Thriving in Peak States

Dawson Church

Athletes and other peak performers speak of “the zone,” that state in which everything seems to flow perfectly. This state of flow occurs when people have learned to break through limiting set points, regulate their emotions, adopt positive mental states, and choose happiness routinely. Once a therapist or coach has helped a client achieve all of those states and abilities, the client is able to move into the space of living in the zone every day. Thus the final result of the transformational process can be that the zone becomes your client’s natural state, their new set point. They exist in the state of peak performance day by day.

In this transcendent state, consciousness of the self disappears, time seems to slow down, problems are perceived with clarity and focus, and engagement with tasks is effortlessly maintained. Criticism falls away; you are no longer “finding the blemish” in yourself and others. You feel at one with the universe, with everyone else, with yourself, and with your task.

The state of flow is the ultimate goal of a successful, long-term therapeutic relationship. Therapists and coaches can train their clients to induce this state at will. They learn the practices that enable them to enter that state at the start of every day, living their lives in the state of flow.

Research shows that when people are in the peak performance state, their brains are primarily in the alpha brain-wave frequency, as measured by electroencephalography (EEG; Rebert, 1978; Landers et al., 1991; Kiefer, Gualberto, Cremades, & Myer, 2014). They also have significant amplitude of theta and delta, the brain waves characteristic of healing and creativity, and very low amplitudes of beta, the frequency of stress and anxiety.

Shifting the Brain to Alpha

Research has enabled us to observe and describe these peak states in high performers. A step beyond this is to discover how to induce them at will. They’re not simply a characteristic of people who happen to be accidentally in the flow. It’s possible to train the mind, body, and brain to create them deliberately. Therapists and life coaches who are able to train their clients to do this take the therapeutic relationship to a whole new dimension and give their clients a toolkit that will benefit them for life.

While novices can to be trained to induce a state of flow, a study of 42 college athletes from a variety of sports found that they were less able to control the state than elite athletes (Russell, 2001). Practice and experience are important in developing the ability to enter a flow state at will.

A fascinating study showed that performers can induce the alpha brain-wave state by merely visualizing their performance rather than actually performing (Park, Yagyu, Saito, Kinoshita, & Hirai, 2002). Visualization produced the same frequencies as the acts themselves. In a reversal of this phenomenon, researchers in another study trained trapshooters to duplicate the alpha brain-wave frequencies that accompanied their best shots (unpublished study by Mahoney & Terry, cited in Dingfelder, 2008). These studies demonstrate that a trained mind is capable of shifting the brain to alpha at will.

EEG studies show that meditation is another way to shift the brain into the alpha state (Kerr et al., 2011; Fell, Axmacher, & Haupt, 2010). Neurofeedback (originally called electroencephalographic biofeedback) and mind-body integration are other techniques for training the brain to produce alpha waves.

In one study, these modalities significantly improved the performance of golfers and produced what is known as the “iceberg profile” in 10 of 12 participants assessed with the Profile of Mood States (POMS), a standard psychological testing tool (Chartier, Collins, & Koons, 1997). The iceberg profile is so named because individuals in that state of mind maintain their focus no matter what. They don’t let internal or external factors throw them off their game. The ability to hold that state is what characterizes top athletes and other performers. Conversely, research has found that doubt, worry, distractibility, ill will, drowsiness, and boredom all deter the alpha brain-wave frequency (Hardt, 2007).

Teaching people how to induce the alpha state through neurofeedback or other brain retraining method enables them to positively influence a wide range of areas, including learning, cognitive and musical performance, empathy, and emotional stability (Hardt, 2007; Kirsch, Montgomery, & Sapirstein, 1995; Stanton, 1993; Rundle, 2009).

While meditation has proven benefits for health and performance, it can take a lot of time and practice to learn. Many people take a meditation class or read a book and try it for a while but are unsuccessful at cultivating a regular practice.

To make meditation easy, I developed the simple technique called EcoMeditation ( It combines EFT tapping, neurofeedback, heart coherence, and mindfulness in a seven-step routine. The routine uses simple physiological instructions such as “Relax your tongue on the floor of your mouth.”

These physiological steps provide cues to the body. Each cue triggers a type of relaxation. One induces heart coherence, another induces an alpha state, while yet another relaxes the autonomic nervous system. The result is that, in less than four minutes, even failed meditators are able to enter the same deeply relaxed state that it usually takes years of practice for a master meditator to experience.

When hooking people up to EEG machines while they practice EcoMeditation, we see marked changes in their brain function. Their alpha waves expand in amplitude, while beta waves shrink. Theta and delta waves balance out. After a few minutes, gamma waves appear and stabilize, indicating coordination between the many different parts of the brain.

EcoMeditation is an example of a practice that we can do to deliberately induce high amplitudes of alpha, the wave typical of peak performance. At the beginning of an EcoMeditation workshop, it takes people in the group about four minutes to enter this peak state, but by the end of the weekend, only 90 seconds. They leave with the ability to induce this mental state at will.

Brain Change Therapy

Kershaw and Wade, the developers of a brain retraining method, Brain Change Therapy (BCT), state that “of all the elements involved in optimizing performance, mental state is the most crucial” (Kershaw, & Wade, 2011, p. 292). Through BCT, individuals can learn to shift their brains intentionally into the alpha state that facilitates peak performance. Kershaw and Wade sum up the characteristics of the peak state: “Controlling attention, quieting the mind, and becoming unattached to thoughts and outcomes are the keys both to performing well and to living more fully” (p. 268).
BCT generally includes these components:

  • Training in self-regulation
  • Strengthening one’s emotional state and ability to access inner resources
  • Accessing “the zone”
  • Visualizations of success and a role model
  • Mental rehearsal while in a light trance
  • Visualization of desired activity while in deep trance
  • Alignment of core beliefs

Kershaw and Wade note that developing a state of consciousness that allows rather than tries to force performance is the optimal way to foster a new behavior. They also point to the need to employ techniques that can sidestep fear and the tendency to overthink a situation, which are major factors preventing peak performance. Unconscious beliefs in opposition to the desired goal can also sabotage results, thus highlighting the importance of aligning core beliefs.

The relevance of retraining the mind is clear in this statement by Kershaw and Wade (2011, p. 310): “Not only do a person’s beliefs and perception of reality influence his or her neural patterning; a person’s neural patterning also influences his or her beliefs and perception of reality.”

To find out what makes Facebook and other social networking sites so compelling, a group of researchers examined the physiological functioning of subjects using them. For three minutes, participants either looked at slides of nature, engaged in a stressful mathematical task, or viewed their Facebook accounts. While they did so, skin conductance, respiration, and EEG signatures were recorded. These showed participants experiencing positive emotions and a state of flow when viewing their social media accounts (Mauri, Cipresso, Balgera, Villamira, & Riva, 2011).

In addition to BCT and EcoMeditation, there are a variety of other neurofeedback techniques used to train the brain. Open Focus is a method developed by Les Fehmi, PhD, clinical psychologist, researcher, and director of the Princeton Biofeedback Centre, to treat stress-related disorders, anxiety, and physical and emotional pain, among other conditions. It is also used in training athletes and other performers for peak performance (Fehmi, & Robbins, 2007).

Open Focus is based on the premise that the way we pay attention in everyday life has an impact on our health and well-being, and a simultaneously immersed and diffuse focus (characterized by alpha brain waves) is optimal for both.

These types of focus dissolve the separation between the observer and the observed; people in flow often report a loss of sense of self and complete absorption in the task at hand. Open Focus also entails being fully present in the moment, a feature of mindfulness meditation and EcoMeditation as well.

Altered States of Consciousness and Nonlocal Mind

Though the peak performance state is characterized by a high amplitude of alpha brain waves, delta and theta waves are also present. Delta and theta are the signature waves of altered states of consciousness, including:

  • Sleep
  • Trance
  • Super-learning
  • Healing
  • Creativity

When they are performing healing services, the brains of healers are predominantly in theta and delta (Becker, 1992).

Physician Larry Dossey has written extensively about the concept of “nonlocal mind.” When we are in ordinary states of consciousness, we inhabit our local minds with their conditioning and sense of local self. In transcendent states of consciousness such as the experience of flow, we connect with nonlocal mind. Depending on our mental state, we are are tapped into or isolated from the field of nonlocal consciousness. Dossey presents a large body of evidence for the proposition that “nonlocal mind is infinite in space and time” and that “consciousness is nonlocal and infinite, and therefore immortal, eternal, and one” (Dossey, 2013, p. 17).

The entirety of all human consciousness, or what Jesuit philosopher Teilhard de Chardin called the “noosphere,” may be contained in nonlocal mind (de Chardin, 1959). Nonlocal consciousness can also be viewed as the universal field. In her book The Field, Lynne McTaggart presents the evidence for an infinite field of intelligence and information permeating the universe (McTaggart, 2007). With a group of scientists, she set up a series of “intention experiments” to test the transmission of intention over large distances through the information field; she describes the positive results in a subsequent work (McTaggart, 2008).

In one of the intention experiments, McTaggart asked a group of 16 meditators based in London to direct their thoughts to four remote targets in a laboratory located in Germany. The targets included two types of algae, a plant, and a human volunteer. The meditators were asked to attempt to lower certain measurable biodynamic processes. The German researchers measured significant changes in all four targets while the intentions were being sent, as compared to times the meditators were resting (McTaggart, 2008).

McTaggart summarizes the research showing that the human mind and body are not separate from their environment but energy entities constantly interacting with the universal field. The field is implicated in many of the most sophisticated functions of the mind, such as intention, memory, intuition, healing, creativity, synchronicity, and group consciousness. There is evidence to suggest that the brain functions as a transducer, translating information from the field into what we think of as material reality.

Intention is able to influence physical matter at the microsocopic as well the macroscopic level, according to a series of studies performed at the Institute of HearthMath (McCraty, Atkinson, & Tomasino, 2003). They used vials of DNA as their experimental targets. The DNA molecule has a twisting double-helix shape, and the degree of twist of these molecules can be measured using ultraviolet light.

The HeartMath experiments used volunteers trained in heart coherence to send intentions to DNA molecules in these vials. They were instructed to tighten the DNA spiral in two particular beakers but not in the adjoining beaker. After bringing their bodies into a heart coherent state, they were indeed able to tighten the shift in the target beakers, while leaving the other unchanged. In five follow-up experiments, they were also able to produce statistically significant changes in DNA at a distance. Nonlocal fields may be the mechanisms through which mental intentions are transmitted.

The experience of nonlocal mind is associated with theta and delta waves in the brain (Plikynas, 2015). I have examined the EEG scans of hundreds of meditators at workshops where they used a variety of techniques. During peak states, in which they described experiences such as being “at one with all that is” or “merging with the universe,” they had very high amplitudes of delta waves. These amplitudes were so great that most were more than 95% different from average brain function (greater than two standard deviations from the mean or ? ± 2?).

The brain waves of empaths also show high frequencies of delta and theta. Empaths appear to inhabit an information field conducive to healing and to connection with others. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of meeting an empath and surprising yourself by talking about parts of your life you don’t usually share. Ask an empath and they’re likely to say something like, “Oh yes, other people are always telling me their deep dark secrets.” The high-amplitude delta waves being produced in such a brain create a connection at the level of nonlocal mind, an energy environment in which deep emotional connection is possible.

Gary Schwartz, PhD, a professor at the University of Arizona and the author of The Energy Healing Experiments, explained the field in this way: “What we experience with our limited senses as matter is actually organized fields of energy. As Einstein put it, ‘The field is the only reality’” (Schwartz, 2007, p. 104). Energy healing is accomplished by means of sympathetic resonance between healer and client.

Using super-sensitive electromagnetic frequency measurement devices, it has been found that the dominant frequency being generated by the hands of energy healers is theta (Schwartz, 2007, p. 107).

An influential study examined the brain wave patterns of meditators from five different contemplative traditions ranging from qigong to Zen (Lehmann et al., 2012). It compared their brain function in a normal state of consciousness with that in meditation. One of the challenges of such research is that a single hour of EEG recordings of a single subject yields millions of pieces of data. It tells you the predominant frequencies of each part of the brain millisecond by millisecond, and these frequencies are changing constantly. Interpreting this huge mass of data requires experience and a model to describe what you’re looking for.

After building a complete picture of how the entire brain functions, the investigators in this study concluded that the most informative model was to compare two particular brain waves. These were beta, the anxiety frequency, and delta, the frequency of connection with the universal field.

The changes in this ratio were profound. Every one of the meditation traditions, though they used methods ranging from chanting mantras to silent sitting to slow movement, produced similar shifts in the ratio. The investigators concluded that the delta-beta ratio was the most useful single measure of the depth of meditation.

The researchers found “globally reduced functional interdependence between brain regions,” a change in brain function suggesting a dissolution of the sense of an isolated local self. This brain pattern typified what they termed “the subjective experience of non-involvement, detachment and letting go, as well as of all-oneness and dissolution of ego borders” as the consciousness of meditators shifted into oneness with the nonlocal universal field. That’s the same brain-wave pattern I’ve seen in the EEG readouts of hundreds of meditators who are describing states of flow, altered consciousness, and connection with the universal nonlocal field in which the borders of the local self dissolve.

The following case history was submitted by Sherry Banaka, then a candidate to become a certified Energy Psychology practitioner. In working with her client, she uses several evidence-based coaching techniques, including EFT tapping, the Quick Coherence technique, and Empty Chair work. The latter was developed by therapist Fritz Perls and popularized in the 1960s. Sherry uses the most elementary form of EFT, the Basic Recipe, as well as a more elaborate form called the 9 Gamut Procedure, which includes eye movements similar to those employed in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).

In Empty Chair work, the client has a conversation with an empty chair in front of them. They imagine having a conversation with someone who’s emotionally important to them. This might be a deceased relative or friend. It might be a younger version of themselves. It might be an imaginary adversary, friend, or part of their own psyche. The act of externalizing and symbolizing this character often has profoundly healing effects and can result in resolution of long-standing emotional issues. In our training, we call this the completion of “Unfinished Conversations.”

Case History: Grandfather in the Empty Chair

By Sherry Bananka, EFT INT-1

I had RM tap as she shared that she had recently been told her grandfather had committed suicide after being forced to serve under a European dictator in WW2. She wanted to know if this was true, as it had been kept secret until a cousin told her about it. She had sadness about the secrecy.

Her degree of emotional triggering or Subjective Units of Distress (SUD) was 10 out of 10. And about the suicide, a SUD level of 8. We did a round of EFT’s Basic Recipe on sadness, pausing for a deep breath. After the round, her SUD level on sadness was still 10.

That was because she had connected with the despair of three members of her family who all struggle with depression and the family won’t talk about it. She saw and felt this despair as a grey tube, tightening and flattening her throat, preventing her from using her voice. Her SUD level on the grey tube was an 8.

Because she had multiple events seeing her family struggle, we switched to the 9 Gamut eye movement technique and used this on the grey tube of despair, again pausing for a deep breath.

The grey tube was now gone. Her SUD levels on the grey tube, secrecy, and sadness were all now 0.

We then initiated an Unfinished Conversation with her Grandfather Ben (GB), with RM tapping her 9 Gamut acupressure point. RM told GB she wanted to know about him and also said how sad and angry her father is because he never knew his father (GB).

GB told RM he did commit suicide because he was so haunted by the war and felt his family would be better off without him. GB said he is grateful RM has the courage to be part of this.

RM asked him for guidance on how to reach out to her family. GB told her the work she does helping clients is the best thing to do; she can offer help to her family, but they have to do their own work. He said, “If you continue your work, your family may notice and begin asking, reaching out to you, and trying things you suggest, but you don’t get to choose the people you help—they will come to you.”

RM asked him for a blessing. GB laid his hands on her head and said, “You are blessed by the Infinite and the Divine. I will always be with you. Keep developing your practice, one step at a time.”

RM asked him for a symbol of his presence. GB said, “You have my hair. Think of me when you wash and brush your hair.” We ended this now-finished conversation and then did the Quick Heart Coherence technique, ending that with RM sending love to GB and to each of her three struggling family members.

We then tapped a Basic Recipe round on RM using her voice as a healer, allowing herself to develop her practice. RM said she had believed she had to wait and help her family first; the strength of her belief in that idea was now 3.

But she had an inner argument with herself: “I can’t do that; I’m not ready yet.” We began a closing round of EFT on not feeling fully ready yet, but ready to move forward one step at a time. When RM said the statement “I have faith in myself ” was now true for her, we moved into a positive reframe stating that her practice is already great; great things have already happened.

We closed with the Quick Heart Coherence technique, with RM sending love exploding out of her heart to all the people who need her. RM said, “I now feel absolved of the belief that I have to fix my family first before I can be a healer. I had no idea that was mixed in with my fear of starting my practice. Such a life-giving moment came out of the taking of his life.”

The type of symbolic processing used in the Unfinished Conversations process can facilitate healing. It engages several parts of the brain simultaneously. Clients frequently receive messages from the imagined persons in the chair that are profoundly meaningful to them, such as GB’s blessing.

I also like to see clients anchoring their psychological breakthroughs in somatic cues. This makes the transformation real at the level of the body. GB telling RM to remember him by her hair is an example of a somatic cue. Practitioners also find that the tapping used in EFT both relaxes the client and provides a soothing somatic signal. This is borne out by EEG scans in which the regions of the brain that process fear and anxiety become calm after just a few seconds of tapping.

The empathetic connection between practitioner and client also provides a carrier wave along which a calming signal travels. Excellent practitioners are usually empaths. They have trained themselves to remain in the theta-delta brain frequencies despite the distraction of a client’s disturbed emotional state. Their state stability is similar to that of highly focused athletes who are able to remain in the zone despite the cheers or boos of the crowd, rain or snow, or other environmental distractions. They can enter into a state of empathetic nonlocal connection with their clients quickly and effortlessly. In one study, EEGs were hooked up to measure the brain waves of two people in deep empathetic conversation. Their brain waves soon moved into synchrony, entrained and dancing together. When a third person arrived, the pattern was interrupted, but soon all three brains synchronized with each other (Condon, 1970).

Clients who are upset, under stress, or in fear are disconnected from nonlocal mind. They may feel cut off, isolated, and alone in their individual local minds. When identified with nonlocal mind, we are in a state of connection with every other mind that is in connection with nonlocal mind, further enhancing the flow state.

If you’re a practitioner, you can become proficient in connecting that way with your client and showing them through your connection how to move into peak flow, providing an alpha bridge to theta and delta. Once they have learned this skill, your client can induce a state of thriving. Such a client is no longer in the state of surviving, of just getting by. Your client now has the ability to flourish in life, living as a peak performer in contact with all of the resources of nonlocal mind. Having coached your client to this place, you have gone far beyond the problem-solving focus of conventional coaching and guided your client into a stable state of thriving.

Thriving: Training the Mind into Happiness

Research tells us that we can train our minds into happiness. One study discovered that happiness increased over the eight months of participants engaging in two assigned positive activities: expressing gratitude and optimism (Lyubomirsky, Dickerhoof, Boehm, & Sheldon, 2011). Conducting pleasing rituals on a regular basis is also found to enhance well-being (Newberg, 2006).

Researchers Corey Keyes and Jonathan Haidt (2002) identified 13 characteristics of flourishing. As you become a proficient coach, you help your clients establish this type of experience as their new set point. The characteristics of flourishing are:

  1. You are regularly cheerful, in good spirits, happy, calm, peaceful, satisfied, and full of positive emotion.
  2. You feel happy and satisfied with life in general or the areas of your life.
  3. You hold positive attitudes toward yourself and past and present life experiences: self-acceptance.
  4. You have positive attitudes toward others while acknowledging and accepting people’s differences and complexity.
  5. You have insight into your potential and the potential of others, the ability of people to develop and open to personal growth.
  6. You believe that people, social groups, and society have the potential to evolve and grow positively in the sense of social actualization.
  7. You hold goals and beliefs that affirm your sense of direction in life and you feel that life has purpose and meaning.
  8. You feel that your life is useful to society and that the output of your activities is valued by others.
  9. You’re able to manage complex environmental challenges and you’re able to manage and mold your environment to suit your needs.
  10. You have an interest in society and social life. You feel connected to your culture and feel a sense of social coherence.
  11. You have self-direction that is guided by your own internal standards and you have a sense of autonomy.
  12. You have positive relations with others that are characterized by warmth, satisfaction, trust, empathy, and emotional intimacy.
  13. You have a sense of belonging to a community and deriving comfort and support from that community.

Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful state to live in? One of the privileges of being a practitioner is witnessing your clients break through their limitations to thrive in peak states.

Case History: The Black Mountain of Grief

Jerrie came with a heavy burden to an EFT workshop I was teaching. She told me she was there to deal with the death of her husband. She’d been in therapy, but just didn’t seem to be able to shake her grief.

“How long ago did he die?” I asked.

“Fourteen years ago,” she replied.

I suspected right away that Jerrie had unresolved grief about much more than her husband’s death. Grieving that overshadows your life is one thing if it lasts a year, or even two or three. When it lasts over a decade, something deeper is usually going on.

Each morning, I did EcoMeditation with participants, helping them dissolve the boundaries of the local self and enter into an awareness of nonlocal mind.

Jerrie wanted to work with me as a demonstration subject in front of the class, but I decided not to take that approach. I believed her issues were too large to be dealt with effectively in the context of a large group training.

However, one of our experienced EFT Universe certified trainers did several sessions with her outside of the workshop. At the end of the class, Jerrie seemed a little lighter.

I was very surprised when I received a sheaf of case histories written up by Jerrie. Not only had she recovered, she had gone on to retrain herself as an Energy Psychology practitioner. In her cover letter, she wrote:

Dawson, when you first met me I felt like I was walking through a long dark tunnel. It was endless. I walked along hanging my head in black silent despair or alternated that with banging on the walls and screaming in terror. I signed up for the workshop because I didn’t know what to do.

You didn’t work with me at that workshop when I wanted to volunteer. Looking back I see why. The grief I was dealing with was much bigger than what could be healed in a weekend. But you gave me tools that made a tiny difference and I began to use them.

I felt hopeless most of the time. It felt like chipping away a tiny piece of a huge black granite mountain.

But bit by bit, I changed. The mountain began to shrink. It became manageable. After a while, it was smaller than me. As I healed, I began to use the methods with other people.

I’ve felt as though I’m back in touch with my Higher Power. I meditate every day and I feel loved, guided, and protected by HP, as I call her. She told me to start using these tools with other people. That’s why I’ve switched careers to become a coach. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

These acknowledgments are not given to us in order to stroke our egos. They’re not about us; they’re about the power of these methods.

As you see people dropping their layers of emotional triggering and entering transcendent states of consciousness, you’ll be as moved by their journeys as they are. You’ll see them connect with nonlocal mind and experience peak states. If you have them hooked up to an EEG, you’ll see their beta waves disappear and theta and delta flare out, connected to conscious awareness by a bridge of alpha. You’ll see them entering the healing state, becoming happy, and replacing their tears with joy. You’ll witness them connecting with nature, the greater universe, and nonlocal mind. You’ll see them embodying all 13 characteristics of flourishing.

We are doing wonderful work as we apply these life-changing techniques with those around us. We are making a difference in the world through Energy Psychology. We’re changing brains, bodies, communities, societies, and the field itself with the work we do.


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