Peak Performance in Healthcare

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Optimizing performance is beneficial for both patients and healthcare providers.  There are several components to maximizing human performance.  These include: mindset, sleep and recovery, nutrition, and accessing flow state.  Each of these can be trained and they all, to some degree, interact with and promote each other.  Enhancing our capabilities in these areas allows us to promote wellness, achieve our potential, recover from illness, and perform to the best of our ability in all areas of life.

Mindset training is foundational to optimizing performance.  Just as we may train our bodies, so too must we train our minds if we wish to reach our full potential.  Understanding methods to improve concentration, decrease distractions, promote confidence, quiet the inner critic, reduce self-doubt, train our expertise, develop optimism, and enhance decision making are crucial for reaching our potential.  These abilities have been correlated with improved performance in many diverse areas of life.  One method of mind training is a mindfulness meditation practice for which there is evidence of improved focus and attention, enhanced compassion and empathy, and improved management of stress and anxiety.  Each of these traits are beneficial to both patients and healthcare providers and can be realized even amongst beginner meditators.  Such training has been implemented in numerous patient groups with excellent results, such as the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program initially developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  Though the use of these techniques for obtaining peak performance has been incorporated in many industries, it has yet to be fully incorporated in healthcare.

Proper sleep and recovery ensures that our bodies and, more importantly, our minds are sufficiently rested in order to allow us to reach peak performance.  Research has demonstrated numerous performance related problems resulting from lack of sleep.  These include, but by no means are limited to, decreased reaction time, reduced decision making, and altered concentration which can become equivalent to legally impaired levels of blood alcohol concentration.  Put simply, the hours frequently worked by many healthcare workers can lead to job performance, at times, in which attention and reaction levels may be similar to a drunk driver.  There are also numerous adverse health effects of sleep deprivation, including an increased risk for developing diabetes, heart disease, mental health conditions, and even cancer.  In order to promote wellness and aid in healing, promotion of sufficient sleep is essential.

Recovery following one performance is required in order to prepare for the next performance.  Without recovery, our minds and bodies become progressively more worn down and exhausted over time.  This demands attention to our mindset, hydration, nutrition, and sleep.  In professional sports, for instance, much attention is paid to recovery following training and competition, not only to allow for physical recovery but for mental, psychological and emotional recovery as well.  There is a similar need amongst healthcare providers who are required to maintain focus and attention over long periods of time, expend substantial amounts of emotional energy in order to provide compassionate and empathic care, and, for some, extended duration of time performing physically demanding technical skills.  From the patient perspective, many medical treatments are highly demanding physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Recovery following treatment is essential in advance of the next treatment to promote the optimal circumstance for healing.  To ignore the importance of recovery is to ignore our inherent human nature and needs.

The optimal state for human performance is termed flow.  This is a mind state in which decision making and creativity are optimal, reaction and processing time is at its most efficient, and performance is heightened.  Better understanding of flow and use of its principles has led to the rapid progression of accomplishments in so-called extreme sports where survival itself may be dependent upon flow.  These same principles have been applied in business where executives have been shown to increase their productivity while in flow.  Teaching mind and body training practices amongst technology employees has led to increases in flow during work as well as benefits of maintenance of flow states outside of work, leading to greater fulfillment both at work and in personal lives.   Creativity is improved in flow leading to greater artistic performance and innovative decision making.  Other industries have shown benefit and improvement in performance through accessing flow states during training and performance; the health care domain is no different.  Given the optimal performance achieved while in flow, wouldn’t we want to promote this state amongst all healthcare providers?

For those interested in learning more about optimization of peak performance for patients and amongst healthcare providers, please visit for more information.

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Recommended References

Brewer J.  The Craving Mind: From Cigarettes to Smart-Phones to Love- Why We Get Hooked and How We Can Break Bad Habits.  Yale University Press, New Haven, 2017.

Ericsson A, Pool R.  Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2016.

Fatigue Science.  The Science of Sleep and Workplace Fatigue.

Gervais, M.  The Finding Mastery Podcast.

Goleman D, Davidson RJ.  Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.  Avery, New York, 2017.

Kabat-Zinn J.  Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness.  Bantam Books, New York, 1990, 2013.

Kotler S.  Flow and Peak Performance.

Kotler S.  The Rise of Superman: Decoding The Science of Ultimate Human Performance.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2014.

Kotler S, Wheal J.  Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, The Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work.  Harper Collins, New York, 2017

Stulberg B, Magness S.  Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, And Thrive With The New Science of Success.  Rodale, New York, 2017.

Walker, M.  Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams.  Scribner, New York, 2017.

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