Peak Performance

Andrea Maloney-Schara, LCSWA

Motivated or high functioning people are different. Ask these people why they strive and many reasons unfold. Some report success as a compensation for early difficulties. Many others report that they seem to have been born with a gift and were given encouragement and resources to succeed. External forces differ. It is clear that in one area there is agreement. An internal desire to do well is the largest single common thread that signifies a potential high achiever. Those with this internal desire have learned to reflect on correcting past actions. EEG Neurofeedback or Alpha Training is one way to increase the ability to perform at a higher level. Alpha re-tunes the mind by calming the body and allowing the mind to be free.

One’s mind is creating neural pathways by simple repeated thoughts and or actions. Where are your thoughts leading you? How disciplined are any of us about where our minds or bodies are pointing? WRAP is a meme that serves as a reminder to keep positive energy surroundings one’s goals.

The WRAP formula signifies the importance of wanting (goals), remembering the importance of attitude and of course persistence.

Wanting one’s goals while keeping a positive attitude about trying and often failing is easy to claim and hard to live. Failure might mean you learned but perhaps it hurt. Remembering this double-edged sword is useful. Now you know more about where to bend and where to stand. Reflections help one to mentally practice for the future. Those who are persistence know about the long wait. It is no big deal. Those willing to thoughtfully experiment can often achieve big results.

Trial and error learning increases the ability to perform well above expectations. In fact being able to be vulnerable and make mistakes by trying may be one of the hallmarks for later success in life. This is due to our species history of surveying under-charging conditions. There has to be failure. Again, no big deal, our brains are designed for survival. Survivors are good at guessing in an uncertain world.

Many books have been written concerning attitudes and the importance of beliefs in performance. In addition to these older ideas Family Systems Theory offers a few new ideas. Those interested in peak performance have to be able to withstand the winds of praise and blame in important relationships. The ability to manage self in relationships is crucial to performance. Therefore the ability to continually separate out a more mature self from relationships feedback is an ongoing challenge.

There are at least four steps involve in the process of separating out a more distinct and hopefully more mature self. If people can be clear about these four steps there is more reason to believe that the chances for success have increased exponentially. Preparing the brain for action involves integrating old feelings of hesitation or fear and memories of past failures into the new plans that one wishes to achieve. The more one prepares the better the brain is prepared to change. Preparation is about the same thing as doing as far as the firing of brain cells is concerned. Think it and it is happening at least at a neuronal level.

  1. Goals and Costs: Being clear within oneself about what one wants to accomplish. To be clear it is often helpful to outline the cost and benefits of the actions. Change coast people. It is good to try and predict how it will cost you or your loved ones. You might not be right but guessing prepares you for uncertainty.
  2. The Action Step: One has to communicate these written down goals to the larger system by an action. Talk is not enough and can be counter productive. It is best to keep important ideas to yourself until you are prepared to act. If you do need feedback then you are probably just at an earlier stage of preparation. The main idea is the actions must be taken for you not to benefit or do something for or to others.
  3. Recognize the System: People are reacting to one another constantly. Non verbal monitoring is ongoing when people are bound together. It can be family ties; work issues or social causes but we need one another so there will always be reactivity. Reactivity simply shows up. When one changes the others notice and will react in some negative way. This is the signal that acknowledges that the system has changed. It has to happen. The degree of reactivity tells you what type of system you are dealing with. If it is a highly over-involved system and people are very dependent on one another for agreement then the negative reactions may be huge to any small change.
  4. The System Reorganizes: If the one who sets a goal is willing to wait out the reactivity without falling into a counter reaction, then real changes might work their way through the system. Perhaps a good metaphor would be of an orchestra in which a new instrument is integrated into the group. Everyone shifts just slightly to make way. If the new instrument has a lead part then this may put more stress on the others to harmonize. In fact it may take longer for each person to tune up before the whole group can again play in some degree of harmony.

Please see the article Theoretical Implications of Neurofeedback Integrating Bowen Theory by Andrea Maloney- Schara,LCSWA for more details on EEG Neurofeedback and references.

THE E2 AND ALPHA TRAINING

The E2 is a small portable alpha trainer available for home training.

People can and have used Alpha training in order to define goals, to manage the reactivity in important relationships, or to become more intellectually or physically flexible.

Alpha training is useful to reflect on one’s internal goals and to devise a plan to achieve goals. It takes time by oneself to find one’s true goals. There are many expectations and pressures to perform that are put on each of us. These outside pressures can mask our internal goals.

The Training Process: Initially a three generation family history is taken to look at patterns and process in the larger system. Secondly an EEG baseline is used to gather information on the brain wave patterns during focused attention states. There are two types of focused attention one is internal and the other external. Both are important. One can train for eyes open focused attention states and for eyes closed internal attention states. Each base line is done for five minutes. The feedback is visual and auditory. Real time feedback allows the brain to learn at lighting fast speeds. It allows one to go to different states of consciousness immediately. This then gives people an experience.

Experience is the best teacher. One can talk all day about different mental states and not create the mental state in self or in another person. However computer driven, real time feedback guides the individuals into different states of mental alertness.

Guidelines for using the E2.

The feedback is provided by the activation of the leads, which are attached to the person and the E2trainer. A blue band is provided to keep the rear lead in place. The blue ear clips go on the outside of the ears and the long thin blue piece is inserted under the headband. One needs only a cup of warm water with a teaspoon of salt to activate the leads. Alpha occurs naturally when one closes their eyes. The occipital lobe, in the back of the head, is the storehouse for visual neurons. It is also right above the cerebellum and therefore connects the neural substrates for movement and vision. This is one well-developed hypothesis concerning why one trains at this particular spot. Alpha waves are far more dominant in the rear than in the front of the brain. In fact alpha in the left frontal lobe has been reported to be associated with depression.

On the E2 trainer box there is a power on switch, and another switch to test the electrode connections to see if a signal is there. All training takes place at 10 Hz, which is called the frequency. This is the midline for alpha and has often been associated with feelings of well being and heightened thinking states. The frequency is set at 10 Hz. Then the other dial is called the threshold. This is the number that will vary over the training time.

The goal is to increase the strength and therefore the height of the alpha waves. Strength is noted by an increase in the threshold. To train you need at least a 50% reward for producing the alpha. To begin the training one can put the threshold at 0 just to make sure that there is adequate feedback when one closed their eyes. Gradually the threshold can be raised to a point where one can hear 50% positive feedback. The noise is telling the person that they are doing well and that the 10 alpha is occurring. If one were to get tired and go to sleep the feedback would discontinue. The lack of noise often wakes people up just as though someone had yelled at them. Once the feedback is judged to be adequate one can get onto the business of letting go and watching the development of an internal focus.

There are many relaxation techniques to help establish success. Breathing is a central technique in many meditative traditions. There are other techniques that have been developed to help people get into and stay in the “zone” to enhance performance. Many of these techniques are based on breathing and watching physical sensations. Eventually the body becomes more important than the mind. At least for a few minutes each day the mind is lead by the calm body. Any technique that has been used in the past may be used again. The machine simply reinforces that one is in and can maintain a deeply relaxed state.

The experience with the alpha trainer usually takes about 30 minutes per day. The training process requires that one keep a record of the date and the length of the time of the training, the frequency number and how the time was experienced. Goals can also be tracked and measured.

Contact with the Coach:

People who are high achievers have been able to work this type of program with minimal contact. In fact, once a mouth contact is all that is suggested. Some people are still consulting to other therapist and this is also fine. Neurofeedback is considered and adjunct to many types of therapy. However there are also people who are not in any type of therapy who are just interested in maximizing potential. This training program is able to fit with many different types of people.

The individual commits to charting progress and maintains monthly contact. The expectation is that the individual will complete 50 hours of training over the course of several months. A few people are able to maintain thirty minutes of practice daily while others begin at ten or fifteen minutes several times a week. Each person is unique.

EXAMPLES:

The following are a few descriptions of issues encountered from the lives of people who have tried and liked the alpha experience. Alpha is a natural state and can be enhanced with training. It can promote a calmer body which is an anchor for mental ability to reflect more neutrally on one’s thinking and behavior. Increased awareness can also produce feelings of vulnerability during the process. Overall it takes discipline to self regulate.

Example 1

Mrs. B is an organizational consultant. Her business is at a point where more demands are being made on her time and energy. Too much business is being sent her way. Now, she must decide how to expand her business and be reasonable about the cost to her family and life style. More business will involve more travel and time away from home. Her clients have positive things to say about her and her business has been growing for some time in an orderly way. Her family says its up to her. Being aware of her own desire to grow and develop she has begun consulting and has trained with a home unit for six weeks. Family History: Married for thirty years she has raised has three children. She went to school to receive an advanced degree when her children were in high school. Now they have moved away from home. The oldest daughter is married the other two are single and working. They all live in cities about an hour or two away. Her husband runs a successful family farm. He is an only child and both his parents have died in the last four years. The three generational diagram shows that she is an oldest daughter with a sister and a youngest brother. Her mother died several years ago and her father remarried. The brother has been the one with the majority of challenges in her nuclear family. She has a fair knowledge of her grandparents and their siblings and maintains contact with a few people in her extended family. The following letter describes her process.

Dear Andrea,

There are a lot of questions – here are some facts. I was using the E2- every day for 20-30min. After you left the area, Oct.15th. I practiced for the next three weeks. Then I felt that I was changing too fast and only practiced several times the next week. During this time I observe a lot of changes. Breathing and posture were more important to me. The outside world seemed more alive. I notice the birds singing loudly. Was my hearing changing? It was autumn and the farm animals were taken in to be slain. For the first time I face this experience with my body.

I saw death and blood at a symbolic level. I realized in some deep way the interdependence of life. I was very aware of the feeding and taking care of the animals and what they were in turn giving to my family and me. I can not explain this to others. People will think that I am becoming too different. Being “one with nature” has a different meaning to me but its too difficult to talk about with others about this. I though about talking to my husband and though it would be too difficult.

I notice the little things in my business and in my marriage. This is all occurring in a completely new way. There was pain and there was promise. I was not mad or sad. I could see both sides in my mind’s eye with my body calm. It was still painful to see a new truth but my body was calmer and I did not get upset with others about what I had understood. There are a lot of things that fit into this different way of seeing life. So I will try and outline the important ones.

I am a part of the system even though I am trying to be a thoughtful, more neutral person I am usually reacting to what I do not like. Judgment is everywhere. The training helped me see how I was involved in side taking. In consulting to organizations I could see how the other people related to me without reacting as much to the difficulties they faced. So far the people who hire me has not noticed the subtle changes.

At a family level, I had a long talk with my father about becoming too distant from his family. I may have bugged him about it. He decided to take a trip with me to reconnected with one of his family. When we arrived he was primed with memories. All of us talked about the neglect of one another that seemed somehow just a part of life. We also talked about the values of our family and the desire to be in better touch. On the way home I was able to talk about old hurts. In other words I let some of the old ghosts out with my father. It was relatively easy to do, as I had thought about some of this in my training time.

This episode with my father then enabled me to talk to my husband. He was slightly interested in it as he cares for my father. Then I slipped in a comment about our distance. He ended the conversation and returned to the barn. I suppose that made me aware of how cautious I am with my husband. Perhaps I am spooking him or is it him me? Now I am more aware of my own behavior and life.

The first conclusion is that I have to think carefully before I act differently but I want to go on with my life and not force others to change or to upset them too much.

The issue with my husband is like my work. How should I go to a new level of complexity? He and I have the empty nest. We have our work. At first I was ashamed that I had not seen how this has allowed us to become so distant from one another. Now I have faced the fact that I play a central part in my husband not being able to be reasonable about his work hours. Perhaps I will know the answer later. For now I have to take a different step to face my own fear and role in this. To come to this point seems so easy. I can tell you it has not been so. I still have to face the reality that my life is dependent on me. I don’t know what my life will be, but I am more prepared to face the uncertainty. So you see I have had help from the E2, but it has also causes me pain. Sometimes I wonder if it will lead me to a better life? What I do know is that this process has lead me to a more honest and reality oriented point. I hope that it is OK that I am using the machine a bit less than in the first month.

Dear B.

Whenever the experience of becoming more aware starts to intensify negative feeling states, then, as you did, it is probably a good clue that you can cut back till you are more comfortable. Some people just say it is a discipline and keep going. That is OK for them just as your decision is OK for you.

The same sort of thing can happen to people who have back pain. They have been tense for so long that they have lost the feeling in the muscles. Then when they begin to relax the blood flows into that area again. When the feelings start to come back they are often experienced as pain. That is no reason to quit or to try harder it is simply part of the growing respect for your body and brain.

As you gradually integrate these feeling states you will have less pain and be able to make more thoughtful decisions. Overall the more there is an acceptance of the past the more energy that is available to live in the present.

It appears that seasonal change is spreading through out your family. There have been quite a few losses in your families and perhaps people have recovered enough to go on and reestablish contact with those they had no time for before. This new contact with your father’s family may indicate that the changes were in effect before you began to train with the machine. In addition to the family process you are in a position to see how to be useful to your dad as he begins to reconnect to important people in his family. I am sure that you will benefit from his effort. You are paying a price to drive him here and there and so is he. Since you are both willing to pay the price to listen to one another there is much that will be gained. This does not mean that life will be all sunshine, after all either he or you can still take a few wrong turns. But overall you are slowing down the tendency for people to cut off from one another over the generations and this is to the long term good for the future of your family.

I do not know your husband’s side of the story. I hear you say that you can see more of the distance between the two of you. Therefore I would try and address the tension that you have in as funny and as un-uptight a way as I could. I do remember that his parents both recently died and he may still be in some emotional thing with that experience. In addition you are part of the “change” generation. Parents disappearing at one end and children leaving home at the other. Things do not remain static in nature.

How to talk to him seems to be your central question. I am for using dreams as a communication tool when you are ready. If you dream about his parents let him know and see what he says about them. If one does not know what is going on then one just has to guess. Distant marriages spawn guessing. Most of the time it goes underground. The marital ground can get very soggy and it’s hard to plant new ideas. If you verbalize the guess then there is a greater ability to drain the land and plant the seeds. As you said so well, people do not talk, as they fear upsetting the other or themselves. As long as you do not insist that your guess is right he may be able to talk with you for a minute of so. That is plenty to start. A spark can start a forest fire. Therefore I would say keep going without reacting to his signals but be gentle with your guesses. One guess a week is probably OK in a distant marriage.

In conclusion it appears that you are doing better in the midst of seeing an awful lot of what has been hidden. As a result there is a certain longing for more certainty. Small price to pay. One always pays a price but it is not often that one faces their life.

All the best to you and yours too. Andrea

Example 2

Mrs. C. is a 33-year-old woman who works on Wall Street and was interested in training to be a marathon runner. She has been interested in Peak Performance and stress reduction. The new findings on the brain and biochemistry are very exciting to her and she has an intellectual understanding of how this fits into what she knows about meditation. From an early age has known that she likes setting and achieving goals and that she also has the classic overachiever response. Nothing is ever good enough. Being self-critical has not helped her achieve goals but she now reports this as the chief drain on her energy.

High achievers generally are good at stating goals; however if one is running on too much beta in the brain there may be a lack of alpha which enable the individual to be aware and receptive to the environment. The level of stress in trying to achieve is not counterbalance by a lack of tension in performance. One can achieve but it is costly.

It was simple for Mrs. C to put out four mental goals and one physical goal. Overall the idea is that she was ready to go through a big change, physically and mentally.

Her first goal is to have more overall awareness of the world around her. She says that she is being rewarded for tunnel vision and wants to broaden her horizons. The second goal is to increase positives self-talk. The negative mental thought processes are wearing her down. This alone she believes could conserve her energy. The third goal is to increase her sense of humor. The fourth is to understand her family relationships without being critical. She would like to use the E2 to help her with these mental goals. She was also curious if the E2 might help her physical performance during the marathon training.

Mrs. C used the E2 for four weeks, five times a week. She practiced with eyes open and eyes closed. She reported that her exercise routine was easier and that she was able to keep her weight steady and that she was sleeping better. In addition she noticed that she was more engaged with people at work and was less critical of herself. She had an insight in watching her Dad deal with stress and seeing that he was using some of her own methods. This made her realize that it could be a family trait and perhaps unlearnable. At least she was not so critical of her self when she saw the same behavior in others.

Her next challenge came from her husband’s family. His parents came to stay for a long weekend and she became focused on her mother-in-law. This is a woman who seemed to have a gift for saying the wrong thing and doing the wrong thing and not wanting to accept responsibility. Her husband allows his mother to go on an on and then complain to her about his mother. It made it hard to watch this mother son interaction and in addition she feels unsure as to how to handle her emotional reactivity to this ongoing drama. She realized that she was hooked into being critical of what was essentially a stressful situation. Perhaps this was the best they could do and if she was critical mentally she was adding another layer of difficulty to the challenge her husband faced with his Mom. After talking this over she decided to let her husband handle his mother as best he could and give him a pat on the back for whatever he could achieve. The idea came to her as she recognized the importance of positive feedback in learning this new skill. The E 2 is always set to give 50% positive feedback for learning and he said she was giving her husband nothing but negative feedback so how could he learn? Now she was a bit freer to concentrate on her training for the marathon as it was only two weeks away. She was able to visualize herself running at a faster pace and this seemed to help her performance.

Although she finished the marathon in a better time during the recovery periods she found herself lapsing back into self-criticism. She thought she could have done better. She saw this judgment loop coming back into her mind and found that it was difficult to continue training on the E2 for the first few days after the race. She had lost a bit of forward momentum and now had to regain her centered space. Two weeks later the time changed to eastern standard and she had to up an hour earlier for work. This seems to also throw off her ability to practice with the E2.

Of course there were other stressors. Her brother announced plans to marry within six weeks. Her parents were in the midst of selling the old family home and moving to another state. In her opinion there was too much stress for her to continue the training until after the wedding. Her comment was that she saw the relationship between the patterns of neuronal wiring in her brain that was similar to the habit patterns in her family. She could see relationships from a better perspective but did not have enough of a sense of humor right now to get through all of the family changes. Her brain would just have to wait a bit longer to undergo more self-directed change. Her fall back position is to listen to audio tapes and continue to learn to reduce tension. This is also a common experience for people. Alpha makes people more relaxed and more receptive to the tension and confusion around them so one has to weigh the cost benefit ratio of change and go at the pace that is comfortable for each individual. Each brain is different and so one must learn to set there own pace. In this case I am sure there will be more to report at a later time.

Example 3

Letter from D.

Dear Andrea,

This is work! It is a new way of seeing how much time I spend thinking about other stuff, other people, etc.etc. and how hard it is to focus on self. It requires an awful lot of discipline — for me, anyway. But well into my third week, I think I’m walking straighter, sleeping less, feeling more alert and paying more attention to me, my reactions and my contributions (for good or for bad, purposeful or inadvertent) to given situations.

It seems to offer a new way of understanding Bowen Theory’s notion of focusing on self and defining a self for self, rather than being defined by the environment or relationships.

Very interesting. Hope you are doing well,

Regards, D

Self -Regulation and Stress Reductions, Some Commonly Used Suggestions

by Andrea Maloney-Schara, LCSA

Once a day find 10 minutes without interruption to have time for yourself. This can also be done before bed. When you are in a comfortable position place your hands on your belly where deep breathing originates. Watching breathing is the most important technique in many meditative traditions. Please notice the warm feeling of your hands on your belly then make sure that the top hand can move.

Close eyes and recall other feelings of relaxation. Experience the feeling of your hand or fingers floating up. Notice that the power of the mind is producing these feelings. Say to yourself something like; “I am taking 3 slow breaths to allow the floating feeling to spread throughout my body.” Count slowly to allow your body to relax until you are in a very calm state. Notice the warmth and floating feelings spread first to your hands, then arms, shoulders, neck, jaw, eyes, forehead, face, and then begin to go back down to chest, your upper back, lower back, hips, legs to knees, knees to feet and finally toes.

Now let all the tension go. Some people visualize the tension going out of the body.

If there are areas that are tense go back to those areas and breath into tense areas.

Remind your self that your mind knows how to relax and let go and that when your body is calm your mind is strong and ready for new ideas. Suggest the goals you want to accomplish what you want to feel or experience the relaxation effect; see it happening in your mind’s eye. Then suggest that at count of 5 you will be fully awake. Count back from 5, at count of 2 eyes will open and you will be fully awake and alert, feeling good refreshed and ready for the day. If you do this in the evening before bed just suggest that after the “seeding” and seeing the goals accomplished you will drift off to a deep sleep and awake refreshed.

If you want to remember your dreams you may also include that suggestion at the beginning of the relaxation. Please keep a bit of paper by your bed if you are interested in remembering your dreams. Just by associating ideas to your dreams you may understand more about how your mind works. There is no one right way to analyze dreams. Dreams are mostly a function of memory storage and emotions. If you have issues in your dreams you can rework them in the early morning light as you wish the dream to be.

Organizational or individual consultation is available.

For individual times please contact by E-mail: ARMS711@aol.com
Or call Andrea Maloney-Schara,LSWA 202-965-0730

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