It is not every day that we need to deliver our best performance. Our jobs probably require us to constantly perform at above average but it is rare that we need to deliver the absolute best we can or that our futures success substantially depends on it. I had one of these rare occasions a month ago when defending my doctoral thesis in front of the university’s faculty and visitors in an open, public event. Seven years of research, nearly 1000 sources, more than 500 pages of analysis and conclusions, was finally culminating in a presentation for my PhD.
I have been following TIGNUM’s sustainable high performance principles for about two years now. I have solidified my nutrition, movement, recovery and mindset strategies. The simple strategies of eating nuts, drinking green tea, taking power naps or choosing the stairs whenever possible are now part of my normal working routine. Similarly, presenting to select or large audiences is part of my normal job. With that said, I knew that the performance I was getting ready to embark on was in an entirely different level. I knew I was rejecting a lot of what some faculty members used to promote in their fields of work and I expected significant push back. Even though I was only stating facts and corroborated conclusions from my research, there was no doubt that some professors would feel personally attacked. This stimulated a fear that I would become too nervous in the discussion round, get into too much detail, take too much time, or lose my focus. Thinking about this process and my performance gave me stomachaches and a feeling of insecurity, which I can’t remember having experienced before.
It was then that I realized that I was centering my thoughts on failure and not success. Objectively there was no reason why this presentation shouldn’t be a great culmination of my research. I realized that this was exactly the situation when to apply not only parts but the full arsenal of my Tignum high performance strategies - starting with the reframing of my thoughts. Building on what I had already used, I began picturing myself in the auditorium giving the presentation in as much detail as possible. I simulated presenting each and every slide, dealing with unwanted interruptions and managing the final discussion round. I imagined the satisfaction when they started applauding after my last slide and the feeling of victory after the discussion round. From the nutrition pillar, I increased my intake of vegetables, protein and fruits and cut back on caffeine, saturated fats and highly processed sugars. I also planned the last 10 days before the event for sufficient sleep time, time for power naps (especially after lunch), additional physical exercise and even started with relaxation techniques, which were usually not part of my portfolio of activities.
When the day finally arrived, I knew that I had done everything I could to be at my best. I started with a longer, ‘no excuse’ workout (the Tignum strength circuit) and a protein rich breakfast. When I arrived at the venue, I imagined the presentation and the feeling of total success and blocked every negative thought that tried to creep into my mind. When the presentation started I felt comfortable and was actually looking forward to my show.
I finished my summary with a minute to spare. During the discussion I was as clear in my mind as I have ever been and even recalled concrete citations from faculty members out of their own publications when they tried to trick me (e.g. by twisting meanings or arguments). I felt like I was consistently ahead of the discussion and as I gathered momentum my confidence was soaring. I was beaming with the feeling of knowing I was personally prepared at the highest level.
As I reflect back on this entire peak performance experience I know that I rocked. I say that with great humility but I say it because I designed it. For me it was a great experience for two reasons: Firstly because I now know and trust that I will be able to access my personal 100% when I need it and, secondly because I know how to repeat the process in the future.
I was granted my PhD with honors and now I am planning for the next chapter in my personal career.
This guest blog was written by Dr. Mario B. Stephan PhD, one of our PWC clients, who exemplifies Sustainable High Performance and how the total integration of Mindset, Nutrition, Movement, and Recovery strategies can make all the difference.