Generally speaking, a widely accepted definition of peak performance is this: Peak Performance is when you are at your absolute best. If we would like to add a few more words to it and make it sound a little bit more complicated, we would say that peak performance is when you are in the zone of super optimal functioning, known as flow.
I absolutely agree with the definitions above, but I do think that these definitions don’t include something important. There are times in life where giving our best, doesn’t feel like being in “flow” mode at all and there are times in real, everyday life, when our absolute best, simply means staying in the game for one more round. And then another one. And one more.
I thought about this when years ago I read* about a series of experiments conducted in the 1950s by Curt Richter. Curt Richter was a Harvard graduate and a Johns Hopkins scientist, who among many other things, tested for how long rats could swim in buckets of circulating water before drowning. His findings were amazing. He found that under normal conditions and in average, a rat could swim around fifteen minutes before giving up and sinking. However, when Dr. Richter was saving the rats moments before they gave up, dried them off and let them rest for a brief amount of time before putting them back into the same buckets, the rats this second time were able to catapult their endurance before giving up and sink.
If you were to make a guess what would you say? You have in front of you rats that minutes ago Dr able to swim for fifteen minutes, before deciding that they can’t take any more of this swimming thing a.k.a. extremely stressful situation and give up. How long would they now swim before giving up again? Make your guess now, because what Curt Richter found was that the rats the second time were able to swim for sixty hours! Yes, you read that right. That is sixty (60) hours! A two hundred and forty times longer than before, which if you think about it is absurd, because the second time the rats were already tired after swimming for as long as they could in the first place. How were they able to endure such a challenging situation for so much longer?
The answer to the question is that the rats were given hope. When Curt Richter saved them, that act installed hope in their brains and hope was transformed into energy and strength for the rats during the second swimming round. The experiment was hands down cruel and gruesome but its findings were at the same time eye opening.
your Were these rats peak performing the first time? Yes. Were they peak on the second time? Of course. Would you say that they were in a flow state? I am not sure. From my Extremely experience, I feel that the most realistic definition of peak performance in everyday-life terms is this: Doing whatever we can do for as long as we can. Practice, consistency and focus are, are equally important for peak performance as is the instalment of hope. The easiest way to install hope is by having a clear vision of where we want to arrive.
* I first read about it from Isaiah Hankel’s book: “Black Hole Focus: How Intelligent People Can Create a Powerful Purpose for Their Lives”, Capstone© 2014
by Konstantinos Karypidis, Peak Performance Coach & Motivational Speaker