Healthy Choices Impact Performance

 In Competition, Healthy Lifestyles, Stress

In my work with clients, though the bulk of our conversation is around helping them to develop better cognitive-behavioral skills for performing, there are other healthy choices that impact performance and involve a process of change. From the outside, things like eating healthier, drinking water and getting enough sleep seem easy to do but just like any other behavior change, they can be difficult to incorporate into life without a systematic approach.


In life, we do what we do. When we are conditioned to do things, sometimes we don’t even know why we do it but we know it’s ‘the way things get done’. Usually this fixed mindset comes about from what we’ve unconsciously seen our parents do or indirectly heard coaches say and also largely because when we were young, a situation happened and we just figured out how to deal with it. In some instances, as we get older we learn that those conditioned responses don’t work any longer; for whatever reason. In some other instances, we don’t even realize it. When we are confronted with situations where the way things get done don’t work anymore, our brain doesn’t know what else to do and it produces a stress response.

For example, if you never drank water as a kid (neither did your parents and coaches may not have talked about it or explained how important it is), as an adult you may not understand the need to drink water even if you’ve been given the information. But you are not conditioned to put this in your routine or maybe you don’t fully understand how it makes a huge difference in your body physically and mentally so it doesn’t seem like a priority. Either way, it is a behavior that needs to be developed, practiced, and integrated into your performance.

The benefits of something

You may have experienced dehydration and/or migraines, potentially several times, but you still don’t drink water. You’ve been given information about drinking water to help with optimal performance. You can see the benefit of making the change and sometimes you try but it never lasts. Why?

Behavior change and making it a habit is hard. The first reason is because your brain can’t quite make sense of the fact that you didn’t drink water for 25 years and now it’s important (it’s always been important but you are just becoming aware of it). Even though you are experiencing dehydration and migraines, you think that it must be something else. Even though you’ve read the research, you may still be in denial.

All out versus realism

And then, even when you bring yourself to the place of clearly knowing this is what I must do, i.e. drink water, eat healthy and get at least 8 hours of sleep, you still can’t make it happen. What’s up with that? Not only are you used to doing things the way things get done but you set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic expectations – every meal is going to be healthy:

I am not going to eat any dessert.

I am going to go from drinking five ounces of water a day to 100 ounces of water.

I usually get five hours of sleep and am going to make sure I get eight hours every night.

You need to develop a plan, start small, and build from there. For example, I am going to set a reminder to drink four ounces of water when I first get up and at lunchtime. You need to find successful ways of making these behaviors happen, otherwise you fail. When you fail, that’s when you go back to doing what you were doing before that wasn’t working.

The negative impacts

There is so much research on the negative impact on life (performance) from not eating healthier (whole foods), drinking (at least) 64 ounces of water and getting 8 hours of sleep. The impact of these three things alone can lead to illness, disease and less than optimal performance in any part of your life. The alarming, increasing rates of ADHD, stress and anxiety are dramatic and are taking over the lives of children as well as adults. There is research to support the fact that at the very least eating healthy and getting enough sleep can have a huge impact on all of these and much more.

Why am I talking about eating healthier, drinking water and getting enough sleep? For all of my high performing clients these things are important and for many of them we have to figure out how to incorporate 1, 2 or 3 of them into their life in order for them to perform at their best. The mind effects the body and the body effects the mind. We are one organism. If these things are not happening, performers will struggle to perform and are apt to develop other symptoms associated with ADHD, stress, anxiety, or other illness. That on top of not having the right mental skills can then leave a performer open to depression and mental illness.

Not eating healthier, drinking water and getting enough sleep and not having optimal mental skills, leave performers potentially open to physical and mental illness.

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