ve been experimenting a lot with it.

I metaphorically (and aesthetically) view it as a nested oscillation: oscillation within oscillation within oscillation.

The big oscillation is the circadian rhythm pattern, our natural 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. Sleep is by far the most important variable for managing energy and it’s worth optimizing to perfection.

The medium oscillation is the ultradian rhythm pattern. Our capacity to engage in deep work depends on our capacity to concentrate – to maintain focused attention. This is energy-intensive, and cannot be maintained for longer than 90-120 minutes. This is the optimal duration of a work-block. After every work-block, I take a medium or big break. It is during these breaks when I go for my Parkour walk [<link; medium read]. 

The small oscillation is the pomodoro pattern, which for me is a 30 minute cycle followed by a 10-minute break. During the break, I reflect on the previous time-block and have a consistent movement snack [<link; medium read].

I take my small breaks religiously. They provide feedback. Whenever I miss a break is a sign that I need more rest.”

“When you’re doing creative work, does it not take you out of Flow to take a break every 30 minutes?”

“Creativity is itself an oscillation. Creative insights usually happen during the off-time.

The skill you’re practicing is getting into Flow as fast as possible.”

Quality Oscillation

To turn it on, learn to turn it off. (Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning)

Relaxation is essential for the full expression of power. (George Leonard, Mastery)


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

The quality of the on depends on the quality of the off.

“What does quality oscillation look like?”

100% On / 100% Off.

That means two things:

Total Disengagement (Letting Go)
Total Relaxation (Breathing, Centering, Letting Go, De-Tensing)

“Like a reboot?”

“Or a reset [<link; medium read].”

The Beautiful Practice 6

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is your Beautiful Practice?”

“I journal on it often, trying to get to the essence of it. It’s been through so many iterations.

In its current form, I visualize it using two models:

Brian Johnson’s Big Three model – the three most important areas of one’s life:

Energy
Work
Love

Alan Watkins’s peak performance pyramid-model [<link; medium read]:

Thinking
Feeling
Physiology

People’s brilliance comes from thinking. (Josh Waitzkin)
Thinking is deeply influenced by emotional state.
Emotional state is deeply influenced by physiology.

One modification I made to Brian’s model is replacing Work with Play. 

My Work is my Play.

Energy
Play
Love

Love and Play are the central values of my life. I like to think of them as a twin value – Loving Play, or Playful Love. 

As for Alan’s model, I use it as a framework for visualizing the most important aspects of my Beautiful Practice.

My Beautiful Practice

Peak Performance Checklist

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“If you were to create a peak performance checklist, what would it look like?”

“There’s a lot more peak performance books I want to read, so this can only be a tentative checklist.

The checklist combines two models.

Alan Watkins’s model [<link, medium read]:

Thinking
Feeling
Physiology

People’s brilliance comes from thinking. (Josh Waitzkin)
Feeling (emotions) profoundly influences thinking.
Physiology profoundly influences feeling.

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s model of Full Engagement:

Full engagement requires drawing on 4 separate but related sources of energy: 

Physical – Physically energized
Emotional – Emotionally connected
Mental – Mentally focused
Spiritual – Spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond your immediate self-interest

Thinking in Alan Watkins’s model corresponds to the spiritual and mental energy sources in Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s model.
Feeling corresponds to the emotional energy source.
Physiology corresponds to the physical energy source.

If we were to think of this process as activation, the order matters. So it’s an ordered checklist.

Physical comes first. (Breathing, Posture, and Movement)
Emotional second. (state management, accessing the Beautiful State)
Spiritual third. (Purpose, your Why)
Mental last. (Deep Focus)

We can combine the first three into one ritual, so the final checklist looks like this:

Centering
– Movement
– Beautiful State
– Purpose
Deep Focus

The next step is detailing the specific actions at every stage of the process, stress testing it and, in time, gradually condensing the process.”

Beautiful Systems: (Practical) Oscillation

To turn it on, learn to turn it off. (Josh Waitzkin)


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What do you mean by oscillation? It makes me think of waves, and breathing.”

“I mean a regular rhythmic pattern of alternating between two things.”

“So a dichotomy pattern.”

“Yes. The notation I like to use is ‘A/B’, where A and B are variables.”

“So something like Up/Down, High/Low, In/Out, On/Off?”

“Yes. 

I’m focusing on four areas in particular, where oscillation has practical application: 

Energy
Growth
Learning
Creativity

As concerns Energy, the basic oscillation pattern is On/Off.

On/Off Oscillation => Quality of performance

The optimal oscillation pattern – where peak performance happens – is Full Engagement/Full Disengagement. Deep work, followed by equally deep rest. Being either 100% On, or 100% Off.

Now, 100% Off means total disengagement from the work, not being totally passive. Some activities and settings can help you actively recover energy faster. Things like movement, nature, movement in nature, napping, etc.

So, adding a bit more nuance to it, the optimal oscillation pattern is Deep Focus/Active Recovery.

As concerns Growth, the basic oscillation pattern is Stress/Recovery.

Stress/Recovery Oscillation => Rate of growth

Venturing past the limits of your comfort zone, breaking through a homeostatic plateau, produces a stress response. By taking time to recover afterwards, growth occurs. 

In physical training this process is called supercompensation. Muscles break down after intense training, and given time to rest, they become stronger. 

If stress is not followed by recovery however, if it’s not flushed out of the system, so to speak, it adds up and becomes chronic, which produces negative results.

As concerns Learning, the basic oscillation pattern is Input/Output. Alternating between absorbing knowledge and acting on the knowledge.

Input/Output Oscillation => Quality of learning

That may mean reviewing what you’ve learned (active recall), or testing your understanding by explaining what you’ve learned to yourself (constructive learning), or to others (interactive learning).

That may mean reflecting on an experience afterwards to extract the lessons within (learning cycles).

That may mean taking steps towards implementing what you’ve learned, by engaging in habit design. For instance through the creation of drill-games for practicing specific skills, or the creation of specific behavior patterns (behavior design). 

As concerns Creativity, there’s two basic oscillation patterns: Focused/Diffuse, and Generative/Evaluative

The Focused/Diffuse oscillation refers to the two modes of thinking:
Focused mode, when you’re consciously engaged in a mental activity.
Diffuse mode, when, after disengaging from the activity, the subconscious continues to work on it in the background.

Focused/Diffuse Oscillation => Creative insights

“So it’s the same engagement/disengagement pattern.”

“Yes, it’s the same pattern, used for different ends.

In the energy context, it’s used to recover energy.
In the creativity context, it’s used for making creative leaps.

The Generative/Evaluative pattern refers to the two stages of the creative process: generating creative output, and sifting through it to discover value. We can metaphorically think of it as Expansion/Contraction.

Generative/Evaluative Oscillation => Conversion of creative output into useful output

I call all these oscillation patterns combined, the oscillation system.”

On Peak Performance 3

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“One of my favorite mental models was inspired by one of my favorite books: The One Thing, by Gary Keller.

I called the model One Thing.

I like to express the model as a template [<link; medium read]:

MIx (Most Important x)

MIT (Most Important Thing)
MIQ (Most Important Question)
MIP (Most Important Practice)
MIG (Most Important Goal)
MIR (Most Important Relationship)
MIV (Most Important Value)

MIT (Most Important Thing)

This is the main idea in Gary Keller’s book. For maximum efficiency, you need to focus your efforts on one thing at a time. This applies to both the macro and the micro level.

In Gary Keller’s words:

Time and energy are limited. For maximum output, it takes subtraction not addition. You need to be doing fewer things for more effect. 

[…]

Success is built sequentially, one thing at a time.

MIQ (Most Important Question)

The same thing applies to questions as well. For maximum efficiency, you need to focus on one major question at a time.”

“Reminds me of a quote by Karl Popper:

The best thing that can happen to a human being is to find a problem, to fall in love with that problem, and to live trying to solve that problem, unless another problem even more lovable appears.

“I love that quote.

MIP (Most Important Practice)

I also find it useful to gain clarity on what the most important practice is. The practice that impacts all other practices. The default practice I can automatically turn to whenever my skies are cloudy and I cannot think clearly.”

“What is the most important practice for you?”

“You may recall, we’ve spoken a while ago [<link; medium read] about Alan Watkins’s model of peak performance. 

Thinking
Feeling
Emotions
Physiology

The idea that, in order to be brilliant every single day, not just once in a while, you need to address all levels of the pyramid.

I’ve been playing a lot with the model, to integrate in my own practice. The latest iteration looks like this:

My Peak Performance Map

My most important practice is Presence.

Presence is an essential aspect of my most important goal, which is to have a Beautiful Body/Heart/Mind. This is my vision of Self-Mastery. Endlessly perfecting my capacity to move, feel, and think.

Expressed as archetypal identity-models, I strive to become a Warrior/Saint/Sage.”

On Peak Performance 2

In mental, creative work one can do his best only for two hours at a time on any one subject. But he can work another two hours on another subject with equal freshness. (Walter Russell)

Walter Russell sometimes worked two hours a day on five different creations, thus living five lives at a time.

(Glenn Clark, The Man Who Tapped the Secrets of the Universe)


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I find that quote about Walter Russell (one of my Heroes) deeply inspiring. The idea of working in 2-hour blocks on 5 different subjects, thus ‘living five lives at the same time’.

It powerfully resonated with me in the moment when I read Glenn Clark’s book about Russell, but then I forgot about it. Recently however, while reading Jim Kwik’s book Limitless, a passage struck me:

Make sure you have a block of time set aside to get into flow. When conditions are right, it takes about 15 minutes to achieve a flow state and you don’t really hit your peak for closer to 45 minutes. Clearing out only half an hour or so isn’t going to allow you to accomplish much. Plan to set aside at least 90 minutes, and ideally a full 2 hours. (Jim Kwik, Limitless)

The idea of setting aside time for achieving Flow… ideally 2 hours. It’s the same 2-hour pattern! 

A light bulb went off in my head.”

“What was the insight?”

“As you know, I’m very interested in peak performance. Two things I’m focusing on are designing my life around the Flow state, and optimizing Energy. Flow is the most energy-efficient state we can achieve. 

The insight was to think in flow-blocks instead of work-blocks. 

I divided my WorkPlay [<link; short read] day into 2-hour flow-blocks. Each flow-block I dedicate to a different subject. 

Block 1: Writing (playing with ideas).

Block 2: Learning-block dedicated to Meta-Leaning and Peak Performance.

Block 3: Learning-block dedicated to Web Design (career-related project).

Block 4: Learning-block dedicated to something chosen at random among my many interests – I call it RND Learning.

Block 5: Variable – it can be Parkour, Improv, Connection, Dancing, Drawing, Systems Optimization, etc.

The structure is modular. It changes based on my present focus and circumstances outside my control.

I call this process parallel learning. This ties in with a fundamental principle of learning called Interleaving – the idea of varying and mixing up your learning to maximize engagement and retention.

The game is to achieve maximum efficiency during every block, and to consistently reach 5 blocks, like Walter Russell.”

On Peak Performance

Fragment from imaginary dialogues

“What was the most impactful TED talk you’ve ever watched?”

“This one:

As you know, I’m very interested in peak performance. This talk delivered an essential piece of the puzzle. It was a paradigm shift for me.”

“What were the biggest ideas you got out of it?”

“We all have our moments of brilliance, some more often than others. The video brought into focus the idea of performance-consistency, ‘being brilliant every single day‘, and shows a model of how to achieve that.

The model looks like this:

Thinking
Feeling
Emotion
Physiology

Think of it as a pyramid, with Physiology at the bottom.

Feeling profoundly affects Thinking, and Physiology profoundly affects Feeling.

“Why the distinction between Feeling and Emotion?”

“In this model, Emotion is raw physiological-data constantly being transmitted by our body, whereas Feeling is our receptivity to that data, our capacity to notice, interpret, and process it.

It made me realize I was focusing too much on the top of the pyramid (Thinking), not enough on the bottom (Physiology), and hardly at all on the middle (Feeling/Emotion). The problem is, while under stress, you become ‘lobotomized’, to use Alan’s vivid metaphor. You lose access to your mental-resources. As the saying goes, ‘a chain is as strong as its weakest link’.

It made me realize:

Thinking Mastery requires Physiological Mastery and Emotional Mastery.

This opened a new path for me in an instant.

Another big idea I got out of it is that of coherence.”

“What is coherence?”

“Looking at the heart through the quality/quantity model, the heart-rate – that is, the number of contractions per minute – is the quantity aspect. 

However the heart-rate does not tell the whole story. An essential piece of information is the distribution of the heart-beats within that time-frame, what’s called the Heart Rate Variability (HRV). Representing the heart-beats as an oscillation, you can have an unstable erratic oscillation, or a smooth stable oscillation independently of the heart-rate.” 

“So you can have a stable oscillation with both a high heart-rate and a low heart-rate.”

“Yes. This is the quality aspect. This stable oscillation of the beating of your heart is called coherence. Coherence correlates with all the positive emotions and the experience of Flow.

You can alter HRV and achieve coherence through breathing.

This insight led me to another realization:

Physiological Mastery requires Breathing Mastery.

The video offers a beautiful practical insight on how to achieve coherence through breathing.”

“What’s the insight?”

“Breathing has 12 aspects you can regulate, such as speed, pattern, volume, depth, etc. According to Alan, the most important are three: 
Rhythmicity: fixed in-breath/out-breath ratio (alters HRV)
Smoothness: even flow (alters HRV)
Focus on the Heart (promotes positive emotion)

Alan has an acronym for it:

Breathe
Rhythmically

Evenly
And
Through the
Heart
Everyday

As concerns rhythmicity, the actual ratio doesn’t matter. It can be 5/5 (5 seconds breathing in, 5 seconds breathing out), 6/6, 6/7, or any other ratio as long as it stays the same.

I love the idea of focusing on the Heart with every breath. I’m working on turning every breath into a beautiful centering-moment.

The most important Life-System

Every man is the builder of a temple called his body. (Henry David Thoreau)


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Self-Actualization can be seen in many ways.”

“What’s one of your favorites?”

“Self-Actualization as systems creation and optimization.”

“What’s the most important system of your life?”

“Beautiful question.

I’d say, the Mind/Body.

The Mind/Body is a meta-system, which impacts ALL other systems of your life.

“I was half-expecting you to only say your Mind.”

“That’s what Dani-who-I-was would have said. I now see the Mind and the Body as one inseparable unit. I’d go so far as to rewrite Henry David Thoreau’s quote.

Every man is the builder of a temple called his Mind/Body.”

“Why Mind/Body and not Body/Mind?”

“I actually use both, depending on what I want to emphasize. This is another instance and application of concept-stacking [<link; short].

The model is fundamentally practical. Those who focus only on the Mind are doing themselves a disservice. They’re out of balance.

On another level, as you know, I’m in pursuit of peak performance. One of my Soul Quests is to become a World-class Thinker [<link; medium]. While exploring the how of it, I’ve reached a surprising realization:

To become a World-class Thinker I must become a World-class Athlete.

I’m doing just that.”

Thinker 2

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

I want to be a World-class Thinker.

“What does that mean? Are you thinking in competitive terms?”

“Not at all. I’m thinking in ‘so good they can’t ignore you’ terms.

The beautiful thing about asking a question is that your mind starts working on it in the background. You’re initiating a creative process. I call this question-priming.

The bigger the question (big-questions), the longer and wider the process. I call this macro-priming.”

“By ‘longer’ I presume you mean temporally.”

“Yes. If the question is big enough, it can be a lifetime process. This can be used strategically and artfully to give your life direction. It’s akin to setting goals you can’t achieve. They’re not a destination, but a compass, a guide to action and thought. That’s what my Soul Quests [<link; long] are.”

“But what do you mean by ‘wider’?”

“I mean wider in scope. Exploring a wider possibility range. Notice the difference between these two statements:

I want to be a better Thinker.
I want to be a World-class Thinker.

The former aims for simply good enough.
The latter aims for nothing short of peak performance, exploring the limits of human potential.

The latter leads you to ask very different questions than the former.”

“Why do you want to become a World-class Thinker?”

I LOVE thinking.

For me it’s an exquisite delight. Why that is has to do with my past.

Most of my life I lived in my own head. I was disembodied, and largely disconnected from reality. I’d jokingly written a while ago that, if I were to visually represent what the world looked like for me back then, it would be mostly empty space, and attractive women. This is something I’m still recovering from. By focusing too much on one system of my life, I’ve neglected other important life systems.

In hindsight however, despite the imbalance, and because of it, without realizing it, I was honing my thinking skills.

I’ve gotten good it.

Aimless and inefficient though it was, it was my Path, which led me to where I am today, and I’m grateful for it.”