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To do your best, get stressed -- and then learn to let go

The Breakout Principle: How to Activate the Natural Trigger That Maximizes Creativity, Athletic Performance, Productivity and Personal Well-Being; Dr. Herbert Benson and William Proctor; Scribner: 336 pp., $25

June 02, 2003|Samantha Bonar | Times Staff Writer

The Breakout Principle

How to Activate the Natural Trigger That Maximizes Creativity, Athletic Performance, Productivity and Personal Well-Being

Dr. Herbert Benson and William Proctor

Scribner: 336 pp., $25


In their new book, "The Breakout Principle," Dr. Herbert Benson, author of "The Relaxation Response," and William Proctor, co-author of "Beyond the Relaxation Response," present their "breakout" technique as a major breakthrough. It isn't, especially. Zen, yoga, qi gong, even traditional psychology share similar principles.

The basic premise is this: When faced with a challenge, such as a test or an upcoming athletic competition, you must first work hard to meet it, increasing your stress levels (i.e., studying, working out). The next step is to completely shift gears so that you stop thinking about whatever the problem is (i.e., "let go"). To achieve this mental shift, you might meditate, take a walk, listen to music, visit a museum or do needlepoint. This sets the stage for a "breakout" or "Eureka!" experience, when the solution to a problem or a great performance on a test or in an athletic competition will simply come to you.

The added benefit is that the more you practice this technique, according to the authors, the higher your level of functioning will go.

Once you get the gist of the technique, there isn't much more to say about it. Many of us have experienced it, and it makes intuitive sense, as does following the authors' advice to incorporate it into our daily lives to improve performance in many areas.

But the book does go on, breaking the subject matter down, exploring its biological, psychological and spiritual elements and providing examples of the breakout principle at work. The second half of the book is devoted to describing the six kinds of possible breakout experiences, among them athleticism and productivity, with many more examples.

After I understood the principle, I wanted to try it, not read about it ad infinitum. While interesting, the topic is better suited to an in-depth article, perhaps not worthy of an entire book.

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