High Performance Talks: Linda Liukas

High Performance Talks: Linda Liukas

High Performance Talks is our weekly interview series focusing on improving performance through better health and wellbeing. In the course of ten weeks, you will hear fascinating stories from racing drivers, top executives, entrepreneurs, university professors and our very own Hintsa experts.

In episode 3 of our series, we met up with startup entrepreneur and author Linda Liukas to discuss how she manages to maintain a healthy lifestyle in the hectic schedule of an entrepreneur. In 2014, her coding adventure book "Hello Ruby" raised $380,000 on Kickstarter becoming the platform’s most highly funded children’s book.

How do you feel about the Hintsa model and why do you think it is so successful?

“One thing that makes the Hintsa model so special, is that it takes into account the whole human being. When I was struggling with my own energy management, my own performance management,

I would go to a traditional occupational health professional and ask them: “What should I do with my stress levels, or with my sleeping habits?” And they would give me advice from the 1970’s. Or I would read online stuff like: “Oh, you should have the überman sleeping pattern, and you should only drink coffee with different kinds of flavours in it." And that was like the other end of the spectrum. 

I think in the Hintsa model, the number one thing I appreciate is the fact that you're not optimising only one sector of your life. You're making small changes deliberately, all over your life. Sometimes all of these data driven models, they seem so focused on one aspect of your life. But people are not binary. They are not one or the other. They they are holistic human beings.”

What your take on exercise and how it effects your performance?

“One thing that has really changed is my way of thinking about exercise. I work as an entrepreneur and I have very changing working hours. This means that I can be on the phone in the mornings to Japan and in the evenings to New York. And I used to think that exercise is something that happens after work and I'm using my free time to exercise. But I have switched my way of thinking, and started to think that exercise is actually part of my working time, because exercise is the only reason that I can do these hours and travel so much. So this is one of the things that helped me. Making this mental shift. Nowadays I calculate exercise into my daily working hours.”

What kind of means do you use to tackle jet lag or constant traveling?

“There's no magic trick. It's very deliberate. Plan ahead. Schedule your sleeping rhythms and your eating habits, days before traveling. That’s the only way to make a real change. One other thing is, that I try to choose hotels that have a good gym, in order not to skip exercise during traveling. In the past I would also eat hamburgers, wine and comfort food while traveling. Now I have realised that I travel so much during the year, that if I were to eat like that, I would end up a mess, nutrition-wise.”

How do you take care of your own recovery in your busy lifestyle?

“Recovery for me has been really essential. One of the most important things I’ve realised is that you actually need to schedule recovery into your calendar. Hintsa’s Sleep Specialist Steven Lockley talks a lot about how our daily society makes us forget the value of sleep. I have never had trouble falling asleep, but I've definitely had other sleep related problems, such as waking up in the middle of the night and panicking about work-related things.

So Steven gave me some really good tips. I learned that two hours before going to bed, you should dim the lights, put your electronics to sleep, and try to start thinking about positive thoughts. It was all very practical and very helpful.”

Any other thoughts about wellbeing and ways to improve performance?

“One thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, is that all of our daily gadgets have sleep mode. Most computers have recovery mode and they need to be charged every now and then. Why is it that we find it so easy to take out our cell phones and remember to charge their batteries, but when it comes to our own recovery, our own batteries and our sleep time, we tend to skimp on that? I wonder if this is something we should learn from our own devices.”

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Choosing your mindset at 300km/h

Choosing your mindset at 300km/h

Formula 1 driver Mika Häkkinen recalls looking out his hotel window on the morning of a big race, and watching sheets of rain lashing the buildings outside. Many drivers would have been discouraged and even non-enthusiasts know that rain is rarely welcome in motor sport, but Mika was adamant. “I told myself and the team, ‘I’m so happy it’s raining, this is fantastic!’”

I’m fascinated by human high-performance. During the process of writing my recent book, Exponential, I interviewed experts in a wide-range of contexts, from face-transplant surgeons to leading business and sports people. I was interested to hear about how they managed their focus and attention; in particular, what they focused on, and how they responded, in times of high stress. Mika Häkkinen was one of my interview subjects. When he began to tell me about his experiences of racing in the most challenging conditions, I knew it could provide some fascinating insights.

Racing in the rain is dangerous and stressful. Mika related an experience of driving in almost monsoon conditions in Australia, as he accelerated down the long and infamous Brabham straight on the Adelaide circuit:

“I was approaching 300km/hr and visibility was zero. I had to guess the distance to the turn, which meant keeping my steering straight and counting up to the turn.”

Can you imagine what that felt like? Driving flat out, your vision completely obscured by the rain on your helmet visor, relying on numbers counted in your head to judge the distance you had traveled, and pretty much guessing when you needed to turn the steering wheel to avoid careering off the track?

Mika became publicly known as a fearless driver. But he does admit to sometimes feeling scared. “But I wanted to win, so the only solution was to stop thinking and put my foot down flat” he says.

Mika’s bold and positive attitude turned out to be crucial to his success as a driver. He competed in 100 races before finally clinching his first Grand Prix victory, in 1997. “I was close to winning many times,” says Mika, “but close doesn’t count. I knew I had the talent and I was putting in the hard physical training, the mental training and all kinds of exercises, but I just wasn’t winning. Seven years was a bloody long time for losing!”

During the journey, Mika recalls constantly working with his team, trusting that the wins would come, but perhaps more importantly, he cultivated the attitude that “You can choose your reactions to things”. He went on to win eight races during the 1998 season, to become world champion, then repeated his world championship success in 1999 with five more victories.

Reframe stress as challenge, not a threat

Choosing to re-frame stress as a challenge, not a threat, was a consistent theme that emerged during my interviews with high performers, and their approach has been backed up by increasing amounts of evidence.

Experiencing stress is a normal part of being alive, it’s simply the human response when we experience any form of challenge or demand. Whether the stress is physical or psychological, our heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure increase and our mental alertness is enhanced. It would actually be counterproductive to remove all stress from our lives. ‘Positive stress’ can motivate us, focus our energy, and get us excited about improving performance, but only if we feel that the demands being made of us are within our coping abilities.

Problems arise when we perceive challenges as being beyond our capabilities. This is a common experience for many people. We feel that we can not control the demands that are made of us, and the stress that results from this, generating the sensation of being overwhelmed. This can lead to ‘negative stress,’ anxiety or concern, unpleasant feelings and impaired performance.

However, in many cases, it is possible to change our ’stress mindset’ and even improve our performance in response to stress, but this is a skill that needs to be developed.

Can we learn to manage stress?

In many ways, sport is the ultimate testing ground for ‘stress management.’ Every training session and competition is a ‘stressor’ and even the most successful athletes will lose many more times than they win, resulting in continuous ‘micro-doses of failure.’

In the immediate aftermath of stress, performance is decreased but, provided sufficient resources are available, the body and mind recovers and performance bounces back. We often talk about this ‘bouncing back’ as the key characteristic of resilient individuals. However, it’s possible for humans to adapt to stress and achieve levels of performance even higher than before.

Psychologically it appears that, even in the most demanding situations, individuals with a clear sense of purpose, who feel engaged and present in their daily life, enjoy what they do, have meaningful relationships and find a sense of measurable accomplishment in their work, can achieve a ‘super-compensation’ in response to stress.

In a military context, researchers have identified that it’s possible for soldiers who exhibit these characteristics to experience ‘post-traumatic growth’ following even the most stressful experiences. Resilience, our capacity to recover, and even grow in response to stressful situations, can be trained and improved.

Performance enhancing stress?

Has the idea that you can grow stronger in response to stress changed your perspective? If it has, research suggests this new positive view of stress may increase the likelihood of beneficial stress responses in the future.

In 2013, researchers conducted a three-part study looking at how people perceived stressFirst, the researchers validated a test designed to define two different stress mindsets:

1) Stress is enhancing: People who believe that stress has a positive effect on performance.

2) Stress is debilitating: People who believe that stress has a negative effect on performance.

In the second part of the study, the researchers presented the subjects with factual information, defining the nature of stress in one of the two ways: stress-is-enhancing or stress-is-debilitating. They achieved this using short film clips.

The results demonstrated that:

a) It was possible to influence and change the subject’s stress mindset, according to whether the short film clip they watched emphasised the positive or negative perspective.

b) In a public speaking exercise, subjects who believed that stress is performance-enhancing exhibited more moderate cortisol reactivity, relative to those who perceived stress to be debilitating, suggesting that our beliefs about stress can have a physiological impact.

c) Those who believed in performance-enhancing stress were more likely to seek detailed feedback after their performance, which can significantly enhance learning and improvement.

The study illustrated that perceiving stress as a challenge, rather than a threat, is more likely to result in responses that widen attention, improve thinking, decision making and cause less physical damage. Our stress mindset can be changed relatively quickly and it can enhance both our wellbeing and our performance.

I encourage you to experiment with reframing stressful experiences as a challenge and learning experience. This is a mental skill that can be developed every time we feel stressed.

Sisu – the finnish word which tells you how to thrive under pressure

I got to know Mika Häkkinen through my work at Hintsa Performance. Many of my colleagues, like Mika, are from Finland. Last year, they introduced me to the Finnish word ‘Sisu’. Sisu doesn’t really have a direct English translation. We could describe it as a concept encompassing characteristics such as strength of will, bravery, resilience, hardiness, perseverance and determination. If you decide to take a course of action, then stick to it in the face of adversity, you need ‘Sisu’.

Perseverance – continuing along a path in the face of adversity – is a fundamental component in growth and change, but ideally it needs to be coupled with ‘passion’; a mix that Angela Duckworth calls it ‘Grit.’

Duckworth argues that Grit is a measurable strength, and it appears to be a strong predictor of success in numerous fields. A year-long study, among 755 people, compared 10 personality strengths and found that grit was the most reliable predictor of who would achieve their goals.

Progress not perfection

I recently had a conversation with one of our clients. He’s been working with a coach to try to implement new techniques into some of the stressful, competitive situations in his life. He felt like he was failing to apply them successfully.

“I seem to get it ‘right’ a few times,” he said, “but then I slip back again.” The client had only recently started experimenting with these new approaches, but he was frustrated, so I posed the following question:

“Imagine that you’ve never trained for running in your life. If I asked you to run a marathon tomorrow, how do you think you would you get on?”

He laughed. The answer was obvious. It would be impossible. We’re familiar and comfortable with the notion of progression in physical training. No one expects to be able to run a marathon without any preparation. It takes effort, planning and time, as the body adapts to increasing training loads. For some reason, when we think about cognitive performance and behaviour change, we expect to be able to turn it on and off, like a tap, but this means that we can become disheartened when the changes don’t occur as quickly as we hoped.

The conclusions of a recently published five-year study, among a group of international track and field athletes, determined that the percentage of successful completed training sessions was one of the strongest determinants of performanceSimply showing up and making consistent efforts is one of the most significant influencers of success.

Change takes time. It happens in small steps. The most important step you can take is to decide on a course, then start walking down it, or if you’re one of our drivers, go flat out.

This article was first published on the World Economic Forum Agenda.

James Hewitt, Head of Science & Innovation
James is passionate about investigating the potential of our high performance bodies and brains. He is an author, speaker and his work includes consulting with Formula 1 drivers, teams, in elite sport and with global corporations.

High Performance Talks: Steven Lockley

High Performance Talks: Steven Lockley

High Performance Talks is our weekly interview series focusing on improving performance through better health and wellbeing. In the course of ten weeks, you will hear fascinating stories from racing drivers, top executives, entrepreneurs, university professors and our very own Hintsa experts.

In episode 2 of our series, we sat down with our Sleep Specialist and Harvard Professor Steven Lockley, to discuss how sleep affects performance and how to cope with jet lag. As one of the world’s leading sleep scientists, Mr. Lockley regularly works with top athletes, business professionals as well as NASA’s astronauts to find ways for the brain and body to recover.

Could you tell us about how sleep affects human performance?

"Sleep is an absolutely key component of our wellness and ability to perform and stay awake. We don't really know what sleep does, but we know it's very important for recovery in general and recovery of brain function. So anything that involves brain function, like your ability to perform during the day, your ability to stay awake, is impacted by sleep."

How can one improve the quality of their sleep?

"There are two main factors that affect how well we can sleep at night. First of all, there's a system which measures how long you've been awake. So you have to have been awake for a reasonable amount of time before you can fall asleep.
The other system that controls your sleep is your circadian clock, your daily cycle. Humans have been set up to sleep at night and be active in the day. So you want to keep a very structured sleep-wake schedule, as much as possible. Try and do the same thing every day, because that will help the circadian system to make sure you fall asleep at the right time.

Other things you can control that affect your sleep, are things like light exposure. Bright light before bed or light from electronic devices will keep you alert. So you need to try and avoid bright light and have a dimmer, redder light in the evening before sleep. Also, caffeine is something which often keeps us awake, if we drink it too late in the day. So try and stop caffeine use after lunchtime.

Doing things which are relaxing in the evening can help with sleep. Many of us are very active, right up until we go to bed. We’re worrying about things when we sleep. So if you can do something to split the day from the night, which could be breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, or a hot bath, a warm non-caffeinated drink, or listening to music. Things that you find relaxing will help split the day from the night and help the brain relax and fall asleep quicker."

How much sleep do humans really need?

"People often want to know how much sleep they need, usually so they can work out how little they can get away with. But that's the wrong attitude with sleep! You need to have enough sleep for you and your brain to recover.

Most of us understand how well we perform on certain levels of sleep. On average it's recommended that adults get seven or more hours a night, every night. The need, of course, is much higher in teenagers. It can be 9 or 10 hours a night, or more. And even more in smaller children.

Ideally, we should all be aiming for at least seven hours of sleep or more each night, but a key thing with sleep is to try and plan ahead. If you know that you're going to be sleep deprived, e.g. if you have a deadline to meet, try and sleep a little more before that. Try and build a little bit of sleep reserve. Or if you have been awake for a long time, try and recover adequately and make sure you get enough sleep afterward.

Try and get the right amount of sleep every night, but also make sure that you try and bank a little bit of sleep when you can, or recover if you've had times when you've not been able to sleep."

Do you have any tips for jet lag?

"Jet lag is caused by us shifting our sleep-wake and light-dark cycle too quickly for the body clock to keep up with. We are able to change by minutes a day. For example this time in Finland, we can react to that changing sunset and sunrise, but we can't react to changes of an hour, two hours or three hours a day. The brain just can't keep up. Shift work is a very similar problem. If you work at night and sleep in the day, it is equivalent of a 12-hour shift in time zone.

First of all, in order to know how to adapt, think of which direction you are traveling to. When you're traveling westward, you need to delay the clock later. When you travel eastward, you need to advance the clock earlier.

There isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. However, if you're traveling westward, few days prior to departure go to bed later than normal, see light later in the evening, and start to shift your clock later. If you're traveling eastward, go to bed earlier a few nights before you leave, see light in the morning and start to shift yourself on to the new time.

The problem comes often when you actually get to the new time zone. Sometimes you should see lights, sometimes you shouldn’t. I can't give you a simple rule that tells you what to do every time here, but within the Hintsa program we have put together jet lag plans for F1 drivers and business executive, to help them know when exactly see light, when to avoid light, how to use caffeine, how to use mealtimes and so on. 

All this is done to make sure that they can adapt as quickly as they can. If they do the plan, they can shift their inner clock by about 3h a day. Whereas it would only shift by about 1h a day, without our program."

Finally, if you could give us one key advice for sleep, what would that be?

"My key advice for better performance is to prioritise sleep. That sounds very broad and over simplistic, but our society hasn't valued sleep enough until very recently. We often think we have to burn the candle at both ends to achieve in life. Sleep is often the thing that gets missed if we have to work hard or work longer.

Rethinking your attitudes to sleep and prioritising sleep and making it a central part
of your own health and wellness program, is absolutely the key. You should do that, your family should do that, your colleagues should do that.

People need to change their attitudes to sleep. We can't have this old attitude that four hours a night is good, or we can sleep when we’re dead, or sleep is for the weak. This is all wrong! We need to reverse that attitude. So my very simple piece of advice is to prioritise sleep."

High Performance Talks: Mika Häkkinen

High Performance Talks: Mika Häkkinen

High Performance Talks is our weekly interview series focusing on improving performance through better health and wellbeing. In the following ten weeks, you will hear fascinating stories from racing drivers, top executives, entrepreneurs, university professors and our very own Hintsa experts.

Mika Häkkinen, the Formula 1 World Champion from 1998 and 1999, has been working with Hintsa Performance to improve both his athletic and business potential since 1997. In the first episode of our series, we sat down with Mika to discuss his learnings over the years and what he feels is required to reach the top.

Tell us about when you heard about Aki Hintsa and Hintsa Performance for the first time?

“The first time I heard about the Hintsa Method, or if we talk about Aki himself, was already quite a few years ago, about 1997. But of course, over the years Aki developed the program.

For me, the most fascinating thing was the science in it. It wasn’t the typical: “let's put your running shoes on and let's measure a bit your heart rate, and OK this is what we’ll we do." No, it went further into the human being.”

When and how did you start implementing Hintsa Performance’s methods?

“Already during my active career in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001. But I remember Aki was always moving forward with his ideas, non-stop. He was always curious about new technology; how we can make the sports person, the Formula 1 driver, better. Or how we can collect more data and information on making a specific person become a better athlete. Not just physically with muscles, but also better in the brain. How we can develop their brain in a way that they can be young women, or young men, confident in life.

I learned that 80 percent of your success when you are racing, is your inner strength and whether you have confidence. That is a very important part! And rest of it is muscle. The more you can build up your strength is always good, but the head is more complicated. That's why we need people like Aki, who have great communication methods, and great science teams working on the methods, to make them perfect.”

How did the Hintsa model improve you as a race car driver?

“Specifically in the early stages of my career, and working with Aki, it was all about putting my mind on a level where I didn’t have to think about some areas that I didn’t have time for. Things - and this may sound a bit strange - that are emotional.

Because when you are in motor racing and racing a Formula 1 car, you don't want to think about emotional things. In your head you don’t want to be emotional, you want to be a tough guy. You don't have to show it on the outside like: “Hey, I’m a tough guy", but inside your head and inside the car you need to be a tough guy. And all these emotional things around you, they have to be eliminated, so that you can focus and don't have to worry about those things.”

How do you use Hintsa’s methods in your daily life today?

"I don’t use them anymore for racing, but I do use them to be better in business. For example, to find better concentration, to have far more energy. These types of things we're working on. I find it all very exciting. In a sense, being in business is very much the same thing as driving a racing car; you have to be better and better, all the time. I find that very impressive and fascinating."