How Arousal Levels Influence Performance.

I wrote this post as a self-reflection piece with the hope it can bring some awareness to those who read it and who may be feeling the same way. I am interested in hearing your thoughts about the post so please leave a comment.

——————————————————————————————————————-With the dramatic changes caused by the CCP (Covid-19) virus I find myself in a strange place, a place where I have not been in a long time. I find myself in an unguided place where I wake up every day uncertain of what I need or should be doing and what my purpose is. I feel I lost my ability to reach my peak performance, or my sweet spot. 

Over the last 5 years I knew where I was headed, what I wanted to do, what needed to be accomplished and how to accomplish it. I knew what my purpose was, and I was motivated. My arousal was high, and I was in the sweet spot. Like a baseball player who hit the pitch on the sweet spot of the bat, I knew I was hitting a homerun. 

But now, it seems I have no idea where that sweet spot is. I feel like I am hitting each pitch off the handle or the end of the bat, struggling to find the barrel, not even coming close to the sweet spot. 

Then I came across The Leading Brain by Friederike Fabritius and Dr. Hans Hagemann. After reading just one chapter it all started to make sense. I started to understand what led me to my peak performance (the sweet spot) and more importantly, why I was feeling the way I was and why my performance was slacking. 

What I found was individuals are in their sweet spot (or operating at peak performance) when they feel they are under pressure, like being the pitcher on the mound (or batter in the box) in the bottom of the 9th of game 7 of the World Series, with the bases loaded, two outs, and a full count on the batter, or when there is predictability, certainty, and when there are systems and/or rules to follow (See graph below). Those who like pressure tend to fall on the right side of the inverted U.

Ok great! I now realize that I am more on the right side than the left and my arousal comes from feeling pressure. But how did I end up that way and what do I need to do to get back to my sweet spot? Fabritius and Hagemann provided me great insight on this. 

Interestingly, it has to do with GenderAgeGeneticsEnvironment, and Experience. To keep it short and sweet this is what I walked away with from my reading:

Both gender and age are linked to testosterone levels which can push an individual more to the right side, and also the left as testosterone levels decrease.

When it comes to the environment, if your work environment provides your arousal needs you are in a good position to reach your sweet spot, or peak performance. If your environment does not, you need to find other ways to increase/decrease your arousal or find a new place to work.

Experience. The more you have the more you rely on your unconscious brain, making it easier to handle stressful situations. Simple enough. 

Genetics got a little scientific for me, but this is what I took away. To reach our peak performance our arousal levels need to either increase or decrease. When it comes to genetics and without getting into deep detail, this is what I took away – our brains and body need Dopamine, Noradrenaline and Acetylcholine.  

Ok great! It is all starting to make sense now. I am a young male who for the last five years has been working under the pressure of having to raise money to survive, has deadlines and goals, and my experience level was growing so challenges were easier to overcome. My environment changed throughout the day, so my arousal needs were constantly being met. 

Then Covid-19 hit. Fundraising has come to a halt and our Annual Dinner has been canceled. My environment never changes. And all the deadlines I had have now disappeared. No wonder why I have been operating out of my sweet spot. 

So, what do I need to do to get back to my sweet spot?! Because I am tired of feeling lost, unproductive and wasting my days away. 

Dr. Hagemann and Fabritius offered a few examples of how to get back to your peak performance, or sweet spot. You can imagine a mild fear to raise level of noradrenaline (challenging yourself releases noradrenaline) OR change your location, do an aerobic activity, or simply take a few minutes to just think positively as these will raise your dopamine levels. (Dopamine is released by having fun…you must be having fun to reach peak performance)

Now I know why I have been off my game and what I need to do to get back to my sweet spot. If you yourself are in a slump, I hope this post can help you get back to your sweet spot and peak performance.  


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