Psychology of Peak Performance in Athletics and Everyday Life
to the Journal By Henry D. Gerson, MD
recent years, elite American athletes have appreciated more and more the
importance of mental preparedness and the key role it plays in achieving peak
performance. Top European athletes have long embraced mental fitness as an
integral part of athletic training and now the concept is catching on in the US
are two main issues in preparing mentally for peak performance. The first is
accessing and strengthening a peak mental state for performance conditions. The
second is developing patterns of excellence in practice and day-to-day living that
support vitality and consistent performance.
for mental preparedness
are steps you can take to help yourself prepare for a peak athletic or artistic
performance or a peak performance in any area of work and personal life. The
process involves remembering a time when you delivered your best prior performance
and then committing details of it to memory. You should make a mental note of
the features of the experience. Athletes often describe these experiences
as having a sense of timelessness, immense focus and “tunnel vision” on the
task at hand, freedom from distracting thoughts, a sense of flow and sureness,
and even an absence of ego. Recollecting the precise details of that peak
state makes it more familiar.
you anticipate your next event or opportunity for peak performance, mentally
rehearse and amplify the qualities of your last peak performance. This kind of
recall, rehearsal and planning is related to meditation, and self-hypnosis, and
can be very effective in helping you duplicate an outstanding performance
athletes often devote the same energy and focus to practice as they do to
competition. Similarly, if we give full attention to our day-to-day
activities and find ways to make them optimally challenging, we can create
daily opportunities for access to the peak performance state. If an activity
is too easy we get bored, if it’s too difficult we get anxious, but if it is at
the right level to stretch our capabilities, we practice for our best performance.
awareness in action is also vital to peak performance. Awareness is a broad
processing of all that is around you. It’s not like what we refer to as
“thinking.” In the peak state your responses to what’s happening around you
are spontaneous, coordinated and appropriate, and happen faster than
conventional “thought.” When the situation demands you can switch to “normal
thinking,” and solve a specific problem, but then you return to open awareness.
Concentration training can help you be more familiar with the difference
between heightened open awareness and normal thought, enabling you to optimize
their balance for every situation.
is synonymous with peak performance in daily living. One key to vitality is
connecting your daily activities to some higher core beliefs or a purpose you
identify with. Connecting the what/where/when/and why of the things you do to
the who-you-want-to-be as a person fosters more consistency in your performance
and less conflict in your life. We’ve all read in the news about star athletes
who struggle after achieving sudden fame and fortune: they maintain good
performance in their game but become erratic and undisciplined in their
behavior off the field. Vital living involves more integration between the
athlete’s on-field action and day to day life.
matter what our vocation, striving for peak performance can enrich our lives. And
by taking the steps of remembering and rehearsing peak states, and connecting
our daily activities to our core beliefs, we can best realize our potential for
excellence and vitality.
Gerson is a board certified in psychiatrist and the Medical Director of
Behavioral Services at Cayuga Medical Center. He has a special interest in exercise
for mental wellness.