Easy 4 Ingredient Recipe to Staying in the Zone of Peak Performance


The flow state, sometimes known as the "zone," is a state of peak performance treasured by athletes, artists, and high performing businesspeople. Fields like Sports Psychology and NLP study this “peak performance” state in order to help people create it more consistently and utilize it for higher achievement.

Can you remember times when everything seemed to flow? When you were immersed in what you were doing and lifted by inspiration?

With our attention scattered by multiple devices and a steady stream of emails, learning and implementing the peak performance flow state has more relevance and strategic advantage than ever.



If you'd like to know a simple recipe for peak performance, read on and let's consider a simple 4-step process for bringing more of it to your life, your team, company, or wherever else you'd like to apply it:

The 4 Steps are:

Define - Discover - Analyze - Implement

1. Define the state of peak performance

Charles Garfield, in his book Peak Performance, defined that state with these 8 characteristics he calls "neurophysiological cues of peak performance feelings" which I here summarize and paraphrase-

  1. Mentally Relaxed - inner calm and peace
  2. Physically Relaxed - no undue muscle tension
  3. Confident/ Optimistic - expecting success
  4. Focused on the Present - attention on the here and now
  5. Highly Energized - feeling "charged" with energy, more than enough for the task at hand
  6. Extraordinary Awareness - acutely sensitive to the sensory environment
  7. In Control - directing mind and body to do what is needed
  8. In the Cocoon - In an envelope of power, undistracted by the irrelevant and extraneous

Garfield used these criteria to help both athletes and business people better recognize their personal peak experiences with exercises like rating them on a 1-10 scale.  Drills like that help to clearly "mark out" peak performances from lesser ones, clearing the path to having them more often.


2. Discover a set of peak experiences

Make an inventory of the best personal peak experiences you can remember. You can use Garfield's 8 characteristics above as criteria. Remember specific times when you were really in the zone and feeling extremely focused and successful about whatever it is you were doing. What you were actually doing and whether or not you succeeded in the eyes of the world isn't as important as your own feelings of success. Find at least 3 or 4 personal peak experiences and give each one a name and short description that will jog your memory.

Now, as we would say in NLP, "elicit the state" of peak performance to bring these experiences fully back to life. Relax and fully immerse into each one and relive it with all your senses engaged . . . see what you were seeing . . . hear what you were hearing . . . feel what you were feeling . Notice how your body position, posture, and facial expression shift with feelings like confidence, focus, and control reawakened.


3. Analyze your peak experiences

Once you have a few peak experiences closer at hand, analyzing them helps you learn they didn't just happen by chance. There are things you did and thought that helped create the climate that high performance thrives in.

Doing a "mind map" is a good way to better understand how you created these experiences and can create more in the future.

As you think about one, let your thinking flow as you use a mind mapping app or just doodle on a piece of paper, listing all the things that were going both physically and mentally before and during that time. Afterwards, as you review several, you will see things you did or thought that were consistent between them that can become your personal keys to peak experience.


4. Implement what you have learned.

Studying these mind maps of your personal peak experiences and inventorying the controllable factors that brought them about helps you arrange your life to be in "the zone" more consistently and consciously.

Design your environment and actions so peak experiences happen more often. For example, if you found that having a coach was a common to your past peak experiences, you know to build a coach into your current plan.


By knowing the definition of peak performance, discovering such times in your own life, analyzing how they came about, and implementing what you learned, you can live at a higher level of inspiration and success.

How will your life be different, rallying and amplifying your highest state of peak performance and then consistently focusing it on the activities and outcomes important to you?

The 6 Levels of the Aligned Team

Introduction to The 6 Levels of the Aligned Team- Creating a Congruent Peak Performance Company

"Alignment is a necessary condition before empowering individuals..." Peter M. Senge

It's nice to be near the ocean, but Charleston is flat as a pancake so I have to escape to the mountains regularly. Looking down on vast misty valleys and shimmering lakes from a Pisgah National Forest trail awakens a certain feeling of inspiration. Maybe it's my Scottish Highlands blood.

It's more fun to get out of the comfort zone of the trails I know and explore the unfamiliar, so I might get a trail map from the outdoor shop in Brevard.

A hiking guide shows where to find good trails and the general nature of each hike, but it's nothing like smelling the trees, hearing the wind whistling through the trees and wondering if it's a bear with those heavy footsteps in the bushes.

Regardless, it helps create a great trip, whether for an overview of a general area to explore or to plan more specific point-to-point experiences.

A map can also help motivate a team to grow a company by leading customers to great experiences. The 6 Levels of the Aligned Team (6LAT) model is such a model. it isn't a substitute for direct experience any more than the hiking guide is but can similarly help create a great journey by charting a course.

“Experience by itself teaches nothing... Without theory, experience has no meaning. Without theory, one has no questions to ask. Hence, without theory, there is no learning.” ― W. Edwards Deming




The 6 Levels of the Aligned Team model (6LAT) is a hierarchical model of creating congruent high level results in a business. The levels, from top to bottom, are

  1. Timeless Principles
  2. Mission
  3. Mental Models
  4. Capabilities
  5. Practices
  6. Results

Distinct strategies address each level to bring an organization into alignment . A misaligned level will affect all the levels beneath it. If the conductor of a symphony has a seizure, it doesn't matter whether or not the second seat violin is out of tune. And positive changes at a higher level can wash down the levels below like a waterfall after a heavy rain.

An aligned team in a business works together more congruently with a common mission and values that answer the "why" behind the goals. Energy that could have been wasted on internal friction like an engine running with no oil can be recovered and focused on serving customers at a higher level.

Tony Robbins speaks of how congruent people naturally radiate because they are living in accordance with their values and dreams. Similarly, companies that are congruent through alignment radiate specialness. An aligned team works together with not only shared goals, but also the deeper rapport and congruence that comes from shared mission, values, and beliefs.


"Integrity is congruence between what you know, what you profess, and what you do." Nathaniel Branden


To get an overview of the 6LAT map, let's take a brief journey through the levels, starting at the top:


Timeless Principles

Timeless principles are expressions of immutable archetypal forces. They can be variations on this set of nine:

            1)  Empathy
            2)  Innovation
            3)  Discipline
            4)  Abundance
            5)  Competitiveness
            6)  Leadership
            7)  Harmony
            8)  Communication
            9)  Imagination

Aligning an organization with values like these chosen collaboratively with the team helps the organization flow with the river of life instead of swimming upstream. Which principles are behind your ideal of excellent service to your customers? Do your people see how their highest internal values align with those of the company?


The mission tells how the organization distinctively expresses timeless principles through enriching the lives of its customers. Making money itself is not a compelling mission because it is inwardly directed as opposed to outwardly directed. Just focus on that and you'll make less money because people can smell they are being used for another's end. On the other hand, people are likely to willingly give the energy exchange of money to a business that is focused on helping them. What's the highest calling behind what your company does?

Mental Models- from Unexamined to Conscious

Mental Models can also be known as "belief systems" but in this context I prefer the more malleable connotations of the term "Mental Models". What are the assumptions, the presuppositions behind how your company does things? Shifting a mental model can be a powerful leverage point for breakthrough growth. The challenge is uprooting these and bringing them to light so you and your team can ask questions like "how else can we think about this?"


What skill sets do your people need to fulfill the mission? What digital resources does your company need to stretch the mission fulfillment? Should there not be ongoing training and education programs? Where will stretching capabilities in any of these areas enhance the special benefits offered to your customers? Is continuous improvement a guiding principle for your organization?


What are the processes that drive the business? Are they documented so they can serve as a baseline for ongoing improvement? How do shifts in principle orientation, mission, mental models, and capabilities suggest the need to evolve these practices or replace them with new ones entirely?

"If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing." W. Edwards Deming


The natural outcome of getting alignment through these levels is measurably improved and more harmoniously obtained results. Instead of pulling and pushing people with the carrot and stick, this flow helps evolve performance driven by the intrinsic motivation stemming from your peoples' personal values and mission aligning with that of the company.


A performance by a great jazz combo can illustrate the levels. Their common mission of deeply moving creative expression is guided by principles like creativity, excellence, and spontaneity. The musicians share common mental models like the 12 note scale and various rhythmic patterns. They have refined their capabilities of utilizing those models with dedicated practice on the instruments. They apply the capabilities in the process of creating great music in the moment. One result is likely to be an appreciative audience.

Peak performance in such a system comes from the harmony and collaboration between the high-performing players so the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. The music is enriched by how they listen and respond to each other.


Defining these things sets up a roadmap that becomes alive with an ongoing implementation strategy. What feedback loops best reinforce the values and mission of the organization? How can leadership align with these visibly and how can people use them for decision making? How will feedback correct course if and when people stray from these principles? Is management brave enough to sacrifice an easy short term result to a principle?



Sources/More Reading

Peter Senge, The 5th Discipline

Sue Knight, NLP at Work: The Essence of Excellence

In an interview, Charles Garfield, author of Peak Performance and Peak Performers, said " The mission of the individual needs to align with the mission of the team, which needs to align with the mission of the organization. In fact, I would take it further -- the mission of the organization needs to align with the mission of the society in which it is embedded and the mission of the planet to which we are all indebted. "

The Aligned Team model, a key component of the e-Merg program, is derived in part from the neurological levels model of Robert Dilts, who wrote in a Brief History of Neurological Levels, "Our brain structure, language, and social systems form natural hierarchies or levels of processes....The concept of logical levels of learning and change was initially formulated as a mechanism in the behavioral sciences by anthropologist Gregory Bateson, based on the work of Bertrand Russell in logic and mathematics."


Thought Experiment 2 - The Time Machine


This is the second of the detailed thought experiments posts following the more general introduction 6 Thought Experiments to Inspire Innovation which is where you will want to start if you haven't read it yet.

Last time, we looked at the Model of Excellence method. Here, we are digging deeper into the Time Machine.

Have you seen the time travel comedy skit featuring identical twins?

What if time travel was a real thing in an alternate universe? After all, quantum mechanics says it is possible.

Here is a way to play with that concept to generate possibilities:

First, think of some ability or accomplishment you have now that 5 or 10 years ago, you wouldn't have even imagined.

In your imagination, travel back in time and share that information with the "past you". How does the "past you" react? Maybe deer-in-the-headlights? How would the reply sound as you shared this? How would he or she feel about learning of the future self's abilities or accomplishments?

Now, keeping this in mind, return fully to the present. Shake it off.

Imagine you are getting in your time machine again, but this time travelling to the future, looking back on your present self  - seeing and hearing your present self similarly to how you experienced your past self.

As your future self, imagine travelling back in time to the present (confusing, I know) telling your present (now, past) self about something you now do or have in this future time that your present self responds to in the same way.

What would that be?

Thought Experiment 1 - The Model of Excellence

The post 6 Thought Experiments to Inspire Innovation makes the case for thought experiments for innovation and achievement in business. It gives an overview of six thought experiments suitable for that purpose and is where you will want to start if you haven't read it yet.

This is the first of the promised subsequent posts to unfurl specific thought experiments in more detail. Here we are examining the "model of excellence" method.

The field of NLP was largely founded on modeling excellence. The founders created a syntax that decoded the essential aspects of high level achievement into replicable components that could produce similar results.

Aspects worth modeling can include physiology, attitude, beliefs, sensory experience . . . It works in part because it is easier for a beginning entrepreneur to see Steve Jobs coming up with an innovation that reinvents his field than to see himself doing it. Making such an inner movie vivid, dramatic, and bigger-than-life can amp things up yet another level.


The first step is to choose a model...

Who, to you, represents excellence in handling the issues like those you are dealing with? Is it a famous author, marketing consultant, or businessperson? Is it a historical genius like Tesla or Einstein? A mythological figure like Apollo or Thor? How would it look and sound if this person took your place for a while in dealing with your business challenges?


Now let's make a movie . . .

Imagine you are at the theater. There's the usual squeaking of chairs, hushed lighting, and smell of popcorn. You are watching a film about your model of excellence taking your place and facing your challenges. How would things turn out differently? Fully immerse in watching your model of excellence create results in your situation. Maybe Nikola Tesla invents something or Steve Jobs instigates a breakthrough that reinvents an industry. Let it play all the way out.

Now, rewind the movie to the beginning and watch it again, only this time, superimpose an image of another you over the model of excellence. . . seeing both at the same time until the "other you" matches the actions, the way of looking at the world differently, and the energy and drive of the model.

Play the movie all the way to the end, gradually replacing the model of excellence with the "other you" until you clearly see the other you acting, thinking, and feeling the same way. Feel free to add a soundtrack of motivating music.


As the producer of this inner movie, you can enhance the drama of the achievement with perspective tricks or special effects. For example, you can add fireworks sparkling high above, celebrating the achievements, or a crowd roaring in a large stadium. Take time to make it vivid and bigger than life.

Now, use your remote control to restart the movie from the beginning, step into it fully and see, hear, and feel the events from the perspective of the "other you" that has modeled your ideal of excellence. Again, play it all the way to the end.

What new actions and thoughts emerge? What different feelings do you notice playing this enhanced character?

How would things be different if you consistently applied this going forward? How would your results change? Your relationships? Your mindset?

Remember when an image displayed too long on an computer monitor would get "burned in". Practicing such mental movies regularly can similarly imprint them deeply. What skills and achievements of models of excellence would be helpful to "burn in" the theater of your mind?

Like any of these thought experiments, try the Model of Excellence on for size and, if it works for you, keep doing it. Or you can try another.

Stay tuned to this channel as the next Thought Experiment post will go into more detail about "The Time Machine".


5 Powerful Applications for NLP in Business

Do you value excellence in business? One definition of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) is the study and replication of excellence. As such, it has many applications in the business arena.

NLP was originally developed in the 1970s by linguist John Grinder and programmer Richard Bandler. They created a language for decoding the communication skills of masters like Milton Erickson, the father of modern hypnotherapy. Bandler and Grinder created a syntax to make the formerly mysterious abilities teachable. They and other early leaders of NLP also modeled peak performers in sports, business, therapy, and  science  to develop codified patterns of high performance that became NLP . The power and applications of what they created run deep and wide.

Here, we'll look at five skills from NLP that are especially useful in business. This is an overview to give a sense of how much there is to gain with their application in business. You can dig deeper with study and perhaps a certification course if you become intrigued enough to look into mastering these practices. Or you could hire an NLP  Certified Practitioner or Master Practitioner to assist with evolving your business as a sales or management trainer or organizational consultant with these skills:

1- Building Rapport

Great communicators develop rapport before they attempt to persuade. NLP defines rapport on several levels. Matching and pacing another's physical movements and speech gives the feeling "this person is like me." If it's just subtle enough, it can be very effective at creating comfort while going unnoticed on a conscious level. This can be as simple as holding the same posture while speaking in the same loudness and with the same rhythm as your counterpart.

A deeper level of rapport is "criterial rapport". You create this by feeding back another's desired outcome with precision. Find out his or her intended result and feed it back to get agreement and the sense of being aligned towards a common goal.

2- Eliciting and Anchoring Positive States

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to call upon your highest level of motivation and focus it exactly where you want it? NLP has processes for eliciting any positive state of mind you have experienced and putting it wherever you find helpful. For example, in NLP sales training, measurable improvements in phone sales have been gained by anchoring the expectation of success to answering the phone.

3- Belief Change

In Systems Thinking, brought to a wider audience by Peter Senge's book The Fifth Discipline, "mental models" are often levers for making positive change in companies. "Mental Models" is another name for "Belief Systems", or the assumptions we make that underpin our decisions. These are usually unconscious. Being able to uncover, examine, then change a belief system underlying an underperforming business system can be extremely powerful. An example might be finding a belief that "you should always purchase the lowest bid" is at the root of an unreliable product and can be changed to the more appropriate belief (mental model) that "it's better to choose vendors that add the most value to the end customer". NLP is rich in systems to discover and change disempowering beliefs.

4- Multiple Perspectives

In NLP, we talk about first, second, and third positions as three different ways to perceive a situation. For example, "first position" might be described as seeing things from the eyes of a service rep serving a customer. "Second position", conversely, would be seeing things from the customer's point of view in the same situation (as well as hearing things from the customer's ears). Things can feel quite a bit different from there! Feeling what a customer feels leads to more empathy, a key principle in customer oriented businesses. Third position is observing the situation as an uninvolved third party, watching from the distance . Different information is gathered from third position, where the interplay can be better observed with detachment.

Being able to see things from the customers’ point of view as well as from the detached observer perspective brings new information that helps gain rapport and understanding. Switching positions is a also a useful skill for negotiation and resolving conflict.

5- Reframing

The ability to put a new frame around a situation can add motivational "juice" and put problems in a new perspective. An example of a reframe that changed an entire industry is when certain restaurateurs realized they were in the entertainment business and not simply in the nourishment business. Personal Fitness Training flourished as more people saw helping people get fit through the frame of a coach rather than that of a teacher. Nearly any business situation can be reframed to gather new information from seeing it in a different context.

NLP has proven to be a powerful tool in sales and business leadership, enabling creating more aligned teams with higher motivation, uncovering the source of and solving business problems, and shedding light on new, innovative perspectives.


4 Ways to Get Focus in the Age of Distraction


I want to look at a goal the way Jefferson looks at a cat. Jefferson is a sturdy, athletic black lab mix, and the clinching chain around his neck is completely ignored as he strains with all his 85 pounds after the feline frenemy. A plane could crash into a nearby house and he wouldn't notice.

How often, though, do we humans  get that kind of focused drive in this age of distraction? According to a recent study, our personal symphonies of attention scattering alerts are a one trillion (yes, with a T) dollar problem.

So, it seems to me that, in today's world, the ability to consciously create focus is a tremendous strategic advantage. If you master that, you are a shark amongst minnows, a crocodile amongst turtles.

So, ignore your beeping phone for a few minutes, and read on, future crocodile-shark, to see how:

1. Meditation

Learning to calm your rational mind and separate from your thoughts is a powerful way to learn to manage your attention and where you direct it. I've seen a lot of definitions for meditation, but to me, they all have the common goal of finding the place of deep inner silence. Practice physically relaxing and mentally clearing your thoughts for at least 20 minutes a day and you will find your ability to put your attention where you want improving . . . in addition to the myriad other benefits to your health and well being meditation offers. Take time to sharpen the saw and you’ll cut the trees faster.

2. Consciously Schedule Time for Being Distracted

While it seems counterintuitive, intentionally planning time to be available to the interruptions from your beeping phone and binging laptop will help you calibrate the difference between being focused and being distracted. Becoming familiar with the difference between these two states means you can more readily adjust yourself to where you want to be. Try scheduling a half hour once or twice a day to respond to all distractions as if they were important. After a while, you might even find this hard to do, as you better learn the value of the state of focusing on one important thing at a time.

3. Work in Time Cycles Between Analytic Work and Creative Absorption

I am far more productive with software development when I take 10 minutes out of every half hour to play guitar. It gives the "left brain" a rest and I return to the work refreshed, often with new ideas that seemed to unconsciously gestate as I took this "creative rest". You may not be a musician, but you can get most of the same benefits by listening to music, doodling, or whatever else triggers your creative feelings. And if you don't have a creative outlet you enjoy, this would be a good time to one that to your life.

4. Analyze Your Personal State of Immersion

I'm sure there have been times in your life when you have been fully absorbed in an activity. I became more familiar with my own state of absorption when I was riding motorcycles: situation awareness can save your life when you are on two wheels in a sea of texting SUV drivers. Weight lifting is another activity in which I have had experiences of deep concentration. Think back through your own personal history and find some specific times where you were deeply absorbed in what you were doing. In your imagination, step back into those times and relive them, one by one. What were the common factors? Did you see what you were focused on in a particular way? How did you talk to yourself, or did you? What feelings accompanied these times? Now, imagine how much more productive you will be by having that state where you want it in the future, seeing things the same way, hearing the same way, and feeling the same way.

These four methods are but a small sampling of all the ways you can build the mental skill of focus and emerge the victor over the endless stream of distractions we live with. How much more can you do with a highly developed skill of concentration that is there when you need it? How much more satisfaction can you gain from being fully aligned with what you intend to do? What is the first thing from this list that you can practice today to affirm to yourself you've made the decision to master awareness?

The 5 Reasons I Started a Mastermind

Sometimes, incremental progress will do the trick. Other times, only a breakthrough will do. 

2015 was a year I needed a breakthrough. I needed to put myself in an environment that I knew from past experience is a fertile ground for making a quantum leap: a mastermind. 

What is a mastermind?

In the seminal book, Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill called a mastermind "the coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people, who work toward a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony."

By the time I read Think and Grow Rich, though, I was already well acquainted with the mastermind concept. I had my first experience with the concept working with Ray Waits and Associates in the 1990's. Ray ran an excellent motivation/success/personal development program in Charleston that was taught to small groups. The graduates of these programs were encouraged to segue into mastermind groups that continued ongoing. These masterminds were typically 5-10 motivated, high-energy types who would meet weekly in a "round table" format to support each other's success.

At the time I did Ray's program and joined my first mastermind, I was a young entrepreneur in the fitness industry. The mastermind concept seeded by the program had such an enormous impact for me that I more than doubled the size of my business within a year. 

Over the ensuing years, I participated in several other masterminds. I started and facilitated a group as well as participating in others led by people who had worked with Ray and his system. 

In retrospect, I realized that every time I was in a mastermind, breakthroughs happened. I was able to take my business and personal life past previous ceilings, conceptualize innovative new strategies, and put into practice systems and habits that led to rapid and sustained growth. 

So the timing was right to start such a group this past autumn. As I recently posted on Facebook, "Third anniversary of losing Constance to cancer and also the third anniversary of meeting Meaghan, who became the love of my life. She joined my life in a time of loss and has been there for the last three years during which time I've lost my father, Constance, and 7 other people very close to me. I haven't really had a break from grief the whole time. I hope soon she gets to know me for who I am when I'm not surrounded by loss. It's coming."

 I had lost multiple people, including my girlfriend, father, and quite a few close friends over a short time. And I realized the losses had affected me in numerous ways. I had lost my focus on serving my business' clients at the high standard I usually hold myself and my teammates to. I was taking little business conflicts personally. My passion for music, which had become a big part of life, playing regular shows with my original rock band Air Sculptures, was essentially gone. 

So, I needed a mastermind. And, seemingly by magic, the right people were showing up around me. A I write this, I am five months into and feeling like a new person, with an exciting new business vision and renewed vigor for enjoying life

So, here are the 5 key things a mastermind does for me, the core reasons I started it, and what joining one can do for you, too:

1. Accountability

Self employed professionals and entrepreneurs like myself often lack the accountability of a boss that a traditional employee has, or the board of directors that the leader of a larger business will report to. The mastermind can serve this "board of directors" function and hold the participant accountable to fulfilling commitments to actualize plans. When I have a group of motivated peers reviewing my success in accomplishing the steps towards a goal every week, I'm a lot more likely to follow through.

2. Motivation

We are all affected by our peers. Since it was my intent to create breakthroughs and succeed at a high level, I knew I needed to surround myself with like-minded people in an atmosphere of support. Also, using some goal setting methods similar to what Ray Waits used in his groups and incorporating success strategies I know from NLP, we are utilizing the group dynamic to accelerate personal achievement and make the group a breeding ground for creating a highly motivated state and focusing it on clear, specific goals.

3. Structured Plan Development

A Mastermind, utilizing the group dynamic, can run the gamut from a very unstructured brainstorming group to tightly structured methods of plan development and actualization. This particular group is relatively structured, as I felt that is what I needed.  It's also something I had to offer to the other members, using my experiences in business planning and familiarity with various goal setting and activity tracking strategies. 

4. Multiple Perspectives

I was looking for a diverse group because I have found great value in having people from very different industries and backgrounds look at and give feedback on my plans. Jay Abraham, one of my favorite marketing experts, is an advocate for "importing" success strategies from different types of business into your own. Having a mastermind composed of people from very different backgrounds makes the group a place where this can happen.

5. The Power of Shared Belief

There is an exponential effect to having multiple minds focused with belief on the achievement of a result. Having other people who are successful and credible see your goals as if they are already accomplished cuts right through your mental barriers like a machete through warm Jell-O. In the face of a challenge, this can shift your state to one of intense, motivated focus. 

If you are at a place in your life where you are ready to break through barriers, internal or otherwise, and achieve high results that connect with what you value, consider starting or joining a mastermind group. A mastermind formed with the right people and managed effectively, can be the springboard for achieving at levels that may surprise you.