High-performers pivot to deal with new normal

Scientists reveal that ongoing lockdowns forced high performers to re-prioritise exercise and mobility.

Over the last 21 months, there has been a shift in the neurobehaviours of high performers who engage in activities that boost their energy and performance, according to the first Dynamic Neurobehaviours in the Workplace Index.

Neurobehaviours relate to the way the brain affects emotion, behaviour and learning.

By following dynamic data since 2016, a team of South African neuroscientists have analysed the changes in neurobehaviours of high performing teams and individuals pre-pandemic, through the pandemic, and how these have stabilised as the world tries to move past the pandemic.

Neurologist Dr Etienne van der Walt says, "The resilience benchmark moves with what the planet's living things experience in their environment. Some of the things we rely on to keep us happy or healthy, or functioning optimally, are simply not as relevant. That fact would have been invisible without this data. It shows that we have to re-prioritise our neurobehaviours for the new environments we find ourselves in to achieve wellbeing."

In 2019, the data showed that the 10 most essential neurobehaviours displayed in the workplace, which leaders need to cultivate included optimism, reducing negative thoughts, and intermittent fasting.

In March 2020, the picture started to change. By the end of 2021, the predictors of resilience stabilised, with the most important being exercise duration, exercise diversity, destructive habit avoidance, reducing negative thought patterns, and mobility and movement.

The scientists revealed that ongoing lockdowns forced high performers to re-prioritise the rhythms of exercise and mobility while engaging in activities (such as optimism and humour, which unlocked dopamine release in the brain) that boosted their high performance energy.

Despite the difficult circumstances, these factors turned out to be the top predictors of resilience.

"In addition, it’s perhaps most important to clarify this: resilience is not grit or tenacity. Resilience refers to how effectively and quickly your brain-body system can counter or balance external environmental changes based on past experiences and then return to this baseline; your baseline relaxed physiological state, your state of calm. By doing so, you learn from the experience and grow in capacity to overcome future challenges,” Etienne explains.

He adds, ”This learning is what underpins evolution and adaptiveness. If you cannot move back to the state of calm effectively and quickly, you go into chronic stress and become ill. By contrast, when you’re at your baseline relaxed physiological state, your brain, which affects emotion, behaviour, and learning, functions at its optimum, where teams and organisations perform at their best. We are better at problem-solving, more creative and innovative, and experience peak performance in this state.”

"Resilience shouldn't be something businesses hope their employees have, but something they can teach them through techniques like coaching and training. When employees start adapting their neurobehaviours when faced with different stressors, a measurable impact can be seen in a company's daily operations. Businesses can create a high performance culture that will keep everything running smoothly even when stressors arise,” he concludes.