Archive for the optimal performance Category

The power of AND: A PLDT executive’s take on success

Posted in entrepreneurship, learning, optimal performance on March 5, 2012 by gohelpyourself

And the winner is... "AND"! (Photo by Svilen Milev, taken from

By Anthony O. Alcantara

We all face hard decisions.

Would you choose to be a high-flying executive capable of leaping mountains of profits in a single bound? Or would you rather be a nurturing parent who is always there for the kids on important school events?

Would you want to be a successful singer? Or would you want to be an impassioned and influential activist?

You can’t have your cake and eat it too, right?

But that’s what author Jim Collins says is the “tyranny of the OR”. You either eat like a pig, be happy, and be very fat, or eat like an ascetic monk, be svelte like Angelina Jolie, and be miserably hungry.

Butch Jimenez, Retail Business Group Head and HR Group Head, wonders why not too many people have the mindset of “and”.

Eat like a pig and be svelte like Angelina Jolie.

Be a rock star executive and be a supportive parent.

Be a popular singing Youtube sensation and an activist willing to pick fights for the sake of justice.


Jimenez was one of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World Award (TOYP) for Cultural Achievement by the Junior Chamber International 1999 in Cannes, France. He also received the prestigious Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) Award for Multi-Media Achievement in 1998.

He produced award-winning films such as Jose Rizal and Muro Ami. Monster Radio RX-93.1, Trumpets Theater Company, and GMA Films became huge successes under his watch.

And as one of the speakers during the recent “Winning Disciplines for Success” seminar of Francis Kong at SMX, he certainly demonstrated how the use of the word “and” forces us to think and to be more creative. He said it “allows us to be extraordinary”. It allows us to achieve “the impossible.”

I think it’s like John F. Kennedy’s decision to have someone land on the moon. It shows how being “unrealistic” can move mountains. “What? Land on the moon? Are you crazy? We don’t have the technology. We don’t have the money. We don’t have support.” In the end, the dream became a monumental and historic success.

Jobs’s legacy

Jimenez also cited the late Steve Jobs as someone who appreciated the use of “and”. Jobs told his team he wanted a device for storing music, iPod, and an online store for selling music, iTunes. His team said they can make an iPod, but since downloading music was generally free at that time, you couldn’t make money from the music. Still, Jobs insisted, “Let’s sell iPod and sell the music for the device through iTunes.” Now Apple is reaping billions from iPod sales and music downloads from iTunes.

For Jobs, it is form and function, not form or function.

So, in a nutshell, Jimenez tells us that “and” brings us to the top. He believes the word “but” is for below-average people, and “or” sets us up for mediocrity.

During the seminar, he also shared three principles for building leadership success:

1. authority
2. accountability
3. humility

Right timing

You don’t just have to earn your authority. You have to be patient, too. He told the story of David in the Bible. David had two chances to kill Saul so he could become king. Yet he said his promotion should come at the right time.

As for accountability, Jimenez said we should strive to become the go-to guy.

“You have to have a ‘yes’ face, the ‘yes’ attitude,” he said. Unfortunately, many have a “no” face — people who say “no” with their faces even before they have the chance to hear what you have to say.

On humility, Jimenez recommended reading the book Good to Great, that wonderful book by Jim Collins, who, I think, is a freak. Collins monitors the exact amount of time he spends on sleeping, writing, reading, etc., and records them meticulously on a spreadsheet. Talk about discipline. But then Collins is an admirable freak.


Anyway, Jimenez said the book, which is based on years of research, teaches us that “you build greatness by applying a blend of humility and professional will.” He also recommends the book iCon Steve Jobs.

Jobs, who is known for being overbearing, has mellowed over the years and, in an act of great humility, has acknowledged the contributions of his people.

And, finally, Jimenez recommends three experiences that people have to try.

1. Own your own business.
2. Become an employee.
3. Lead a volunteer organization.

Valuable lessons

He has accomplished all these and has learned and profited from his experiences. For him, owning your own business will teach you how to lead and manage an enterprise. Becoming an employee will teach you what it feels like to be an employee and how you can contribute to the organization. And leading a volunteer organization will teach you how to lead people without paying them.

Of course there are a lot of other lessons to be learned. Everyone can certainly benefit from these.

But before you quit your job and appoint yourself CEO of I and Me, Inc., think of Jimenez’s advice on the power of “and”. Maybe then you can say, “I am a business owner and an employee and a leader of a volunteer organization.”

It may work.


(Note: You may wonder why Butch Jimenez has a separate story. Three reasons: 1) I am more into business and self-improvement, especially since I’m an avid reader of business books and I’m always looking for ways to improve myself, 2) I have no background in making movies as the other seminar speakers Jeric and Paul Soriano, though I can relate to their messages in the seminar and I like watching well-made movies, 3) I am not really a fitness buff like the speaker Dyan Castillejo, though I try to keep myself fit and I have a black belt in Aikido. Mr. Jimenez is also one of the sponsors in my wedding. He did not ask me to write this, though. I just hope he likes it. Ok, I think I’m over-explaining already. That’s it.)


Francis Kong disciplines over 2,000 willing and enthusiastic people

Posted in learning, optimal performance on March 1, 2012 by gohelpyourself

A new call for discipline and grit. (Photo by Hector Landaeta, taken from

By Anthony O. Alcantara

I know it sounds ridiculous. But that is the truth. Over 2,000 people even paid good money just to have Francis Kong discipline them. They practically begged Francis to do it. I was one of them.

Of course, we are not masochists, and I think Francis Kong is not a gleeful and eager sadist either. His seminar, held at the SMX, was titled “Winning Disciplines for Success.” If you look up the etymology of the word discipline, it comes from the Latin disciplina, which means teaching, learning.

So in that sense, discipline is not so bad. Francis certainly laments the negative connotation of the word. And yet discipline, he says, is what we need to succeed.

There are certain highlights that I would like to share, along with my thoughts. Some of what he said was really funny and insightful at the same time, but I won’t mention them here because it’s best to listen to him instead, if you have the chance.

It’s all right

Francis said right behaviors come from right thinking. Right thinking comes from right concepts. Right concepts come from right ideas. We know this already, but some reminders, especially for some high school students in the audience, are needed.

One idea he mentioned is the idea of retirement. I’ve written my thoughts on retirement before, and how it doesn’t appeal to me. Here’s Francis take on the idea: “Good people do not retire. They re-fire.” I love that. Indeed people don’t have to retire at all. They can always find meaningful and productive things to do.

He also showed us a video clip of a TED talk by Joachim de Posada on delayed gratification. De Posada thinks it is the “most important factor for success”. Here’s the link: (7.15 minutes).

The studies went like this: An experimenter is alone with a 6-year-old in a room. A tasty-looking marshmallow is placed on a table or plate. The experimenter tells the kid that he or she will be left alone in the room for a few minutes because the experimenter needs to take care of a few things. “If you don’t eat the marshmallow, you will get two when I get back.”

Yummy marshmallows

Because of this strong tendency of marshmallows to get into kids’ mouths, most of the marshmallows didn’t survive. Some kids, however, resisted the strong urge to eat the marshmallows. Years later, the kids were tracked down, and, voila, those who exhibited self-control were more successful in terms of grades and other achievements.

I don’t know if Francis knows about the studies of Harvard researcher Angela Duckworth, who found out that self-discipline is only part of the story of success.

You can watch her TED talk here: (18.38 minutes). If you haven’t seen this yet, I encourage you to take a look and let me know what you think.

Duckworth said the other more important factor is “grit”. She defined it as “sustained passion and perseverance.” She said it is necessary for “high-level achievement”.

Grit is it

This reminds me of novelist Haruki Murakami, whose book on running I recently read, and who I think exhibits unwavering grit. Grit, I believe, is also the reason for Francis Kong’s success. After all, he said he has a “PhD”, “Passing high school with difficulty”.

In any case, Duckworth’s video is a nice complement to De Posada’s.

Francis also said creativity is important. For him, the three most important people in business were Henry Ford, who was a consummate entrepreneur, Thomas Edison, who was a brilliant inventor, and Steve Jobs, who was a combination of entrepreneur and inventor. Steve Jobs had the mindset of an artist.

One thing I like about Francis’s seminar was that he invited other speakers to share ideas about discipline.

Jeric and Paul Soriano talked about the creative discipline, the creative mindset. Jeric, the director of the movie Hotshots long ago and who now directs commercials, proposed three steps:

1. Change the way you think.
2. Change the way you speak.
3. Change the way you react.

Words have power

He elaborated on the power of words, saying that we mainly use words to think. Coming from a director, it was unexpected, at least for me. I thought he’d say people think in pictures.

“When you hear words, pictures are being developed,” he said. I agree. But still, we do think in pictures. When we were babies we had no words so we thought in pictures, and also smells, feelings, sounds, Elmo, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

It was only later on that we used words. But yes, words pack a lot of power and we should use them to program our mental “software”, as Jeric said in the seminar.

And as for Paul, Jeric’s son and the boyfriend of Toni Gonzaga, he presented an interesting equation:

Your creativity (IDEA) + passion + heart + soul + body + desire = MAKING IT HAPPEN

Outrunning your doubts

Indeed he knows how to make things happen. He created the film Thelma, an inspirational movie about an impoverished young girl whose quick feet led her to national and international running competitions, and out of poverty. She outran obstacles and difficulties and self-doubts.

At first no one would support Paul. “Why is it that people would watch Petrang Kabayo and Praybeyt Benjamin but not something inspirational?” he said.

So he took matters into his own hands. He became director, producer and co-writer of the film, much like how Bruce Lee would do it. International audiences liked the movie, and they wept, according to Paul.

Sportscaster and former national tennis player Dyan Castillejo was also one of the speakers. She talked about physical discipline. The key take-away from her speech was the power of routines.

Routines, rather than discipline

She didn’t like to call it discipline because of the negative connotation of the word. Routines are somehow less daunting. So if you want to make exercise a part of your life, make it part of your routine. Schedule it. Make exercise as natural as brushing your teeth, or taking a bath.

And take your exercise equipment with you. Dyan brings barbells wherever she goes. I wouldn’t go that far though.

To wrap up this article, just a few more ideas from Francis.

He talked about intellectual, emotional, and spiritual disciplines. Intellectual discipline is simple. Francis said we should read and listen and expose ourselves to things that expand our intellect, things that enhance our creativity.

For emotional discipline, he said we should develop two things: confidence and people skills. He quoted a Stanford survey that revealed success is 87% people skills and only 13% product knowledge.

No wonder smooth-talking idiots can become millionaires. But seriously, it’s not all about  talents.

Change the world

And as for spiritual discipline, Francis reminds us of our spiritual nature, saying, “Don’t just make a difference in this world; make this world different!”

That’s it for now. I was supposed to include ideas from the speech of Butch Jimenez, the Retail Business Group Head and HR Group Head of PLDT. But I’ll have a separate article for that. You’ll know why.

In all, I believe discipline and, much more importantly, grit, can help us make a different world.


How to achieve your goals in 2012 like a piece of Pi

Posted in optimal performance, psychology with tags on January 23, 2012 by gohelpyourself

Achieving goals can be a piece of Pi. (Photo courtesy of Michal Zacharzewski; photo taken from

By Anthony O. Alcantara

Yes. It can be a piece of Pi. The Pi, of course, is that number introduced to us when we were in elementary or high school.

Pi doesn’t talk much, but it has a lot of digits in it. It is infinite, as far as existing supercomputers tell us.

So, you may ask, who am to give you advice on achieving your goals in 2012? Am I an expert? Am I a productivity guru? Well, no. But I’ve read David Allen and recently learned about the Pomodoro technique, among others. And I’m hoping that by the proven scientific principle of osmosis, I can give you some sensible advice.

But what has Pi anything to do with it? Well, in college, I had a math textbook containing the first 100 digits of Pi on the cover. I challenged myself to memorize it. Then in December last year, I rediscovered Pi while surfing the internet, and stumbled upon the Joy of Pi website.

Actually, I was looking for something to help me with my meditation. And since Pi is supposed to be a “transcendental number”, I thought it might help.

After setting a goal of memorizing 1,000 decimal places of Pi before the end of December, I realized that achieving this feat is a lot like setting and achieving goals in life.

So here are some tips:

1. Chunk it up.

Yes, I know you’ve heard it all before. But repetition can be a good thing. In any case, any big goal should be broken down into easy-to-achieve goals. It’s pretty obvious. If you masticate on a big chunk of steak, you are likely to choke, especially if someone decides to tickle you pink. So if you want to make the process more bearable and enjoyable, you cut it into smaller pieces.

It’s the same with memorizing random digits. What I did is to break down the 1,000 digits into 100-digit segments. Then I memorized those segments one at a time. Each segment is like a poem to me. “Come live with me and be my love…” Something like that, but less sexy.

2. Use what works for you.

I’m familiar with some mnemonic techniques that others use. Some have used transliteration of digits into letters, such as 0 for s or z, 1 for t or d, 2 for n, 3 for m, 4 for r, 5 for l, 6 for sh or ch, 7 for g or k, 8 for f or v, 9 for p or b.

So for the first 24 digits of Pi, for example, you can just memorize this sentence:

“My turtle Pancho will, my love, pick up my new mover Ginger.”

It’s cool isn’t it? But it doesn’t work for me. It makes me a lot slower when reciting the numbers because I still have to “translate” the letters into numbers. Neither do the other techniques work for me, such as the method of loci where you think of your favorite spots at home or some familiar place and make silly or outrageous images.

So I used my old technique which is a combination of visual and auditory stimuli generated by the numbers. I divided each 100-digit segment into five or six “sentences”. Within those “sentences”, there are two- to six-digit “words”.

There are some repetitions within the numbers. For example, 6535, 8979, etc. Somewhere between digits 701 to 800, there is also a string of six 9s. I don’t know how statistically improbable is that. I’m not a mathematician.

Anyway, I think there are few people who use the same technique.

3. Focus.

This is obvious. But certainly it’s very hard to do for most of us. I think it may help to make it mindless or automatic to a certain extent. Just like brushing your teeth or taking a bath, you should find the time to achieve one single task that would help you achieve your goals everyday.

I’ve come to love the blog of Leo Babauta. Though his articles have become a little repetitious, I’ve come to view them as useful reminders. Two posts that may be useful are those about how to set and achieve life goals and about how to establish new habits.

Establishing habits is important. I do recommend that instead of setting new year’s resolutions, we set habits instead.

You may want to try out the Pomodoro technique, too. It’s a simple productivity tool that you may like. I’ve been experimenting with it and, so far, I’m noticing some wonderful improvements in my productivity.

And as for memorizing the digits of Pi, I set aside 30 minutes each day. I have work and other responsibilities so this is the only amount of time I can set aside. And before December was up, I was able to memorize 1,000 decimal places of Pi.

Now I’m hoping that these tips I’ve learned from memorizing Pi will also extend to my ability to achieve other goals, and thereby make me more awesome, and less inclined to do seemingly useless things.

Here’s wishing you more awesomeness for the Chinese New Year.


Should we praise our kids for their intelligence?

Posted in learning, optimal performance, parenting on January 5, 2012 by gohelpyourself

Grow neurons, grow! (Photo courtesy of Rodrigo Galindo; taken from

By Anthony O. Alcantara
It’s but natural for moms and dads to praise their kids for being smart. What insane parent wouldn’t?Then again, what exactly are we teaching kids when we tell them they are smart, or that they are geniuses?

A few years ago, I interviewed an executive of a company for an article. He was either in his late 40s or early 50s and he just topped the teacher’s licensure exam. I asked him how he did it, considering the demands of his job. I wanted to know if he studied hard for the exam.

“Actually, hindi nga ako masyado nag-aral (Actually, I didn’t really study much),” he said.

Surprised and somehow impressed, I prodded him with more questions. He said he prayed a lot and even sought the intercession of St. Jude before he took the exam. I was about to accuse him of unfair divine intervention. Still, he made it appear the test was a breeze for him. He made it appear he had oodles of IQ points that lower life forms such as myself lack.

But later on, I discovered he was a pretty diligent student in college and graduate school. He even won a scholarship. And he told me he has been teaching college students for many years already.

Aha! So he had some practice and worked hard after all. So why brag about not studying much?

2 mindsets

Dr. Carol Dweck, an expert in developmental psychology in the US, said people generally have two kinds of mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.

Those with the fixed mindset believe that intelligence is fixed. It cannot be changed. People are either smart or dumb. And it stays that way forever. A test score on an IQ test is forever. They see that effort is useless because their intelligence is fixed. Their capabilities are wrought in stone.

Those with the growth mindset believe that intelligence can be developed. They believe they can become smarter. They believe that an IQ score, or any score in any test, can be improved. Effort, especially deliberately directed effort, leads to success. They believe they can always improve in anything that they do.

We all exhibit these mindsets in different situations. This is just a simplification to show contrast, and demonstrate the perils of a fixed mindset.

So what?

So what if a child is made to believe that he or she is smart? And what if that child comes to the conclusion that being smart is a permanent thing? What if the child becomes convinced that everything should be easy? Learning numbers is easy. Learning words is easy. Writing is easy. Science is easy. Everything is easy because I’m smart. We are dealing with malleable and impressionable minds after all.

And what if the supposedly smart child suddenly flunks a test? That doesn’t seem to describe a “smart” person, does it? Professor Dweck said the effects of the fixed mindset on children and adults can be subtle, and yet it may affect various aspects of our lives in a powerful way.

Some children with the fixed mindset learn to avoid challenges in order to maintain their “smart” image. They also feel threatened by the success of others. They believe they are better and it should always be like that. Their abilities are fixed, right?

Truly successful and happy people generally have the growth mindset. Manuel V. Pangilinan, one of the most respected businessmen in the country, once said his success is not much a result of his intelligence or ability, but of hard work.

Focus and endurance

Haruki Murakami, one of the world’s greatest novelists from Japan, said a person needs three things to be a successful writer: talent, focus, and endurance. Of the three, he said focus and endurance can make up for the lack of talent most of the time.

So what do we do?

Well, for a start, we can begin by praising our kids more for the effort that they exert, and for the new things they learn. When they complete a puzzle, we say, “Wow, you must have worked hard on that one.”

Praise effort more, rather than intelligence. Recognize improvement rather than fixed qualities. That’s what Dweck recommends. I heartily recommend her book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, which is available in some inconspicuous crevices in bookstores.

Mindsets can change

The good thing about the growth mindset is that it can always be learned at any age. The language and behaviors of the growth mindset can be mastered.

Right now, in order to remind myself of the growth mindset,  I’m praising myself for the effort I’ve exerted to write this.

“Good job, Ton. Hey, I see some neurons growing.”

I hope all of you grow neurons, too.


Manny Pacquiao: Delivering solid punches for sports development

Posted in health and fitness, optimal performance on May 7, 2011 by gohelpyourself

(I wrote this story seven years ago for the April 2004 issue of PLDT’s ACC:ESS Magazine. Manny Pacquiao fans may be interested. Too bad I couldn’t find my picture with him.)

By Anthony O. Alcantara

Being a champ has its rewards. Money, popularity, respect, admiration and fulfillment may be all a person could ever want. No doubt Manny Pacquiao has all of these. For him, however, there is a different kind of fulfillment he continues to seek.

Through his Emmanuel Pacquiao Foundation, Manny is not only helping the country develop its new breed of champions and excellent sportsmen but also recognize and support retired athletes as well.

Nakakalimutan na sila,” lamented Manny. “Minsan sinisiraan pa.

The two-year-old foundation, which is based in Barangay Dadiangas in South General Santos City, aims to promote boxing as a professional sport. It supports programs that seek to develop boxers, giving them opportunities to hone their skills and achieve their dreams. It awards scholarships to promising athletes and grants security benefits to retired athletes who once brought honor to the country but are now neglected.

Boxing, unlike other sports, is a high-risk sport. There is a chance that a boxer could get killed in the ring or develop internal injuries that are not easily detected and which could kill without warning some days, months or years later.

The families of many boxers are usually left with nothing when the boxers retire or when something unfortunate happens to them.

Not all boxers make it big like Manny Pacquiao. Not all manage to rake in millions and not all who earn the millions know how to invest them wisely to provide them with a decent living when they retire.

The scenario is the same for many other athletes in different fields.

Hindi lang boxing sinusuportahan ko. Sumusuporta ako sa billiards, sa basketball, basta kahit anong sports kasi yan lang ang solusyon para maiwasan ng kabataan ang masasamang bisyo,” Manny explained.

He does not believe in just giving enough of the right advice to the youth about avoiding drugs and vices.

Bukas, makalawa wala na yan,” he said. “Ganon tayong mga Pilipino eh. Yung mga bata, pag may sports, sila na mismo ang iiwas sa bisyo.”

With the new special edition call cards featuring Manny Pacquiao, the boxing champ is giving hope to his fellow athletes. Under the agreement with PLDT, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the cards goes to his foundation and its projects.

With so much given to this talented sportsman, the call to give back to society some of the blessings he continues to receive has become hard to ignore.

Manny Pacquaio is the 2nd exemplary Filipino to be featured on the PLDT Touch Card.  Exemplary Filipinos are those who have brought honor and glory to the Philippines in their fields of expertise.  They continue to inspire the nation and make a difference in the lives of Filipinos.  The 1st exemplary Filipino to appear in the Touch Card was former Senator and hero, Ninoy Aquino.

PLDT, being the leading telecommunications company and having the most innovative products and services the country, has decided to have Manny, a world champion in boxing, as one of its endorsers for its call cards.

Like Manny, PLDT has transformed itself into a very aggressive and quick player in the telecommunications business. From ordinary fixed line phone services to cellular phones, satellite communications, Internet, data networking, and call centers, PLDT has pursued opportunities and continues to remain the country’s No. 1 telecommunications company.

The perfect fit between Manny Pacquiao and PLDT can also be seen with how the two became the No. 1 in the their respective fields through years of experience and preparation. Manny with his very demanding physical regimen since starting out with boxing at 12-years-old, and PLDT with its challenging and yet illustrious 75 years of service to the Filipino people.

Manny, through his foundation, is also doing his part in helping fellow Filipinos and the country in realizing the dream of economic prosperity and commitment to excellence. As for PLDT, it has been supporting many worthwhile causes that help the less fortunate in society. The Company, for example, continues to support the livelihood projects of Philippine Business for Social Progress by contributing a certain part of its income every year to the organization.

Aside from Manny, PLDT has also tied up with other celebrities for the call cards where other foundations and socially-oriented non-profit organizations received portions of the proceeds from the sales of call cards. They include singer-actress Jolina Magdangal for the Make-A-Wish Foundation Philippines and singer Gary Valenciano for the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund or UNICEF.

With Manny, PLDT is sure to score another victory with its call cards and the foundation that will benefit from the sales. And, speaking of victory, it is surprising to note that a world champ like Manny considers his most memorable fight not one of victory but of defeat.

Nung natalo ako nung 1999. Ang kalaban ko si Majern Matire from Thailand. Hindi ko pati nakuha yung timbang ko kaya tinanggal sa akin yung korona,” rued Manny.

However, as his win-loss-draw record of 38-2-1 and his collection of championship belts would show, Manny believes that there can be glory after defeat. In the same way, as Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan would say, PLDT, with its own setbacks and difficulties throughout its 75-year history, believes that “the best is yet to come.”


Secrets from a wunderkind

Posted in health and fitness, optimal performance with tags , on November 25, 2010 by gohelpyourself
Josh Waitzkin ist ein Wunderkind!

Josh Waitzkin ist ein Wunderkind!

By Anthony O. Alcantara

Josh Waitzkin’s credentials say it all: eight-time National Chess Champion in his youth, subject of the book and movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” published his first book, “Josh Waitzkin’s Attacking Chess,” at 18, and became international chess master.

On top of that, he also held 21 national championship titles and several world championships in a physically-demanding martial art called Tai Chi Chuan as well.

It’s rare to find brains and brawn in one human being. And it’s much rarer to find a person performing these feats at world-class levels.

That certainly makes Josh an authority on optimal performance. The following tips are based on his book, “The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance” (265 pages, Free Press, 2007).

I don’t guarantee they will work, and neither does Josh in his book. But it’s worth a try.

1) Become an incremental theorist.

In the chapter “Two Approaches to Learning,” Josh describes the findings of Dr. Carol Dweck, a leading expert in developmental psychology. Dweck, he said, made a distinction between “entity” and “incremental” theories of intelligence.

Children have been made to think in ways that make them either “entity theorists” or “incremental theorists.” “Entity theorists,” Josh said, “are prone to use language like ‘I am smart at this’ and to attribute their success or failure to an ingrained and unalterable level of ability.”

“They see their overall intelligence or skill level at a certain discipline to be a fixed entity, a thing that cannot evolve,” he added.

“Incremental theorists” or “learning theorists,” however, tend to “sense that with hard work, difficult material can be grasped—step by step, incrementally, the novice can become master.”

Josh ascribes really successful people to this “incremental” theory of intelligence.

2) Find your “soft zone.”

In the chapter “Soft Zone,” Josh tells about his peak zone, where full concentration and optimal learning takes place. It is where people lose themselves in whatever they are doing and come out refreshed and energized nevertheless.

The trick, he said, is to recreate the moments when you are totally immersed in an activity. Study them and find out how you can duplicate this “soft zone” to improve your performance.

3) Think of “chunking” and “carved neural pathways.”

In the chapter “Slowing Down Time,” Josh tells about intuition. He said he developed his intuition through years of training and he has found that it may have something to do with the theories of “chunking” and “carved neural pathways.”

“Chunking” refers to grouping chunks of information into a single “chunk” for easier recall. In chess, for example, grandmasters don’t memorize distinct and separate moves or positions. They memorize manageable chunks that recreate intricate chess positions and sequence of moves.

As for “carved neural pathways,” this can be developed through conscious, focused and deliberate repetition or practice. If you continuously stretch yourself and deal with complex information, you eventually build “pathways” that will make it easier for you to access this complex information.

4) Develop your focus and concentration.

In the chapter “The Power of Presence,” Josh makes a case for focus and concentration.

“In every discipline, the ability to be clearheaded, present, cool under fire is much of what separates the best from the mediocre,” said Josh.

“The secret is that everything is always on the line. The more present we are at practice, the more present we will be in competition, in the boardroom, at the exam, the operating table, the big stage. If we have any hope of attaining excellence, let alone of showing what we’ve got under pressure, we have to be prepared by a lifestyle of reinforcement. Presence must be like breathing,” he explained.

5) Make it a HIIT.

High Intensity Interval Training or cardiovascular interval training can improve mental performance as well.

In the chapter “Searching for the Zone,” Josh tells us about what he learned from a performance training center that revolutionized his approach to peak performance. It was about “stress and recovery.”

He said the routine use of recovery periods distinguished the dominant performer in virtually every discipline. He mentioned Michael Jordan sitting serenely at the bench for two minutes before coming back to the game, Tiger Woods walking in a relaxed way before making his next shot, Pete Sampras calmly picking up his racket even though he lost some points… they all show this effective use of recovery periods.

Cardiovascular interval training, which involves varying intense physical strain with rest periods, can do wonders for physical as well as mental performance, according to Josh.

6) Build your trigger.

Josh tells about how to dive into the zone in the chapter “Building Your Trigger.” He suggests developing a routine before a pleasurable activity. For example, if a father enjoys playing basketball with his son, he can come up with a routine that can perhaps involve a few minutes of meditation, a few minutes of stretching, eating a light snack, listening to music, etc., before playing basketball.

Doing this routine before playing basketball, and before a challenging task at the office, will help develop this trigger. Of course, as the months pass, the routine is truncated up to a point that you only have to imagine the music or just take a few deep breaths in order to go in your “soft zone.”

“This process is systematic, straightforward, and rooted in the most stable of all principles: incremental growth,” Josh said. He explains the process at length in the book.

In a nutshell, Josh has one overarching message: optimal performance can be learned.

If we want to learn to be the best, then we might as well learn from the best. Josh Waitzkin is one of them.



How expanding your peripersonal space can benefit you

Posted in health and fitness, optimal performance, psychology on September 24, 2009 by gohelpyourself
Expand your peripersonal space. (photo courtesy of

Expand your peripersonal space. (photo courtesy of

By Anthony O. Alcantara

When something itches, we scratch it. It’s the natural thing to do.

And we know exactly the appropriate finger to use, how to move our scratching tool to the target, the movements to execute, and the right amount of pressure needed to eliminate the nasty itch.

It speaks of our body schema and an awareness of our body in relation to our environment.

In my search for ways to improve my Aikido and guitar-playing, I came across a concept called peripersonal space (PPS), an offshoot of studies on body schema. I first knew about PPS in the book “Think Smart!” by Richard Restak, M.D.

Malleable force field

PPS, as Restak defines it, is “a force field that can be thought of as a virtual envelope around the skin’s surface that extends our body boundaries.”

A force field? Images of Star Wars came to my mind. Anyway, the discovery of certain brain cells that respond to touch and sounds near the surface of the hands and head established the existence of PPS.

PPS is malleable. The area it covers changes when we have clothes on, when we are driving a car or when we have a walking stick. For a blind person, the tip of a walking stick can be as sensitive to touch as the tips of his fingers.

The implications are astounding, at least for me. Our bodies are actually part of our brains, and our perception and control of space can actually be enhanced and extended.

Practical applications

I discovered that improving my PPS can actually help improve certain physical activities, such as practicing Aikido. Most of us are over-dependent on our sense of sight, so I devised an experiment that I think would improve my experience of body movements in relation to the space around me.

I began practicing techniques and movements by stripping them down to their essentials and executing the moves slowly, feeling every nuance of sensation, back-tracking when the movement doesn’t feel right, or if I deviate from my mental image of the perfect movement.

All these I did with my eyes closed.

Control, power, speed

When I finally opened my eyes to do the movements, I could feel a better sense of control and smoothness in execution. I could feel that I can execute my movements with more precision, and there was an increased sense of power. I added speed later on.

I also tried it with suburi, or repetitive cutting exercises, using my bokken, or wooden sword. Same results.

Of course it’s all subjective. I have yet to devise ways to measure the effects more concretely. In any case, my subjective results are convincing enough for me.

I’ve tried it on my guitar-playing, too. By practicing very slowly, immersing myself in the nuances of the sounds and the movements of my fingers and body, and by closing my eyes, I was able to play more difficult passages with ease.

Try it

I believe other activities can be greatly enhanced by expanding PPS. Dancing, running, kicking, jumping, throwing, playing the piano, etc., are some activities you can try.

You can devise your own exercises and adapt them to develop specific skills. Your imagination’s the limit.

Indeed, aside from allowing us to scratch itchy body parts, PPS has far more valuable uses.