Strain vs. Flow: Elite Performers Reveal Their Secrets

Highly trained athletes and military personnel face fierce stressors in competition and military missions, but everyone confronts intense stress at some point. Is it possible to train yourself to respond to stressful situations like an elite performer? Why are some people more resilient than others during episodes of high stress?

These questions have intrigued researchers and trainers for decades. Next generation scanners are revealing a deeper understanding of the inner workings of the brain, allowing us to see how elite types really do differ from the rest of us. A series of brain scan studies involving elite athletes and warriors showed that elite performers’ brains process challenges differently from “regular” people (Potterat, 2012). Rather than switching into fight or flight mode when facing a sudden intense challenge, elite brains perceived difficult situations as opportunities. This ability becomes “hardened” into elite brains over time such that it becomes automatic.

Luckily for us non-elites, some elite performance responses can be learned. You might not have what it takes to become a Navy SEAL or Olympic champion, but you can improve your performance in any area of life by doing what elite performers do. One key characteristic is the ability to maintain a state of “flow.” Flow is when your concentration is intensely focused in the present moment, and action and awareness become one thing.  You lack self-consciousness, you have a sense of control over a situation, and you are unaware of time passing (Csíkszentmihályi, 2001).

Here are 3 things you can do to stay in flow:

  1. Get real about stress and use SRTS to build resilience with HRV biofeedback. Achieving a state of physiologic Coherence helps you achieve flow much more easily. (Read an earlier post about using biofeedback to honestly assess your response to stress).
  2. Choose a better way to view your immediate situation. Changing channels from the negative to the positive is an essential tool in every elite performer’s toolbox. This helps you maintain flow through adversity by cultivating a positive mindset. Click here forsteps you can consistently take to shake off the setbacks and resume your trajectory to success.
  3. Tap into your inner values that keep you focused on your objectives. When people align with something bigger than themselves, they connect to a source of power that transcends the immediate situation and gives them the stamina to endure. A good way to discover your inner strengths is through this 15 minute surveyprovided by the VIA Institute on Character. It never hurts to know more about yourself, and can make the difference the next time you need to persevere through adversity.

– D.C.