As an employee or entrepreneur, mind-blowingly good performance is always the goal. But admit it. Some days you've got moves like Rocky, and others, it's all you can do to differentiate your breakfast bagel from your car keys. But the key to achieving excellence on a daily basis is within you--or, to be more specific, within your physiology.

The physiology and performance connection

Leadership expert and neuroscientist Dr. Alan Watkins, CEO of Complete Coherence, explains that staying "in the zone" is a matter of understanding a basic pyramid:

  • Physiology (at the bottom of the pyramid) controls emotion.
  • Emotion is simply data in the form of electrical signals (energy).
  • Feelings are the awareness of the emotion (energy). Feelings control thoughts, but thoughts also can influence feelings.
  • Thoughts control behaviors.
  • Behaviors control performance.

Given this pyramid, Watkins further explains that it's lack of physiological control that often causes people to fall short. Too much heart rate variability (the time intervals between heartbeats), such as you experience when you're stressed or anxious, for example, hinders brain function. For ancient survival purposes, it shuts off your brain's frontal lobe. It also affects your perceptual awareness of what's going on. The starting point for staying mentally at the top of your game, then, is to achieve a more coherent or less varied heart rate pattern.

To control the heart and mind, control your breath

Breathing connects directly to heart function. Slowing your breath will slow your heart rate, while increasing your breath typically will elevate your heart rate. But breathing affects heart rate variability, too. The smoother and more rhythmic your breaths are, the less heart rate variability you'll have. So when you're under pressure, breathe evenly and continuously to keep your frontal lobe from turning off. Your heart rate isn't what matters--you can be in the zone and alert both when you're calm with a slow heart rate or when you're passionate with a high heart rate. It's the coherent heart pattern you're after.

You've got this. Be outstanding. Just breathe.