Tagged: performance


“Eat five to six small meals daily” [Loehr & Schwartz]. “Snacks between meals should typically be between 100 and 150 calories and once again should focus on low-glycemic foods such as nuts and sunflower seeds, fruits, or half of a typical-size 200 calorie energy bar” [Loehr & Schwartz]. If you exercise, “ensure that the foods being consumed have enough salt in them to replace the salt lost through sweat” [Bartlett & Al-Masri, p. 168]. “Do not skip snacks before bedtime. Snacks should include both carbohydrates and proteins. Because the body recovers during sleep, it is important to ensure that it has enough fuel to build and repair properly” [Bartlett & Al-Masri, p. 147].

“The frequency with which we eat also influences our capacity to stay fully engaged and to sustain high performance. Eating five to six low calorie, highly nutritious ‘meals’ a day insures a steady resupply of energy. Even the most energy rich foods won’t fuel high performance for the four to eight hours that many of us frequently permit to pass between meals” [Loehr & Schwartz]. “Many studies have shown that humans exhibit a pronounced oral need—to drink, smoke, or nibble—on a 90-minute schedule. Research from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York found that volunteers, left on their own in an environment without any time cues and told to help themselves to food, drink, or cigarettes whenever they felt like it, did so on a regular schedule—at a mean interval of ninety-six minutes” [Rossi, p. 122].


Further reading:

Lilah Al-Masri and Simon Bartlett. 2011. 100 Questions and Answers about Sports Nutrition and Exercise. Jones and Bartlett Publishers

John A. Hawley and Louise M. Burke. 1997. Effect of meal frequency and timing on physical performance. British Journal of  Nutrition (1997), 77, Suppl. 1, 591-5103.

Ernest Lawrence Rossi. 1991. The 20-Minute Break. Los Angeles: Tarcher.

Mary M Tai et al. 1991. Meal size and frequency: effect on the thermic effect of food. AJCN


Aim for as much as nine hours. Take naps.

Top performers sleep more. In studying sleep patterns among conservatory students, Anders Ericsson discovered that, “The weekly amount of sleep during the diary week did not differ for the two best groups and averaged 60.0 hr. This average was reliably longer than that for the music teachers, which was 54.6 hr… Hence the two best groups, who practice more, also sleep reliably longer.

And napping has well-documented restorative effects. “NASA’s Fatigue Counter Measures Program has found that a short nap of just forty minutes improved performance by an average of 34 percent and alertness by 100 percent.” (Loehr & Schwartz)

Famous nappers include da Vinci, Napoleon, Edison, Kennedy, Thatcher, Reagan, and Clinton. Churchill summarized it thus:

You must sleep some time between lunch and dinner and no halfway measures. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That’s what I always do. Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That’s a foolish notion held by people who have no imagination. You will accomplish more. You get two days in one—well, at least one and a half, I’m sure. When the war started, I had to sleep during the day because that was the only way I could cope with my responsibilities.


Further reading:

K. Anders Ericsson et al. 1993. The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. Psychological Review

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. 2003. The Power of Full Engagement. Free Press


Live and work in a quiet place. Soundproof your home. Wear earplugs, shooting muffs, or sound-canceling headphones. Take refuge in nature.

Frequent exposure to noise increases heart attack risk by as much as 50 percent. Frequent exposure to noise also significantly impedes learning. One study found that “reading skills are markedly delayed in children exposed to high levels of aircraft noise. A mere 5-decibel increase is enough to delay learning by up to two months.

Conversely, by spending time in nature, you give “top-down directed-attention abilities a chance to replenish.


Further reading:

Berman et al. 2008. The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting with Nature

Craig Childs. 2009-06-25. Perfect Quiet. PSMag

Sorenson et al. 2012. Road Traffic Noise and Incident Myocardial Infarction: A Prospective Cohort Study


Drink before you feel thirsty and until you’re passing clear or pale yellow urine [WebMD]. Aim for about 2 liters of fluid per day (more if you’re sweating or sick) [Anding]. Carry water and keep it by your desk and bedside. When exercising strenously, drink something with electrolytes [Anding].

Dehydration weakens muscles, harms concentration and coordination, increases stress, and fouls the breath [Loehr, Amen]. “Dehydrate a muscle by as little as 3 percent, for example, and it will lose 10 percent of its strength and 8 percent of its speed” [Loehr]. Chronic dehydration harms the heart and brain, contributes to obesity, ages the skin, and shortens life [Amen]. Due to a lag time between actual dehydration and the feeling of thirst, “thirst is an inadequate barometer of need”, and this barometer only worsens with age.


Daniel G. Amen. 2010. Change Your Brain, Change Your Body. Three Rivers

Roberta Anding. Nutrition Made Clear. The Teaching Company

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. 2004. The Power of Full Engagement. Free Press

WebMD. Drinking Enough Water.


Don’t try too hard. Don’t overthink routine processes. Tame your greed. Inoculate yourself to failure. Try always to approach things with a “beginner’s mind“.

When performers choke on what should be routine actions, it is because they want too much. As they begin to overthink, they become loss averse (“losses loom larger than gains“) and self-conscious, and the focus on self distracts from the task at hand, which would be better performed on auto-pilot [Chib]. Athletes know this. Singers know this. And adults know this, too. As Alan Watts, the great popularizer of Zen in the West, remarked in a lecture on meditation: “…men will understand…you can’t force yourself to have an erection by muscular effort…Women will understand…you can’t force yourself with muscles to have an orgasm…” And it is not just swings, shots, and orgasms that excessive striving corrupts. It is marathons too: “Most runners will record significantly faster times when they take walk breaks because they don’t slow down at the end of a long run.

In Zen there is something called “beginner’s mind”, a sort of openness, which includes and accepts the possibility of failure. In a book by this title, Shunryu Suzuki says:

Our “original mind” includes everything within itself. It is always rich and sufficient within itself. You should not lose your self-sufficient state of mind. This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.


References and further reading:

Vikram Chib et al. 2012-05-10. Neural Mechanisms Underlying Paradoxical Performance for Monetary Incentives Are Driven by Loss Aversion. Neuron

Malcolm Gladwell. 2000-08-21. The Art of Failure. The New Yorker

Sam Glucksberg. 1962. .The influence of strength of drive on functional fixedness and perceptual recognition. Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Daniel Kahnemann. 2011. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus

Jonah Lehrer. 2012-06-05. The New Neuroscience of Choking. The New Yorker

Shunryu Suzuki. 1970. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Alan Watts. 2000. Still the Mind. New World Library