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I feel like the brain-training app Peak is a walking, talking (or, more accurately, a clicking, screen-time bloating) irony. The stated goal of this app is to improve your lifelong mental processing potential in several categories, like problem-solving and memory. …...

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Filed Under , on April 20th, 2019

Peaked Performance

By Seth Kabala

I feel like the brain-training app Peak is a walking, talking (or, more accurately, a clicking, screen-time bloating) irony. The stated goal of this app is to improve your lifelong mental processing potential in several categories, like problem-solving and memory. The irony is that you Peak quickly. It’s not so much about attaining your Peak performance as it is realizing that the ceiling of your potential is a lot lower than you thought. Whoops. You just bumped your head on the dumb ceiling. It’s okay, you’re in good company.

I started using this app a few years ago, because I wanted to be more present during work presentations, running meetings, and to have fewer moments of waking up in a conference room, looking around at the random participants, and wondering if I’d been kidnapped.

Aha! Trying to ply me with your bagels and cream cheese and fruit and meats and cheeses. I’m not a simpleton. I know ransom-seekers when I see them. The only way you might get me is if you had single-ori– Oh, you’ve got the coffee, too. Hmm. Tell you what, why don’t I sample what you’ve got here on the table, and then we’ll talk about how much I’m worth. Let me clue you in, I just started braces payments for my daughter, so you may have grabbed the wrong guy. 

Who says kidnappers can’t wear business casual? They say they’re there to discuss funding strategies for capital infrastructure improvement, but that’s what all the kidnappers say. Can’t trust ‘em.

I wanted to be my best at work. In addition to getting good sleep and eating well, training my brain to function at a higher level seemed like the right way to go.

At the start, I’d go through my daily Just for You workout, supposedly hand-tailored to my developmental needs, though the algorithm gets shifty eyes whenever I ask it to remember my name. I was advancing in some categories, but I couldn’t muster the Peak performance necessary to be above-average in every category. The categories are language, problem-solving, memory, focus, mental agility, emotion, and coordination.

When you finish a workout (a series of brain-training games, such as recognizing smiles in a collage of facial expressions, tapping on certain colors and shapes of cards as a collection of them fly by on the screen, or looking at an aerial map and remembering how to navigate to your destination once the point of view switches to on-the-ground), Peak gives you the option to view Your Brain in a Nutshell, which will show your scores across all categories relative to others in your age range.

Most of my scores were fine, but my problem-solving sucked. Here’s an example. There’s this game called Meteor Defense, where the goal is to place defensive bombs just outside the Earth’s atmosphere to defend against incoming meteors. Fair warning: if the government puts me in charge of meteor defense, go ahead and find yourself a new planet now, because we are all doomed. I couldn’t get my score to greater than the average for my age range. So I did what I do when I want to improve: became obsessed and did problem-solving night and day until my score finally exceeded the average. Yes!

And then I Peaked.

Looking at my stats, I went from the 300s to the 600s and low 700s (1,000 is the top score) for overall game-play after about a year. Since that time, I’ve inched up to 726, where I am today, but I’m steadily losing ground. Once again, problem-solving is the culprit. I don’t think it’s going to make a huge difference in my career if I can reduce the moves it takes to position the tiles on a board, where only one or two spaces are empty, so that the tiles with lines on them line up to form a solid line. Maybe. Process improvement strategies often must find a way around the intractable object, or person.

I don’t think my opportunities for promotion will narrow if I can’t remember every shape the game showed me three shapes back. In fact, this might be a hindrance to top work performance. Imagine if you were always focused on the person you saw three people back. In my case, living in Portland, I would greet a whole heck of a lot of people by the name of the last Starbucks barista I encountered. They are everywhere!

But I keep trying to raise my Peak score, hoping that it’s going to serve as a bridge to future success, and I think that’s unrealistic. Giving Peak the credit for any success I have with family relations, at work, or in life in general risks introducing the fallacy of primacy and recency. (Note: this is not the primacy and recency effect related to learning and retention. If you want to learn about that, pay tuition and go back to school. Or do a Google search. It’s really the same thing.)

The Seth take on primacy and recency is this: we tend to attribute success to whatever we’ve set up as an intentional activity to improve performance (primacy) and with which we’ve engaged in close to real-time to realize the intention of said activity (recency). We like to feel like our actions are controlling on our future, like what we intended to create success was actually causal in our success and not subject to a random dice-roll of the universe.

Even if I could draw a statistical correlation between my Peak performance and some life KPI, is that worth a damn? Am I giving myself a false reason to feel good about all the fine-tuning I’m doing on my noggin to justify the money I’m spending for the privilege of getting frustrated with this app?

Those who study game design theory know that you must give gamers rewards to convince them to keep playing. They need to win, because with each win, however small, comes a release of dopamine, a high, which translates into a need to return to the source of the high.

Career success, healthy family, calm mind–if the price of attaining these is yelling at Peak and obsessing until I earn a marginal five-point improvement, even if that comes on the heels of a 50-point loss on stupid problem solving (stupid Castle Block. Stupid, stupid, stupid), I’ll pay the price for that win.

Robert Louis Stevenson said, “You cannot run away from weakness. You must some time fight it out, or perish. And if that be so, why not now? And where you stand?”

I intend to continue fighting it out with Peak, even if my gaming buddy is named irony.


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Seth Kabala

About: Seth Kabala
Seth is an entrepreneur, writer, and musician. He lives with his wife and three children in Portland, OR.

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