Training for a sport competition is all about achieving one's maximum potential at a specific point in time (the competition), and therefore planning the training regimen based on a specific schedule. However, without a competition in sight, it should still be possible to reach a certain high level of performance (if not peak performance) on a sustained basis. It is not possible to always be at peak performance.
We do the same when preparing for a difficult exam. We prepare, we rest the day before to be able to reach peak performance during the exam.
How can we maintain a high level of cognitive performance, a high level of learning and adapting throughout life without competitions and exams to push us towards peak performance?
We know from neuroscience that one of the key characteristics of the brain is its plasticity. Our brains, just like the rest of our body, have a great deal of potential for remaining highly performant in later years IF we properly manage them. It also relates to Robert Bjork's notion of "desirable difficulty."
To maintain a high level of cognitive performance, one hypothesis is that it might be good to create challenges for oneself, the equivalent of the sport competition. A challenge is more than just routine maintenance of the body or the brain. A challenge requires pushing oneself beyond one's comfort zone, doing more than what is achived without much effort.
For the brain and the body, this might mean:
|Train the Brain||Train the Body|
|Reading in a different language; watching a movie in a completely different language||Watch a documentary on a sport you've never tried; watch competitions from other sports.|
|Picking up a book in a completely different field, something that's going to be difficult to understand, something you will need to pay close attention to||cross train, don't stick to one sport that you're comfortable with.|
|Seek out people, books, websites, etc... that promote ideas/values you disagree with and put yourself in their shoes for a while.. in other words, make your brain work differently, create new neural paths||If you don't care for sports competition, go explore the lives of people who compete for a living; If you like competition, go explore the perspective of those who engage in a sport purely for the sake of going out in nature and being alone with nature...|
|Repeating the same thing over and over doesn't help improve performance||Deliberate practice: practice with specific goals in mind, and get feedback so that you learn and make adjustments|
Key principles to keep in mind:
- Seeking high performance requires training -- going beyond basic maintenance;
- Peak performance cannot be maintained indefinitely but it can be planned for based on a training schedule;
- Variety/diversity in training is good for performance and for motivation/moral;
Work-based learning can be seen as individual performance and team performance: Individually, we can all work on our performance, but it is when we come together as high-performing teams that the organization really benefits. The same is very true in team sports. Team sports rely on individuals to be fit and performant, but also to train as a team to perform as a team. Teams of individual performers rarely sustain their success over time.
On top of the parallels just mentioned in terms of training, we know that a healthy body (achieved through good nutrition, adequate sleep and exercise) is critical for brain health.