by Thomas Kurz
Peak performance happens when the concentration on the task is combined with mental relaxation. This mental state can be entered and perfected by techniques of mental training (autogenic training), or in an easier way, though more expensive, through EEG biofeedback.
EEG biofeedback is used by athletes to prepare for competitions and by non-athletes to learn relaxation; to deal with sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, chronic fatigue, and learning disorders; or to increase mental efficiency.
Before using EEG biofeedback, a patient or an athlete has to have a consultation with a physician and an EEG made. After that the fun begins as the method involves playing simple computer games. The games are controlled only by the player’s brain waves, picked up by two electrodes placed on his or her head. The game, such as a car race, responds to the quality of brain waves–if the waves indicate relaxation the game goes well; a racing car drives fast, stays on track, and can overtake the leader. If the brain waves indicate tension, the racing car slows down and goes off the track. (There are a few such games with different scenarios.)
Healthy people who just want to learn how to relax usually need 10 practice sessions.
Athletes use this method as one of several components of a whole mental training. Ski jumper Adam Malysz, 2001 World Champion, Olympic silver medalist in 2002, three-time winner of the World Cup, used EEG biofeedback to calm down and concentrate before jumps. It was just one of several components of his total mental training, but according to Jan Blecharz, the sports psychologist who helped him to the top, biofeedback was a significant factor in his successes.
More information on EEG biofeedback is available at www.eeginfo.com.
Another important component of mental toughness training is self-hypnosis.
An athlete can hypnotize himself or herself to overcome doubts and anxiety and to enter the peak performance state. Acquiring this ability is a step-by-step process, from simple concentration exercises, through muscular and mental relaxation, ending with an ability to enter hypnotic trance at will. A good example of such a program is the Gold Medal Mental Workout on which, to a large degree, mental preparation of Adam Malysz was based.
Subscribers to the online version of the Wall Street Journal can read about Gold Medal Mental Workout in the article by Barry Newman titled “The Key to Ski Jumping? Never Think about It: Mr. Malysz Was in a Funk Till He Tried Hypnosis; Entranced with a Bronze” (Wall Street Journal, February 11, 2002).
Performance Anxiety Cure
There is another method of dealing with performance anxiety and even phobias. (Performance anxiety can be associated with performing exercises during a workout, not just with performance during competition. Overtrained athletes may experience anxiety over working out, dislike for training sites [Fry et al. 1991, Mrozowski 1971], or even a phobia of sports equipment [Israel 1976, Mrozowski 1971, Maffetone 1997].)
Most psychologists believe that a phobia or an anxiety has its cause in one’s personality disorder, so the personality has to be treated (for a long time and lots of money). There are psychologists, however, such as Dr. Callahan, who believe that anxiety and phobias need not be related to personality but to physiological causes (Callahan 2002). For example, an athlete can acquire a performance anxiety if practice of a difficult technique occurs often enough (in some cases once can be enough) with great fatigue or with some, even seemingly light, repeated trauma. Or if the practice or performance happens often enough when an athlete is not comfortable mentally or physically or under too much stress–sports-related or not.
Dr. Callahan has shown that anxieties and phobias can be effectively treated by breaking the association between fear, physiological symptoms of stress, and the object of anxiety or phobia (Callahan 2002). His method is based on concepts of oriental medicine and applied kinesiology–and it works. An excellent explanation of this method is in Applied Kinesiology: Synopsis by Dr. Walther, and complete how-to instructions are in Dr. Durlacher’s book Freedom from Fear Forever.
Fry, R. W., A. R. Morton, and D. Keast. 1991. Overtraining syndrome and the chronic fatigue syndrome Part 1. New Zealand Journal of Sports Medicine vol. 19, no. 3, pp. 48-52
Israel. S. 1976. Zur Problematik des Ubertrainings aus internistischer und leistunsphysiologisher Sicht. Medizin und Sport vol. 16, no. 1 (January), pp. 1-12.
Maffetone, P. 1997. In Fitness and in Health. Stamford, NY: David Barmore Productions
Mrozowski, T. 1971. Choroby uzebienia a wydolnosc–II. Sport Wyczynowy no. 1/79, pp. 37-44