Category Archives: Performance

Don’t Do It! Professor Wegner Reveals Why Telling Yourself Not to Think About Something Increases the Likelihood of Doing It.

Ironic Process – don’t think of a white bear! Photo by Robert Anthony Carbone on

Professor Daniel M. Wegner has discovered a phenomenon that is surprisingly common – telling yourself not to do or think about something often increases the likelihood of actually doing or thinking about it. This phenomenon is known as ironic processing, and it has to do with the way the mind works under pressure.

When we tell ourselves not to do something, two mental processes are triggered – one conscious, and one automatic. The conscious process is in our awareness, and it searches for anything to think about other than the unwanted thought. The automatic process, on the other hand, is outside of our awareness and searches for the unwanted thought. This is where the problem lies – when under pressure, the conscious process may become overwhelmed, and the automatic process takes over and leads to the very thing we were trying to avoid.

This phenomenon can be seen in many forms – from those who swear off unhealthy foods only to find themselves craving them, to someone telling themselves not to mess up and they do exactly what they are trying not to do. Wegner’s research has revealed that the more we focus on not doing or thinking something, the more likely we are to end up doing or thinking it.

The good news is that there are ways to prevent this from happening. Wegner suggests reframing thoughts in a positive way and focusing on what you do want to do or think about, rather than what you don’t. He also suggests taking deep breaths and releasing the pressure. Taking a break from the situation can also help, as it allows us to take a step back and gain a new perspective.

So, the next time you find yourself in a presentation telling yourself not to do or think something, take a breath and remember Professor Wegner’s advice – focus on the positive and the things that you do want to think about, and don’t get overwhelmed by the pressure to avoid it.

Nurses; night shift and performance using heart rate variability

Interesting article by Burch (et al. 2018) where the authors speculated that HRV biofeedback may improve HRV coherence (being in a balanced state – being calm and alert) for nightshift workers. This level of coherence has been associated with improvements in cognitive performance and sleep, as well as reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression.

Burch, JB, Alexander, M, Balte, P, Sofge, J, Winstead, J, Kothandaraman, V & Ginsberg, JP 2018, ‘Shift Work and Heart Rate Variability Coherence: Pilot Study Among Nurses’, Applied Psychophysiology and biofeedback, September 19

Gratitude and HRV

There are a number of articles written based on research conducted by Redwine et al. (2016) which links gratitude to HRV. See Allen (2018) for an example.

EliteHRV (2018) stated that “This line of research began in 1995, when a study found that people feeling appreciation (an emotion related to gratitude) have improved heart rate variability”

As Redwine et al. (2016) state more research needs to be done, however, there is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that practising gratitude can have a positive effect for some.


Allen, S 2018, Is Gratitude Good for Your Health?, viewed 3 December 2018, <>.

EliteHRV 2018, HRVcourse onTwitter, viewed 3 Dec 2018, <>.

Redwine, LS, Henry,BL, Pung, MA, Wilson, K, Chinh, K, Knight, B, Jain, S, Rutledge, T, Greenberg,B, Maisel, A & Mills, PJ 2016, ‘Pilot Randomized Study of a GratitudeJournaling Intervention on Heart Rate Variability and Inflammatory Biomarkersin Patients With Stage B Heart Failure’, PsychosomMed, vol. 78, no. 6, 2016 Jul-Aug, pp. 667-76.

How do we know when we are stressing out?

A lot of you would be familiar with the Yerkes Dodson law which “demonstrates an empirical relationship between arousal and performance. It dictates that performance increases with cognitive arousal, but only to a certain point: when levels of arousal become too high, performance will decrease.”  (Wikipedia 2018)

You can find the original Yerkes Dodson paper referenced below (Yerkes & Dodson 1908).

Below we have referenced a diagrammatic representation of this law from Diamond (et al. 2007).

If we draw an imaginary line vertically down the centre of the solid line bell curve, we can conclude that we would want to be on the left side and not the right. If we want to stay on the left hand side we also don’t want to be at peak arousal and performance all the time, as this would be unsustainable and could possibly result in a physical and mental break down. So we want to stay on the left and move up and down the slope to achieve a ‘perform then rest’ sequence. The techniques for moving from ‘perform to rest’ also know as moving from a state of stress to homeostasis, are personal and vast – just Google stress relief and you will find an abundance of ideas.

Some fundamental techniques we should master according to openfit (2018) are:

  • Get more sleep
  • Do more cardio
  • Stress less: regular yoga, stretching, deep breathing, meditation
  • Be flexible with your work outs

However, some for some of us don’t know when we are over doing it and stressing out. That’s when heart rate variability analysis comes in.  By analysing our HRV consistently over a period we can readily identify when we need to slow down or have the capacity to do more.

We of course don’t have to calculate this ourselves, we can use apps from EliteHRV, HRV4Training, ithlete to help us. These apps will give us colour coded trends and scores and after some familiarisation we can put the appropriate strategies in place to rectify any downward trends.


Diamond, DM, Campbell, AM, Park, CR, Halonen, J & Zoladz, PR 2007, ‘The Temporal Dynamics Model of Emotional Memory Processing: A Synthesis on the Neurobiological Basis of Stress-Induced Amnesia, Flashbulb and Traumatic Memories, and the Yerkes-Dodson Law’, Neural Plasticity, vol. 2007, no. 2007, p. 3.

openfit 2018, What Is Heart Rate Variability and How Do You Measure It? | Openfit, viewed <>.

Wikipedia 2018, Yerkes–Dodson law – Wikipedia, viewed <>.

Yerkes, RM & Dodson, JD 1908, ‘The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit‐formation’, Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology, vol. 18, no. 5, pp. 459-482.

Team Stress & HRV

Individual coaching using Heart rate variability can be very powerful as we have seen in previous posts. But how does it relate to Teams?

“Team HRV” literally takes the pulse of the team or even the organisation. By doing so this gives team leaders, managers, general managers and even CEOs the ability to respond instantly to signs of stress.

The response may be to slow the team down, apply more pressure or apply a “steady as she goes” approach. This is powerful because you don’t have to wait for an event to occur and apply a remedy. HRV can give predictive information so that the any strategies are proactive not reactive saving time and money

When using team HRV in sport the players understand the direct benefit of this type of protocol. However, in organisations there may not be the same level of willingness to participate due to confidentiality and the fear of “big brother”. This can be easily overcome by making the recording and analysis of the data anonymous.

Which raises the question if it’s anonymous then how do we help those in need? Whilst an individual’s results may be hidden from their manager, this information may be accessible to an independent coach with whom the individual has a relationship. Once again the coach can be proactive and if they see signs of negative trends they can alert the individual and develop strategies accordingly.  Likewise the coach can analyse the teams’ state, contact the manager and suggest certain strategies or highlight the need for caution.

Jason More(2018) from EliteHRV shows on the company’s blog what a typical team dashboard might look like:

Here we can see the team members in the second column (which could be made anonymous) and the relevant measures. The dashboard uses traffic light colours, green: things are going well and you can apply more pressure, yellow: things need to be approached with caution or red: stop and check what’s happening.

The benefit of this kind of insight can be quite extensive, a few examples are:

  • the avoidance or reduction of errors
  • the avoidance or reduction of absenteeism
  • increased motivation
  • analysis of the impact of announcements on individuals
  • longitudinal analysis of the effect of major restructures

It is important to note that HRV captures every stressor that happens in a person’s life, both inside and outside work. Therefore this needs to be taken into account when evaluating the results. A way to address this is to annotate readings with symbols that highlight a major personal event.  This is still important and should not be removed as it will still effect performance.

HRV training is used in sport, both for individuals and teams, and for individuals in business. To my knowledge however, the team dashboard in business is not common but would be an exciting and natural extension of this methodology.

Moore, J 2018, HRV For Teams and Groups, @elitehrv, viewed 19 November, <>.

Survival on a London Trading Floor

Kandasamy et al. (2016) found in their recent research that financial traders interoceptive ability (gut feelings) predicts their profitability and how long they survived in the financial markets.

Specifically, they said:

“Traders in the financial world often speak of the importance of gut feelings for choosing profitable trades. By this they mean that subtle physiological changes in their bodies provide cues helping them rapidly select from a range of possible trades the one that just ‘feels right’. Our findings suggest that the gut feelings informing this decision are more than the mythical entities of financial lore – they are real physiological signals, valuable ones at that.”

One of the key determinants of this success was the traders’ ability to detect their heartbeat. An accurate detection score predicted their profitability. The question then arose as to what predicts heartbeat detection itself? They looked at BMI, heart rate and heart rate variability. Heart rate variability proved more indicative than the other two.

From our point of view, this is further evidence that attending to our physiological as well as our psychological needs is vital in reaching peak performance.

Kandasamy, N., Garfinkel, S. N., Page, L., Hardy, B., Critchley, H. D., Gurnell, M., & Coates, J. M. (2016). Interoceptive Ability Predicts Survival on a London Trading Floor. Scientific reports, 6, 32986. doi:10.1038/srep32986 <;

Chronic Stress

In their journal article on chronic stress, Teixeira et al. (2015) conclude that:

“..chronic psychological stress associated with higher levels of cortisol impairs cognitive performance in business executives independently of genders, ..”

Whilst cortisol has many important functions in our body such as controlling our blood pressure and reducing inflammation (Health Direct, 2018) too much for too long can have a negative effect. Echouffo-Tcheugui et al. (2018) found higher cortisol was associated with lower brain size in younger to middle-aged adults.

In order to prevent chronic or long-term stress we need to do a few things:

  1. Understanding what brings your system into balance. This won’t be the same for everyone; running, boxing, meditating, walking or singing?
  2. Understand the signs of chronic stress; headaches, muscle tension, trouble sleeping, irritability, skipping productive parts of your daily routine such as lunch or drinking water.
  3. Measure the state of your system on a regular basis by measuring your Heart Rate Variability (HRV). HRV measurement is an important part of our self-care toolbox.

You don’t start training for a marathon the day before the event, so we need to be proactive in our management of stress.

Renata Roland Teixeira, Miguel Mauricio Díaz, Tatiane Vanessa da Silva Santos, Jean Tofoles Martins Bernardes, Leonardo Gomes Peixoto, Olga Lucia Bocanegra, Morun Bernardino Neto, Foued Salmen Espindola 2015, ‘Chronic Stress Induces a Hyporeactivity of the Autonomic Nervous System in Response to Acute Mental Stressor and Impairs Cognitive Performance in Business Executives’, <;

Health Direct 2018, viewed 13 November 2018, <;

Justin B. Echouffo-Tcheugui, Sarah C. Conner, Jayandra J. Himali, Pauline Maillard, Charles S. DeCarli, Alexa S. Beiser, Ramachandran S. Vasan, Sudha Seshadri 2018, ‘Circulating cortisol and cognitive and structural brain measures’, Neurology, <;

Heart rate Variability

HRV, heart rate variability is the degree of fluctuation in the length of the intervals between heart beats. (Malik & Camm, 1995)

HRV has been used in medicine for many years and in more recent years in sport as an indicator of stress when to train and when not to train.

Technology has advanced so quickly that  Executive Coaches now have access to the technology that measures HRV.  This enables them to measure a clients stress levels in a non-invasive way and in real time. After interpreting the data, the coach can then ascertain methods by which these stress levels can be addressed.
Depending on the software used, the interpretation of the results can be either self evident or may require a small degree of analysis.
Other Resources
Heart rate variability biofeedback: how and why does it work?
In recent years there has been substantial support for heart rate variability biofeedback (HRVB) as a treatment for a variety of disorders and for performance enhancement (Gevirtz, 2013). Since conditions as widely varied as asthma and depression seem to respond to this form of cardiorespiratory feedback training, the issue of possible mechanisms becomes more salient. The most supported possible mechanism is the strengthening of homeostasis in the baroreceptor (Vaschillo et al., 2002; Lehrer et al., 2003). Recently, the effect on the vagal afferent pathway to the frontal cortical areas has been proposed. In this article, we review these and other possible mechanisms that might explain the positive effects of HRVB.  More here
It’s pretty well documented that regular aerobic exercise can result in an increase in resting HRV. Generally, you can expect no change or even a slight increase in HRV the day following low to moderate intensity aerobic exercise. However, with higher intensity training, HRV can take up to 48-72 hours to return to baseline, depending on intensity, duration, training status, fitness level, age, gender, etc. (Stanley et al. 2014). more here


Getting Stronger
Stressed out?

There’s a surprisingly simple but little-known technique for measuring your in-the-moment ability to handle physical, mental and emotional stress.  more here

Psychology Today
What is heart rate variability?

Heart rate variability (HRV) is a physiological marker of how we experience and regulate our emotions. But before we discuss HRV and emotion regulation in greater detail, let’s take a quick biology refresher. Whenever we are confronted with potential dangers (e.g., walking alone at night, being chased by a rabid dog), we enact a fight-or-flight response in which our heart rate (HR) spikes up, our breathing gets shallower, our muscles tense up, and so on. read more here..

Biocom Technologies
The origin of heartbeat is located in a right atrium wall of the heart, where a group of specialized cells forms so‐called “sine node” that continuously generates electrical impulses spreading all over the heart muscle through specialized pathways and causing well‐synchronized heart muscle contraction leading to its proper blood pumping. read more here…

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) (Figure 1) is the portion of the nervous system that controls the body’s visceral functions, including action of the heart, movement of the gastrointestinal tract and secretion by different glands, among many other vital activities. It is well known that mental and emotional states directly affect the ANS. Read more here

Monitoring Heart Rate Variability is so much more valuable than just monitoring heart rate.

Heart rate variability (usually known as HRV) is a relatively new method for assessing the effects of stress on your body. It is measured as the time gap between your heart beats that varies as you breathe in and out. Research evidence increasingly links high HRV to good health and a high level of fitness, whilst decreased HRV is linked to stress, fatigue and even burnout. Read more here

American Heart Association
The last two decades have witnessed the recognition of a significant relationship between the autonomic nervous system and cardiovascular mortality, including sudden cardiac death.1 2 3 4 Experimental evidence for an association between propensity for lethal arrhythmias and signs of either increased sympathetic or reduced vagal activity has spurred efforts for the development of quantitative markers of autonomic activity. Read more here

Stress and Heart Rate Variability. All sorts of things can cause stress, from physical exertion to a bad day at work. There’s “good” stress (like receiving a big promotion), and there’s “bad” stress (like having a traffic accident). For the purposes of this discussion, “stress” means bad stress. Read more here
Technical Explanation

Heart Rate Variability – Farid Medleg

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