When I was young, I played tennis in interschool competitions. I was pretty decent for someone of my age and had a abundance of competitiveness that served me well. What did not serve me well was my inability to control my mind in the crucial moments at the end of a match, the moments that decided my fate. I have memories of being up 6-1 in the final set and letting my component come back five sets to beat me. My anxiety about winning led to me losing.
In Coherence, by Dr Alan Watkins, the physiology behind our behaviour and performance is examined. Watkins’ main thesis is the following:
“So what is really driving our behaviour is our thinking. And what we think, and how well we think it, is largely determined by our feelings, which are driven by our emotions, which are made up of our physiology.”
Basically, in order to succeed, to not ‘psych out’ when it is imperative that you perform, whether in business or in sport, you must be aware and in control of the internal and external elements that contribute to the way you feel and, in turn, behave. These elements must cohere to create something of a flow state – “maximum efficiency and super effectiveness.” This state must be stable yet variable; you must be physiologically and mentally able to adapt when needed without taking uncalculated risks.
Watkins discusses everything from energy management to the control of one’s heart and breathing (and the subsequent effect on the brain) at length and with extensive scientific support and pragmatic advice. He proposes a variety of methods and approaches, some of which are:
- Tracking what drains and boosts you and thus becoming mindful of the positive and negative patterns in your life
- Breathing skills that lead to “coherent heart rate variability (HRV),” including which particular elements of breathing to focus on
- Conflict techniques
- Health and wellbeing
- E-Diaries to enhance clarity of mind and control of decision-making
I won’t get into the science behind these but I will stress that everything Watkins writes about is entrenched in logical process and outcomes. In essence, much of what he says leads back to mindfulness-based cognitive practices, which allow, with practice, the individual to have far more control over their thoughts and their physiology, such as rapidly beating heart as a result of nerves.
Having done a great deal of research into this, I believe that the methods and ideas Watkins proposes could, if used consistently, improve my performance in high-stakes scenarios and more generally in my day to day life. If you want to perform optimally as a leader, this is well worth a read.