Co-Creating Organisational Transformation

The pursuit of optimal performance

Self-awareness and the art of understanding and mastering the emotions we lead from. » The pursuit of optimal performance

In my early twenties, I competed in track and field athletics. I loved it, and it was both challenging and exhilarating. My primary focus was on peak performance – to improve my time for the 800m. My mantra was ‘work hard for maximum gain’.

Over time my mindset has been shaped by experience.

As a spectator, I vividly recall watching the 2000 Olympic Games, 100m final post-race interview between gold and silver medalists Maurice Greene (USA) and Ato Boldon (Trinidad). Coming into the Olympics, Boldon had beaten Maurice consistently in all their races for the 12 months prior. The interviewer asked Ato, “What happened today that Maurice beat you?” Without hesitation, Alto replied, “Maurice was more relaxed than I was today”. I was shocked! Here were the fastest runners on earth, running flat out, telling us that relaxation was the distinguishing factor that influenced performance.

When I work with leaders dealing with relentless stress, complexity, and change, I routinely focus on their breathing! I know firsthand that our breath is a primary resource to shift from a reactive (stressed) state into optimal functioning.

In his bestselling book Breath, James Nester wraps science around the long-known truth – that we are more effective when relaxed in every area of life. According to research, the average Joe is over-breathing, taking in an average of 18 breaths per minute (higher when stressed), constantly triggering our sympathetic nervous systems (a network of nerves that activates our body’s “fight-or-flight” response). According to Nester, optimal breathing rates should be a staggeringly low five breaths per minute.

Changing our breathing habits is not easy. It begins with awareness. When we want to change something, the trick is to reduce it to a microscopic practice. A small new approach, done consistently over time, can have significant positive impact. New neural pathways light up, and new habits form.

Box Breathing is a simple technique for altering our breathing patterns. Here you inhale slowly for 3-5 seconds, hold for 3-5 seconds, exhale slowly for 3-5 seconds, hold for 3-5 seconds, and then repeat. This technique is well known and used by emergency services personnel to slow the heart rate to respond to emergencies optimally.

Anyone can do Box Breathing (or simple breathing techniques). Do it right now! When starting a meeting, during a stressful interaction, or sitting at the computer. I suggest you don’t make it a big thing; just do it, and the more often, the better.

Will once a day make a difference? It might if you did it consistently, or as one client told me recently, “I started doing it for 1 minute a day, and now I can’t stop it; I think of it everywhere, at home, at work, it’s as if my brain has it on automatic!”

In summary – Our breath directly correlates to optimal performance. Pay attention to it! The deeper and more softly we breathe in, and the longer we exhale -the more slowly the heart beats and calmer we become.

To explore optimal effectiveness for yourself or your team with Acumen Global Partners, contact us today.