✎ Written by: Dubravka Rebic
Imagine being better than Iron Man. Staying sharp and focused at work, being there for your family and friends, excelling at your hobbies, keeping up with new habits, staying positive, and being more focused and present in anything you do.
Doing these things, or performing at your peak, is referred to as "being in the zone" – a common phrase meaning you are actively engaged, challenged, and fully dedicated to the things you're doing. You might have even heard professional athletes talk about this. When they talk about “being in the zone”, they describe it as if time slows down as they are making that jump shot or throwing the perfect pass.
The zone is your ideal sweet spot where you become your most productive, creative, and powerful self. So, how do you get there (and become better than Iron Man in the process, of course)?
You train your brain to access “the zone” when you need it to. With a brain training technology called neurofeedback, you can train your brain to regulate your brainwaves so that you can achieve that desired brainwave state. But what exactly does this mean? Let's break it down.
Neurofeedback doesn’t merely offer insight into how your brain operates, it also lets you know where there’s room for improvement. This is possible thanks to EEG, a technology that measures your brainwave activity and provides feedback in real time by placing electrodes (small metal discs) on the scalp.
This real-time feedback is provided using visual (games/videos) and/or auditory (sound effects/music) cues on a screen. These cues let you know when you’re “in the zone” and when you’re not – on the spot. For example, let’s say that your real-time brain activity measurements show that your focus is low. Perhaps your player slows down or the volume of the music decreases to let you know that your brain is not in its “optimal state.” On the other hand, when the optimal state is achieved, your brain is rewarded by your player moving faster or the volume going back up.
When practicing neurofeedback with the Myndlift app, you earn points every time your brain is “in the zone”. Eventually, your brain learns to regulate itself and reach its optimal state without that immediate reward.
As a result, you may experience improvement in your intelligence, spatial/motor skills, mood, and overall well-being, as well as enhancement in different types of memory and attention.
That's why professional or competitive athletes, executives, musicians, and students are some of the individuals who seek this type of training. In fact, this technology is often part of the training program for Olympians and professional athletes in the NFL and NBA. It helps athletes learn how to get their brains into a state of improved attention, focus, discipline, and aim.
But it’s not only athletes that can perform at the top of their game thanks to neurofeedback. Research found that, after neurofeedback training, surgeons' focus and alertness were greatly improved during operations and when having to make decisions when unexpected situations occurred.
Neurofeedback Protocols for Peak Performance
Neurofeedback protocols for peak performance aim to control arousal, attention, and motivation. The main goal of training is to complete a specific function or task with fewer errors and with greater efficiency.
Due to individual differences in brain activity and the large diversity of skills required in different aspects of life, neurofeedback for peak performance training is not a "one size fits all" approach.
Rather, to obtain optimal results, the training begins with an appropriate assessment and evaluation of one’s individual brainwave activity. However, the most often used neurofeedback protocols for peak performance are:
Alpha training: Enhancing alpha and decreasing theta and hi-beta brainwave activity.
Hi-beta may reflect high anxiety or excitement. Alpha brainwaves are associated with peaceful, yet deliberate attention, while slower brainwaves, like theta, are often associated with brain fog and memory difficulties. The goal of this protocol is to improve the ability to make important decisions quickly and efficiently while also remaining calm and focused.
Sensori-Motor Rhythm (SMR) training: Enhancing SMR waves (Lo-Beta brainwaves, which are associated with an alert, attentive state coupled with calm or silent motor activities) while decreasing theta and hi-beta waves.
This type of training improves focus and attention, but also motoric precision, balance, and the ability to relax.
The Yerkes-Dodson Law and Performance
When it comes to performing an important task, like doing well on an exam or even scoring a goal, we sometimes find that our nerves can either make or break how well we do. Sometimes, the level of adrenaline is just right; it helps us focus on the task at hand.
Other times, if we’re too nervous, we may have trouble concentrating and remembering the correct answers or miss that goal by a long shot. In psychology, this relationship between arousal levels and performance is known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law.
The Yerkes-Dodson Law suggests that a certain level of arousal is needed in order to achieve optimal performance. However, too much of it or too little of it may impair your performance completely.
This study shows how neurofeedback can be used to modify one’s arousal state in order to improve performance. The participants were engaged in a virtual reality aerial navigation task while their brain activity was measured using EEG.
They were also provided with a brain-computer interface (BCI) based neurofeedback signal that reflected their level of stress or arousal. While they were completing the aerial task, participants heard the sound of a low-rate, synthetic heartbeat, which got louder as their arousal level became higher.
By gaining insight into their arousal level in real time through these auditory cues, participants were able to self-regulate and modify their arousal state, thereby resulting in improved task performance.
A Glimpse Into the Future: Blurring the Lines Between Mind and Machine
Apart from being used as a neurofeedback training tool to improve cognitive performance, you soon might see a growing number of people leveraging brain-computer interface (BCI) technology to control machines without the physical constraints of the body.
BCIs can detect changes in brain activity measured with EEG and then relay these signals to machine learning algorithms. These algorithms use EEG to pick up on brain activity associated with certain emotions, actions, and expressions. So when they identify matching brain activity, the BCI can transmit external commands to control a device (such as a computer cursor, robotic arm, or wheelchair).
BCIs have already made great strides and enabled people with quadriplegia to feed themselves and even walk again by learning to govern robotic limbs with the sheer power of their minds. For example, a person using EEG-based BCI connected to a robotic arm can think “wave” and the robotic arm will wave.
But even though much of the developmental work regarding BCIs has been focused on medical uses, consumer applications of BCIs are also being explored, from providing a better gaming experience to optimizing your work performance.
For example, a BCI could detect that your attention levels are too low for the importance of a task you're working on and trigger an alert. Or it could prevent you from driving a car if it detects a certain level of drowsiness. Eventually, you may even be able to prepare a PowerPoint presentation using only your thoughts!
Despite all the great progress, many scientists in this field make it clear that we have not even scratched the surface of BCI’s potential.
Just as physical training aims to strengthen the body, peak performance neurofeedback training aims to strengthen your mind and regulate your brainwave patterns so that you can perform at the top of your game.
However, just like with building any muscle, brain training requires consistency and practice. So, stay dedicated, enjoy the process, and be patient as you watch your well-being improve over time. With neurofeedback training, you can reach your full potential!
Visit our research overview article for a comprehensive summary of neurofeedback research with supporting scientific references.
About the author:
Dubravka Rebic puts a lot of time and energy into researching and writing in order to help create awareness and positive change in the mental health space. From poring over scientific studies to reading entire books in order to write a single content piece, she puts in the hard work to ensure her content is of the highest quality and provides maximum value.
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