Thu | Dec 5, 2019

Trevor E. S. Smith | Clearing life's hurdles ... with Usain Bolt's Neuroscience Performance Secrets

Published:Sunday | January 20, 2019 | 12:00 AM

"Oh my! She led all the way until she hit the final hurdle!"

"The favourite never found her rhythm."

"The gold medallist kept her cool and maintained her form throughout."

This is not a report on a track event. It is a snap shot of life's realities.

Whether you are at the start of some important pursuit, pushing on towards a coveted goal or nearing the end of a toilsome road, there will be hurdles in your way.

There are always hurdles to be cleared while we are on life's journey. How we approach them can be the difference between outstanding achievement and disappointing failure.




One source of disappointment that hurdlers experience relates to their 'trail leg'. In the absence of due care, their back leg hits a hurdle and slows their progress - sometimes disastrously.

Our lesson is that sometimes we are lulled into false security by early successes. Initial breakthroughs can also cause us to shift attention to the future before we have fully completed the current task. Who to pass the ball to before controlling it.

A common pitfall that frustrates our efforts is the tendency to look ahead too early.

One indelible message from the 'trail-leg issue' is to pay attention to details. Tie up the loose ends before shifting your attention. Take care of the administrative details that could come back to haunt you.




Rhythm is a critical factor in hurdling. Maintaining proper form and approaching each hurdle in stride makes all the difference.

Life is no different. We must use the correct techniques and methods in order to get the best results.

We underperform when we fail to invest the time in developing our skills, exposing ourselves to the best approaches, and practising to the point where the skills become second nature.




Sometimes hurdlers have the skills, but they enter the race with the wrong frame of mind. Overconfidence, lack of confidence, tension, or just not being ready mentally can frustrate the efforts of even the most technically competent hurdler.

Neuroscience validates the chemistry behind Usain Bolt's clowning before potentially high-tension races. To function at peak state, you need the right balance of two chemicals - noradrenaline and dopamine. Noradrenaline is linked to fear and provides the alertness that is needed. Dopamine is linked to the level of interest or engagement that drives your motivation.

Cortisol is the stress hormone and excessive levels lead to over-arousal and decreased effectiveness. Humour has been shown to lower cortisol levels while increasing the level of dopamine. Music has a similar effect. There may be more chemistry and brain science to Usain's success than swag.

Like Usain, we also need to be in peak state to be at our best. If we are too relaxed and laid back, our brains do not respond appropriately.

On the other hand, the saying that "too much pressure bursts pipes" is also critically important. Our brains work best when we find just the right level of arousal.

Another key to success is the capacity to block out distractions - mindfulness.

Our brain is constantly flooded by tons of information. A tiny fraction of that information is directly relevant to what we need to focus on at any point in time. The ultimate skill that is required to hurdle effectively through life is to be able to shut out the noise and narrow our focus on the essential issues.

The success formula: Right blend of engagement without undue stress + Confidence with realistic expectations + Carefully honed skills = PEAK STATE

The challenge is that achieving peak state consistently is not easy. Ongoing effort, training, and guidance is required. Commit to getting to the place where you can function at peak state consistently and reduce your disappointments!




Send me an email now to discuss how we can guide you or your team into operating at peak performance levels consistently. Identifying your trail-leg issues or improving your rhythm can open the door to your breakthrough!

- Trevor E. S. Smith and the Success with People Academy empower individuals, teams and organizations. We prepare and certify leadership professionals and coach/mentors and develop engaged, high performing teams. Hire smart with our recruitment solutions. Now enrolling coaches in the ICF/SHRM-Accredited Certified Behavioural Coach programme. Email: