The “normal” option
As we have discussed previously, one of the most heavily-marketed products in brain-training in the 2010’s is z-score training. This so-called “scientific” and “brain-based” system proposes that by training any individual brain to shift dozens of micro-measures in the direction of a population average, it will become more effective—and especially that it will improve the client’s experience and move her toward her objectives.
One of the great benefits of this system (for the sellers) is that it is very complicated and can’t really be done without access to one of a small number of existing databases developed 20-30 years ago. From the trainer’s point of view, the great benefit is that he needn’t know much about the brain or even what the client wants to change. Just record some EEG with a 19+ channel amplifier, ship it off to the owner of the database, and get back a long, complicated document full of graphs and z-score readings. Train to “normalize” all the identified micro-measures at the same time and—voila!—everything gets better. And if it doesn’t…well, what could you do? You were scientific. You spent a bunch of money. You did what the computer told you to do. It’s not your fault.
We’ve also discussed the fact that there has been good research on “peak” brains of long-term meditators, top-gun pilots, super artists/athletes/soldiers and others who are far from being “average”. What’s intriguing about this work is that the description of how their brains work is much simpler than the “average”. And most clients would much prefer to train to move toward becoming a top-gun than an average pilot.
In a project done by Dr. Barry Sterman with B2 bomber pilots—all of whom were very carefully selected and extensively trained for their roles—there was very little difference between the top guns and the competent pilots. All of them showed the peak brain patterns in the flight simulator, but the best pilots showed it slightly more.
Any professional athlete or artist or executive can operate in “the zone”. The superstars get there more easily and more often and stay there longer.
So training toward the peak, instead of the average, is actually simpler, At the same time it is more desirable to most clients and more understandable for most trainers.
Why not just train everyone to the peak?
During my years of training, I’ve been approached many times by clients who wanted what they called “peak performance” training. No need to do an assessment, as far as they were concerned. There really was little or nothing “wrong” with them. They were already pretty happy with themselves, but they wanted even more.
In the beginning I’d take their word for it and just try training to the peak state, but it was generally not very successful and the reason became clear almost immediately. Their brains had adopted patterns of activation that blocked them from the peak states.
Many of them would tell me they’d been meditating for 5, 10 or 15 years, but when I looked at their brains, I’d say, “I don’t know what you’ve been doing for 15 years, my friend, but it wasn’t meditating!”
When I began doing assessments on even these nearly-perfect clients, I would show them the results and ask things like, “don’t you feel anxiety?” or “don’t you tend to act impulsively?” The response was usually yes—of course they did. In fact, that was one of the things that kept them from being “peak performers”. But there was nothing wrong.
I began to repeat a phrase I had heard years before (can’t recall who said it) that “all brain-training is peak performance training.” To reach the place from which we can operate at our peak, most of us have to clear away underbrush, build bridges across washed-out gullies, etc. We have to break the brain habits that block our peak states first. Then we can get there more easily and stay there longer.
Enabling and Blocking Patterns
Much of the published QEEG-based research on brain patterns has correlated specific mental/emotional states with specific relationships. The Whole-Brain Training process we’ll outline further in this book looks for two types of such patterns: those which enable the peak state, and those which block it. The training doesn’t focus on “treating” specific symptoms so much as it does in moving the brain’s stable patterns away from the ones that block and toward those which enable peak states. As this process proceeds, peak performance becomes a natural result, and the client moves toward becoming his own “best” instead of everyone else’s “average”.
Read on to learn about the peak state toward which we are training.