Q: Mental peak performance?

Question: How do I ensure my mind is capable of its peak performance?

Answer: Meditation and Aerobic Exercise.

Why is this helpful?  In an illness oriented sense, it causes you to have fewer depressive symptoms and fewer ruminative thoughts.  What is rumination?  It’s when you dwell and stew on a topic without doing anything, meaning it’s both ineffective at changing the situation and tends to cause the mind to spiral into anxiety or depression (particularly as we get anxiety at how anxious we are, or depressed at how depressed we are- a self-destructive and self-perpetuating cognitive cycle).

Why aerobic exercise?  While different types of exercise has different physical training outcomes, aerobic exercise seems to reduce stress and therefore boost neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells).  The article (and direct PDF) cites the example of running, but this includes a whole range of interval training, cardio training, and muscle endurance options.  I suspect there are added benefits as well around oxygen and blood- let me explain.  Cardio training has a number benefits, some of these have to do with the heart becoming more efficient at per beat at how much blood it can pump.  Also, your respiration becomes more efficient, allowing you to effectively draw in more oxygen (primarily metabolic, secondarily lung capacity).  This means you’re getting more oxygen into your blood and pumping blood more around your body (as needed).  This all comes back to how these impact brain, which accounts for a third of blood and oxygen consumption.  Our capacity for thinking, fast or slow, very much has a physical basis- oxygen, blood glucose, hydration, salts  and potassium, etc (leaving neurology out for a second).  If your brain is the engine of a car, we’re trying to pump more and richer fuel into it to help it achieve and sustain peak performance on demand and for longer periods of time.  More subtly, this also includes our emotional and mental resilience.  Given its cognitive nature, our ability to experience deeply, be self-awareness and regulate emotion, demonstrate decisiveness amidst stress, display emotional poise and steadiness are all impacted by our blood chemistry which our cognitive capacity.

What do we mean by Meditation?  A good starting meditation (and basic “Root Practice”) should be as simple as possible, and that includes as atheoretical as possible.  There is a lot of evidence based on Jon Kabbat-Zinn’s Body Mindfulness techniques, which uses breath and bodily awareness as a means for meditation.  I’d also suggest looking into Shamatha or Zazen.  Sitting Meditation (shamatha or peaceful abiding meditation) which the 3 elements of a good seat allowing upright posture with open eyes, clearing one’s mind and focusing on the breath, and then returning to our awareness when we notice we’ve drifted into thought.  Also, Zazen Meditation is surprisingly simple and stark (which may actually make it hard to “learn”/practice for beginning meditators).  While various guided meditations/contemplations can then be used for specific purposes later on as needed, you want this root meditation practice to be as simple as possible, so I’d advise against any eyes closed meditation or Vipassana, and against any style using a mantra, tool, or visual- they’re simply not needed nor helpful.  We know that routine meditation practice improves attention/concentration, emotional regulation, reduces stress, and some other effects- I believe empathy for others, patience and slow strategic decision-making, another another couple cognitive-emotion effects (which I’m having a hard time recalling precisely as I write this), though this may depend on the type of meditation (ie. empathy and compassion may only be a by-product of a loving-kindness meditation but not a base sitting meditation).  You’ll sometimes in research here the terms MCBT or MBSR, and these stand for Mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, which further show Mindfulness can be injected into a whole host of other practices and process to enhance outcomes.

As we begin to see the full extent of Leadership by way of the Self-Leadership it demands of us, taking good care of our bodies and minds become prerequisites to helping bring our Best Selves.  They also demand we bring our lives into balance, in seeing that 60-hour work weeks are marginally (hour per hour) inefficient, relationships and meaning are built over the long-term, and maintaining health and engagement requires us to never forget how we live day-to-day.

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