Denise Clegg, MAPP 08, is Program Officer for the Positive Neuroscience project at the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center. She also serves as a facilitator for the Penn Resilience Program and is a daily editor for Positive Psychology News Daily.
Denise writes on the 20th of each month, and her articles are here.
Can you describe how you want to feel – viscerally, emotionally, energetically – as easily as you can list your goals?
Doug Newburg (2002) interviewed hundreds of world-class performers, including athletes, business leaders, artists, and surgeons, to find out what made them tick. A consistent pattern emerged from their stories. Newburg distilled his research and created the Resonance Performance Model (RPM), which is one of my favorite tools for positive change.
A Model For Momentum
As you would expect, these high-level performers spoke about goals, extensive practice, and preparation. But what distinguished their drive was a deep sense — and passionate pursuit – of what it felt like to be at their best.
According to their descriptions, a peak experience is one of wholeness, energy in harmony, and effortless fulfillment. They were willing to work hard to feel that way again and to make it the centerpiece of daily experience. Newburg calls that feeling, which each person defined uniquely, the internal or experiential dream. This experiential dream was critical to maintaining motivation, cultivating personal freedom and self-regulation, and surpassing serious obstacles and setbacks – fueling an upward spiral of performance.
Newburg’s RPM defines resonance as a seamless fit between external and internal environments. His model builds on positive psychology theory and research, including Czikszentmihalyi’s flow and Deci and Ryan’s (1985) intrinsic motivation and self-determination.
1. Defining the dream by exploring how you want to feel and what conditions, people, and experiences enhance versus drain your energy. Newburg asserts that the dream drives the goals.
2. Preparing by doing the hard work. This includes practice, training, strategic pursuit, and cultivation of conditions that help you embody the desired experience and reach goals.
3. Negotiating obstacles and setbacks. They are inevitable and may be external (injury, rejection) or internal (fear, anxiety). In the face of adversity, high performers carefully managed their energy by:
4. Revisiting the dream. Top performers report that reconnecting to how they want to feel helps them surpass obstacles, re-energize, and re-engage in preparation.
As a coach, I am attracted to RPM because it is an elegant model and useful foundation for a number of positive interventions with clients.
Newburg (2002) doesn’t reference Fredrickson’s (1998) research, but it seems clear that positive emotions help create resonant performance. Top performers intuitively cultivate core positive feelings in the embodied experience of their dream. After setbacks, they re-engage with positive emotions and recharge before jumping back into preparation. They work very hard, but they don’t spin their wheels chasing down problems. Instead, they broaden and build to capture their dreams.
Attunement and the Proactive Mind
Helping people attune to limbic and somatic experience is effective in practice and intriguing in theory. Research in neuroscience suggests that limbic areas of the brain imbue objects and experiences with meaning prior to cognitive awareness.
In a review of research, Soon, Haynes and colleagues (2008) conclude that the unconscious brain engineers decisions milliseconds before conscious awareness registers them. They assert,
“Our brains make decisions based on emotions and assessments that we’re not aware of; only later, after the decision is actually made, do we explain our decisions and actions to ourselves.”
Their research may one day reveal the biological basis for psychological findings, such as Jon Haidt’s work, which shows that people rationalize decisions already made intuitively.
I use the RPM to help clients get dreams (metaphorically) out of their heads and into their bodies — or vice versa– so that they can better marshal and integrate their energies. Their experience is beautifully captured in George Santayana description of happiness:
To be happy you must have taken the measure of your powers, tasted the fruits of your passion, and learned your place in the world.
Britton, K. (2008). Motivation and Self Determination Theory. Blog posting that summarizes Deci and Ryan work and includes links to online versions of their papers.
Csiksentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience.. New York: Harper Perennial.
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior (Perspectives in Social Psychology). New York: Plenum.
Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions?. Review of General Psychology, 2, 300-319.
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive . New York: Crown.
Haidt, J. (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. New York: Basic Books.
Newburg, D., Kimiciek, J., Durand-Bush, N. & Doell, K. (2002). The role of resonance in performance excellence and life engagement. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 14, 249-267.
Soon, C., Brass, M., Heinze, H. J., & Haynes, J.D. (2008). Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nature Neuroscience, 11(5), 543-545.