4.4 Peak Performance

Peak performance is another activity for which alpha brain waves are helpful. Recently sports scientists have shown that increases of alpha brain waves (often in the left side of the brain) precede peak performance. For example, Dr. Mark Hatfield has measured EEG activity in expert marksmen. He found that just before an expert
shooter pulls the trigger, the brain’s left side shows a big burst of alpha waves. Similar results have been found in expert golfers as they putt, archers releasing an arrow, and basketball players shooting a free-throw. Some experts might be born with this alpha surging ability, but it can be trained in several different ways if not inborn. One way is the old fashioned way of long, hard practice. The new way is to train the desired brain activity directly with EEG feedback.

Dr. Dan Landers did an EEG measurement study of novice archers undergoing a 15-week training course in archery. He did not give any EEG feedback. He just recorded EEGs over time while the students got traditional instruction in archery. He found that as the archers’ skills improved (if they improved), they changed the brain wave patterns they displayed during shooting. Toward the end of the training, the archers had improved their scores by more than 60%, and they had begun to show the same burst of alpha waves right before a shot that researchers had found in the elite archers. When Landers took the next logical step of providing EEG feedback training, he found that training the proper pattern was essential. EEG feedback on one pattern could help archers shoot significantly better, but training on a different pattern caused them to shoot far worse. Once again, we see that the key is knowing the brain’s highly detailed patterns for any given skill or activity and then giving feedback on that pattern to enhance the performance that goes along with those brain waves.

So we can see that one key difference between novice and elite athletes is in their brain waves. Just before his best free throws, an elite basketball player will produce a burst of alpha waves, especially on the left side of her/ his brain. Just before their best strokes, elite golfers will produce a burst of alpha waves. Just before their best shots, elite marksmen and archers will produce a burst of alpha waves. Novice and intermediate athletes do not show this alpha brain wave pattern. With proper brain wave feedback training, they can easily learn to produce this alpha wave pattern that codes for excellence and peak performance.

4.4.1 The Zone

At one point, I was on an ESPN show called The Best of Sportsline. Once a year, they have a 90-minute show where they run clips of the year’s best athletic performances. At the end of the show, I was able to talk to viewers about the phenomena known as ‘the zone,’ also known in psychology as ‘flow.’ That’s when performance or creativity is at its peak, and everything clicks. Your skills – physical or intellectual, are perfectly suited to the challenge at hand, and everything feels harmonious, unified, and effortless. Neurological studies of people who are in the zone or the flow show that the brain expends less energy during these times than when wrestling with a problem. That’s because the brain’s parts – the neural connections – that are the most relevant become active, and the other parts of the brain stay out of the way. In states of anxiety or confusion, the opposite occurs, and brain activity is less coherent and confused.

Peak performance in athletics is often about individuals and teams going into the zone, getting into the flow. In his biography, basketball star Bill Russell describes those moments as ones of nearly supernatural intuition. ‘It was almost as though we were playing in slow motion. I could almost sense how the next play would develop during those spells, and the next shot would be taken. Even before the other team brought the ball in-bounds, I could feel it so keenly that I’d want to shout to my teammates, ’It’s coming there!’ – except that I knew everything would change if I did.’

I remember one basketball player who said, ‘You know when you’re in the zone because everything you throw up ends up going in.’ Another example was a mediocre baseball player who, during one of the World Series games, got into the zone and had this incredibly wonderful hitting streak. Once, a San Francisco 49er receiver was asked what he thought as he ran down the field for a 98-yard touchdown return. He replied, ‘I wasn’t thinking about anything. I was the return.’ Remember, alpha isn’t what you think. Athletes know that the zone is a non-rational, egoless state, as indicated by the fact that they clearly know they can’t think and be in the zone simultaneously.

Kenneth Kraft, a Buddhist scholar at Lehigh University, says, ‘In Zen, the word ’mind’ is also a symbol for the universe’s consciousness itself. In fact, the mind of the individual and the universe’s mind is regarded ultimately as one. So by emptying oneself of one’s smaller, individual mind, and by losing the intense self-consciousness, we can tap into this larger, more creative mind.’ Losing self-consciousness is part of taming the ego, leading to an enhanced alpha state, further explored in Chapter 8, Uncovering the Authentic Self.

The art of smart thinking is an art and a craft in which you learn how to suspend your rational, intellectual processes, knowing that when you do, a doorway will open to a wider and deeper consciousness than the intellect can ever know. Only by suspending the intellect and its evaluative and comparison processes can you open that wonderful doorway to truly Smart Thinking.

Merging is another hallmark of the high alpha state, and merging with the activity at hand is a basic characteristic of the flow or zone state. As Kenneth Kraft says, ‘It is taught in Zen that one acts so completely that one loses oneself in the doing of it.’ Again, losing oneself is a hallmark of the egoless state of mind required for a high alpha, which fosters high alpha.

In the zone or the flow, the activity is done in a no-minded state. That is not an unconscious state, but a laser-sharp awareness where you are not distracted by
the mind’s usual chatter. ‘No-mindedness means not having the mind filled with random thoughts, like, ’Does this calligraphy look right? Should that stroke go there or here? It’s just doing. Just the stroke,’ Kraft explains. Remember, alpha isn’t what you think.

To summarize, peak performance is achieved by a high alpha brain wave state that is attained by losing oneself, merging with the activity, and becoming ‘no-minded.’
– an egoless state of be-ing. Exceptional athletes and performers have the natural ability to reach the zone, and it can be trained with proper brain wave neurofeedback.

4.4.2 Green Berets - The Ultimate Peak Performers

To summarize, peak performance is achieved by a high alpha brain wave state that is attained by losing oneself, merging with the activity, and becoming ‘no-minded.’
– an egoless state of being. Exceptional athletes and performers have the natural ability to reach the zone, and it can be trained with proper brain wave neurofeedback.

Superstar athletes certainly exemplify peak performance. However, many athletes have an off-season where training goals become a lower priority, and they may skip practice, overeat, and even drink alcohol and do drugs. By contrast, US Army Special Forces have no offseason, and their training goals are always a priority. Green Berets in training for classified missions require the highest possible mental and physical fitness. As a team, their seamless integration is necessary to achieve mission objectives and survive and remain functional under the most extreme and challenging conditions.

In the mid-1980s, I traveled to a secret Army base where Green Beret Special Forces troops were being trained. There I installed and set up the Biocybernaut equipment for neurofeedback training and trained the military staff who would run and oversee the Biocybernaut brain wave training at this Army base. The Green Berets had been very tough on outside trainers and consultants who had already come in on the larger performance enhancement project. However, they were very receptive to my presentation about the science of brain wave feedback I gave before describing the Biocybernaut brain wave training program they were going to experience.

I did alpha baseline recordings on each one of them before they had any alpha feedback training. In fact, after their EEG baseline recordings and before the
alpha feedback training started, all 24 soldiers went on a month-long meditation retreat. (Retreat is a bad word in the Army, so it was called a ‘meditation encampment.’) During this retreat, I gave instructions for construction and design modifications in the building that would be the brain wave training center on the base. Many of the action-oriented soldiers had a horrible experience of the meditation encampment, which they experienced as unpleasant and stressful. In fact, many of them felt the meditation was useless- a complete waste.

The Green Berets are action-oriented guys, and just sitting there doing nothing and not getting any feedback made some of them frustrated and even angry. Some of the soldiers became disruptive to the point of brawling with each other during that meditation encampment. Fights broke out among those who said, ‘This is BS, and I’m out of here,’ and others of the troops who wanted to give the meditation process a chance. When they returned from this meditation encampment, I could see that this experience was highly stressful because I could compare their EEG baselines taken just before and after the encampment. Astonishingly these EEG records showed large reductions of EEG alpha activity from before to after the meditation encampment. This big alpha reduction is consistent with intense stress. So it was clear that a month of meditation lowered the alpha waves of these US Army Green Berets. In contrast, their subsequent seven-day intensive alpha training was a very positive experience, with both 12-man teams showing large increases in alpha activity.

These elite soldiers had not been very cooperative with some of the previous performance enhancement experts who had been brought in to enhance their training. In fact, I was warned by some of their officers that they had chewed up and spit out some of those previous performance coaches. However, these Special Forces soldiers immediately respected my detailed descriptions of the Biocybernaut brain wave feedback training, and they understood it as being both scientific and objective, which they liked. Since they were intensely conditioned toward self-improvement and continuous training for their missions, they welcomed the Biocybernaut intensive form of brain wave neurofeedback. They even coined their own terms for important steps in the process, such as ‘brain lock’ to describe the non-alpha state of ego
dominance in which their progress would be blocked. This group was unparalleled in their willingness to toss out a belief or an attitude, or a mental state that was shown
to interfere with their alpha production.

The Green Berets had an ethos of training that made them superior to even professional athletes, who often get lazy in their offseason. Green Berets never have an ‘offseason,’ and they begin each day with a commitment to being better in some mission-related way at the end of each day than they were at the beginning of the day. Although these soldiers objected so strongly to instructions to meditate in a month-long meditation encampment that they came to brawling with each other, they took to the Biocybernaut Alpha One Training like ducks to water,- Like Green Berets to alpha.

On their voluntary days, fully two-thirds chose to do additional alpha feedback training, finding that it provided significant value to them personally and professionally. You might ponder this remarkable result. Here you have athletic, virile young men choosing to do more alpha training instead of having dates with their girlfriends. Instead of playing ball, swimming, going to movies, sleeping, any of the other things they could do on their voluntary days. These Ultimate Peak Performance guys valued their Biocybernaut alpha training very highly!

Results with US Army Green Berets.

Comparing pre-and post-alpha training results, both 12-man teams showed significant reductions in their scores of Depression/Dejection, Fatigue, Confusion/ Bewilderment, Tension/Anxiety, and Anger/Hostility, Sleepy, Unhappy, and Dizzy. The analyses of the personality tests showed beneficial changes in personality dimensions linked to changes in the soldiers’ EEG alpha activity. Learned increases in EEG alpha activity produced these mission-relevant changes in personality.

Looking at before and after personality changes is not the best way to see alpha training effects. Every soldier ‘did’ the program, but not every soldier had the same amount of alpha brain power changes. By correlating brainpower changes with personality changes, we can connect the degree of success in brainpower changes to personality change. This connection gives us a deeper understanding than do group averages or group effects.

Correlating alpha power changes with personality changes also shows us how to produce the desired personality changes through specific learned changes in alpha brain waves, thus providing a ‘How to do it’ map or manual.

The in-depth results of this work can be found at www.biocybernaut.com/publications/neurofeedback-ultimate-performance/

To summarize, the following personality changes were observed:

In summary, I’d like to mention that 3 out of 24 of these elite soldiers (12% of those trained) discovered they had unresolved doubts, fears, and reservations about their mission during this training. This was a good thing for them to learn! Once these three soldiers realized they did not have sufficient inner alignment with their mission to remain in the Army, they could then move on to apply their high motivation and skills in suitable ways in civilian life. Their commanders were relieved and grateful to have a training technique to weed out those who might falter under field conditions. The 88% who remained were clearer in their purpose and far more highly skilled in self-regulation and producing peak performance on demand.

I did the Biocybernaut Alpha One training in November 1983, with Lt. Col. James MacLachlan, as part of a project for the U.S. Army, which was looking into means for
enhancing performance and increasing adaptivity to stressful and rapidly changing environments.”

“We did two consecutive weeks of Biocybernaut Alpha training. The first week was Alpha One, where we trained in separate chambers to increase our own alpha brain waves. The second week was shared feedback alpha, where we trained in the same chamber simultaneously while we heard both our own feedback and the feedback of the other person. We also saw our own scores and the other person’s scores.”

“Both MacLachlan and I were able to learn to control our alpha enhancement with only a few days training, and we greatly increased our alpha output during the first week of individual training, the Alpha One Training.”

‘Through this training, older persons who have acquired superior experiences over an accumulated period of time could be trained to retain or regain their youthful creativity and intellectual capacity. Alpha trained individuals could also adapt more readily to high-stress situations such as those encountered by the military and
the competitive industrial environment. Alpha trained individuals could more easily work in anxiety-producing environments of every sort, especially group environments where anxiety communicates itself among people.’

‘Because such training allows greater personal control of anxiety, it would be invaluable in the United States where an estimated 5% of the population (15 million
people) are afflicted with chronic anxiety.’

‘A healthy person can drift into dysfunctionality by being continuously exposed to stressful situations and through normal aging. Older people are more prone to
dysfunction than younger people and are less adaptive to stressful situations. Alpha enhancement can improve adaptivity in both young and older people. All people can
benefit from learning to increase their alpha output.’ Colonel John B. Alexander, US Army (Retired)

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