In the realm of self optimization, there are basically two things to do: improve performance by adding something into your body/brain, or subtracting it. You can add nutrients, contemplative brain exercises, and mid day naps for better overall brain performance, or you can do things that target inhibitors of performance, like stress. Stress in the body and brain is one of the most subtle, unrecognized, and severe robbers of your capacity to perform like a machine. It literally assaults you from all angles.
What Stress Prevents
Stress in your body can prevent the holistic feeling of integration, when your body and brain is aligned, and you can just sit down, be happy, and focus. Stress will inhibit your brain function while trying to focus. Stress shuts down your ability to have an appreciation for the various elements of your life, and with an inability to stimulate your ambition to be amazing, your performance suffers.
It’s little things. The color of your new red and grey Nike running shoes, the awesomeness of the $10,000 deal you just did in your company, and something as small as the time you get to take, to yourself, to watch an episode of Family Guy. All of those things are enhanced, and can be appreciated when you rid your body of stress, and whatever of those pleasant life events or things, can powerfully effect your motivation to work toward bridging the gap between that idea of where you want to be, and where you are right now.
How I Realized Stress Is Deadly To Performance
Well, of course we all know stress kills performance, but how much? And what does it take for people to finally get that we need to take deliberate action everyday to mitigate, minimize, and kill stress where it stands? For me, it took a while. I’ve developed this capacity to question why I don’t feel the best I can feel, and invariably, there’s always an answer. In upgrading virtually every area of my brain and body health over the last few years, I still notice that at certain points throughout the day, even though I’ve done the right things, I’m not performing at my best.
Should I consume more MCT’s? More Choline? More Fish Oil? Maybe some Adaptogenic herbs? ISO tones? Well, all of those things are great, but it was the stress in my body that was preventing me from feeling the full effects of them. And then one day, I took my history of doing yoga here and there, to a whole new level.
I started bringing a blanket into my office, unplugging the phones, locking the door, and getting into some serious yoga, targeted directly toward lowering the stress reaction in my body, and restoring that integrated feeling. After consistently killing stress with a 30 minute yoga/meditation session, I realized something very powerful, that we all need to think about..
We let stress come in, and hang around, while doing nothing about it
THAT IS A MISTAKE. It’s robbing you of power, capacity, eliteness, brain functionality, confidence, focus, happiness, and productivity. It’s the fire burning in your head, in the background, messing things up. It’s the force disconnecting your prefrontal cortex from the rest of your brain, forcing you to walk around on 1 leg instead of 2. It’s the masked phantom killing your ability to perform at your best, and it needs to be addressed. But sadly, for me, and for many, our brains “react inappropriately” to stress, by essentially becoming inoculated or immune to it in terms of reaction. Basically, we may not physically look like we’re going into all out fight or flight, but we are in our brains.
This’ll cause anyone to let this underlying, performance destroying monster, ruin their capacity to be elite. You have to become aware of it, and know that even though you’re not freaking out, or running for your life from a salivating pit bull, you’re still in fight or flight mode, stressed out of your mind. A good sign that stress is invading your brain is simply you not feeling good. When you don’t feel good, happy, relaxed, and in control of your thinking, with a great perspective and motivation to keep crushing it, you’re probably stressed, and you need to target that. Especially because..
Cortisol Destroys Brain Cells
Cortisol, the “stress hormone,” has been shown in many studies, mainly in animals, to literally kill brain cells and inhibit neurogenesis (the brain’s ability to generate new neurons). Researchers believe it’s the same for humans, and so do I. I feel, very literally when stress hits, that my brain cells are being inhibited. My ability to be happy, have positive emotion, appreciate my situation and the things around be decreases dramatically while under the stress of running my business.
Stress interferes with neurotransmitter function, the forces of your brain that facilitate electrochemical firing of nerve cells, thinking, and even emoting. Ever wonder why sometimes you literally can’t feel good? There are many things at play there, and the inhibition of neurotransmitter function is one of them, and various parts of the brain being “offline” or effected by stress is another. I finally got tired of not being able to execute certain brain functions, and started researching this stuff. It’s amazingly interruptive, and can damage the immune system, create an environment conducive to or at risk of cancer, and can even contribute to things like Rheumatoid Arthritis. It’s the performance and body killer for sure. STRESS IS YOUR ULTIMATE ENEMY.
Doing Something About It
Stress could be viewed like this: busyness in your body, that makes you feel agitated. De-stressed and clear, feeling good may look like this: Clear headed, connected to your body, in touch with your good visceral feelings, balanced, not afraid, and calm. All of that can certainly be explained in terms of physiology, but we don’t always have to go scientific to explain the thing we all know happens in our bodies when we feel good, and stress isn’t invading our brains.
But, to target the physical symptoms of stress, you need to think about the physical, and do yoga.
Hands down, no need for scientific studies proving the benefits that people are still writing about to gain credibility and convince the non believers that it works, IT WORKS. (but for the sake of our argument, read this PHD talk about it) It just does. It changes everything.
It changes blood flow, it changes neuronal function, it changes heart rate, and one of the most powerful things, that could explain the surge of positive emotion, connection to appreciation, and overall good visceral feelings, is the activation of the calming hormone Oxytocin. Activating this wonder hormone, which has sometimes been called the opposite of adrenaline (a very prevalent stress hormone), can lower blood pressure, trigger regenerative processes in the human body, decrease anxiety, and give the nervous system more options to deal with stress when it happens. It’s really quite magical.
For me, it only takes about 10-20 minutes of various stretches, and yoga positions to start feeling the effect. It’s as if I build up all of this massive compression in my brain and body throughout the day, it cut off my ability to feel good and use my brain effectively, and then the yoga freed everything back up again, giving me a good feeling in my body, and restoring my motivation, overall ability to feel happy and holistic cognitive abilities.
The demand you put on yourself determines how much yoga, or any other thing you can do to create the calming healing effect and trigger the physiological restoration and energy regeneration, you have to do. Entrepreneur types, like lots of the people who come to this blog (and of course, executives too, or anyone else that has massive responsibility, with a lot of weight on their shoulders), need multiple regeneration sessions a day.
That very definitively means, you should probably be doing yoga, and trying to restore the balance in your body and brain, and kill off the stress reaction, 3 + times a day, if you’re working 5 or more hours total, with lots of problems to solve, things to do, and goals to achieve. It’s one of the most powerful strategies for elite level productivity, the kind that makes you outperform your peers, and be amazing.
Much more to talk about on this subject, and we’ll continue to get into it here. As I learn more about stress, how to stop it, and what it does to our performance, I’ll be reporting it and giving my take on it. The future is riddled with technologies that help decrease this physical performance crusher, and that’s something I’m pretty passionate about being a part of.
I’d love to hear your opinions/experiences/comments on this.