Dr Perpetua Neo
Small Tweaks, Big Wins

The Neuroscience Of Peak Performance: Routines

[This DrP article was first published on NextEvolutionPerformance]

My client Greg tells me, it’s shameful that he has “no routine apart from the work and family obligations. Everyone thinks I’m doing really well, but really I’m struggling deep beneath”. I tell him that I feel him. That when left to my own devices out of the routine of school or routine employment, my time used to collapse into its own blackhole. Then I wondered what’s wrong with me. Before realising, it’s a common thing. Most of us simply don’t know we have to design our basics. Or that. . we get to!

There’s only so much that saying positive affirmations can bring you. If your body isn’t taken care of properly, then the physical systems that support you can’t support you that well.

So here’s some simple rules-of-thumb you can use, if you’d like to support your body better.

1. Drink
Hydrating and dehydration are two sides of the coins; all the biochemical processes that happen in your body need water. That includes your brain, the powerhouse of the decisions you make personally and professionally. So,

(A) Drink one large glass of water every morning— as a cue, I make sure I put that glass on my nightstand the evening before, so it’s visible.

(B) Carry a water bottle everywhere. To shake things up, sometimes I sparkle caffeine-free herbal teas with my Sodastream, or load my fridge with my favourite fancy sparkling waters like Vichy Catalan and Smeraldina. Some clients start off with 2-hourly alarms to remind them to drink water; others pair it with drinking water everytime they return from the bathroom. The point is, you want to make it automatic rather than a decision you have to fight, and therefore waste cognitive energy. And you want to make it rewarding, hence the sparkling waters and herbal teas.

(C) For every shot of coffee, caffeinated tea or alcohol, I drink 2.5x the amount of water to replenish.

2. Move
The act of walking in-itself is a miracle. Parts of your brain that don’t normally work together, start to, due to the motion produced. If your brain were a garden, then walking also ups the fertilisers, and also makes the channels in your brains bigger so that it can receive more nutrients. Hence, the most low-key thing I advocate my clients is walking.

(A) Fit in a little walking into your day. Can you park or drop somewhere further, so you can throw in some extra steps?

(B) If you know some basic workout moves, have some weights by your desk when working-from-home, so you can work in five minutes instead of scrolling on your phone.

(C) Depending on your activity level, choose an exercise class you love. I am a big fan of Barry’s Bootcamp because I love the intensity— from the lights to music to how the movements are always changing so I don’t need to think— and everything is done in 50 minutes. Plus I’ve got the best arms of my life since my 5th class. Some clients want something longer, or something more mellow. The point is, experiment until you discover what you want.

3. Eat
And of course, feeding your body right means your body can support you. As someone who runs business meetings over afternoon tea, and happily eats more than a man double my body weight, I need to also be thoughtful about getting some feeding foundations right. Once that’s in-place, I can indulge as I see fit!

(A) The basic supplements are magnesium, niacin, fish/krill oil and zinc. They support nervous system, brain, heart and skin health, at the very least.

(B) Two healthyish meals per day. For some clients, it’s about getting a meal automatically delivered to them so they eat properly, like a grain bowl or protein bowl; or a smoothie from a fitness center bar. For me, it’s about having batches of oatmeal in the freezer, made with fruit, green and protein powder. These are so much better than just grabbing anything in a state of hunger.

(C) For the snackers, having stashes of dried fruits and nuts, with minimal sugar or preservatives.

4. Sleep

I advocate helping you to sleep like a cat. That’s because not only do I love sleeping, I also love what sleeping does for us. Not only does it repair, renew and replenish our body; it also clears out gunk in our brain that we don’t need.

(A) Figure out your sleep time, set two alarms. The first tells you it’s ten minutes to winding down. The second, time to get into your bedtime rituals. Then it’s time to set your alarm, face your phone down, and not touch it again.

(B) Enjoy your bedtime rituals. Preferably, a hot shower so you maximise the time since you were last exposed to blue light, and your phone. For others, it’s also taking care of your skin, for instance, luxurious skincare and a quick 1-minute lymphatic drainage massage works wonders. For others, it’s reading a physical book or journalling.

(C) 3 deep breaths, to reset your brain, and draw the line between today and the next day.

What next?

Do not implement all at once if it feels overwhelming; instead, try one from each category, review, then add another.

Whilst you may think that there are plenty of different ideas about these rituals, how they fit different people, etcetera.. these are largely basic universals that apply to everyone. Akin to how we all need to brush our teeth. It’s better to start something than debate and never do anything a year later. When you get these foundations right, then you can refine the minutiae.

For instance,
(A) Hanging out with people who do the same reinforces your new habits. E.g. it’s easier to drink plenty of water with those who naturally do, then with someone who’s always drinking beer and soda.
(B) If there are activities where you benefit from the energy of someone around, then do that! In ADHD-speak, it’s called body doubling. Personally, I love body-doubling in fitness classes with strangers or friends, and leverage the energy in cafés to write and study languages. But, running is strictly me-time. Figuring out the difference can help you make decisions on when to do what, and with whom.
(C) Oomphing up the Eat bits. E.g. I pair my healthy meals with a rule of two healthy roast chicken and argula dinner a week, otherwise I’d go out everyday. And I also, intermittent fast to maximise brain benefits.
(D) Hire a professional to maximally leverage your routine for health and performance!
(E) Schedule and run constant reviews, to see where you’re going, and what you’d like to happen next.

Which of these would you be keen on starting first?

If you’d like to build rituals that support your growth to the next level, book your free Chemistry Call here to chat about a signature 8-week program that’s tailored to your lifestyle, values and personality.