In my years as a performance coach, I’ve had the chance to work with a number of peak performers. What separates peak performers from the rest of the crowd is that they find ways to meet their goals (whatever it takes) and maximize their successes over time. Probably the most readily available example of peak performers would come in sports; take for instance Lebron James in basketball, or Tiger Woods in golf in his peak. These players seemingly possess a rare ability to hit extraordinary shots, which can change the outcome of the game or round. Yet, a question remains—were these sports icons born as peak performers or did they develop and hone a set of peak performing skills over time? These players likely posses rare athletic ability, but it takes much more than that to consistently perform. Clearly, it takes focus, commitment (i.e., practice), confidence, and unrelenting determination, which must be developed over time.
In life and business, there are some other prototypical strategies that characterize peak performers; and fortunately, having coached a number of CEOs and companies to improved success, I can say that these strategies can be learned.
The following list summarizes my observations as a performance coach with commentary on how you or your team can apply these 10 Strategies of Peak Performers.
1. Understand Perception v. Reality. When peak performers analyze a situation, they do not limit themselves by conventional perceptions about what can or cannot be accomplished. They have a greater understanding of what is possible, and may think that nothing is impossible. This expanded perception of reality allows for greater confidence belief in self. At the same time, peak performers know exactly what it takes to succeed. They accurately assess a difficult situation and allocate their resources accordingly. Back to the sports metaphor, Tiger Woods knows that it is not easy to fade a shot around a tree from 200 yards in thick rough, but he is aware of his chances for a successful outcome and does not limit himself with the perception that this cannot be done. Here at Performance In Motion, we help people find the balance between belief in oneself and the reality of what it takes to accomplish goals. We also incorporate visual exercises, which teach people to take a second look at what they “see” in any situation.
2. Remaining Focused; Avoiding Distraction. One of the essential elements in the repertoire of peak performers is the ability to focus under all circumstances and avoid the various interference's of everyday life. But how do they achieve optimal focus? At Performance In Motion, we help people become aware of what is distracting in their daily routine, at work, etc., and provide them with tools to regain focus. Using golf as the medium in our coaching, we our clients to define their focus and recognize what the distraction is for a given shot. In golf, the distractions may be fear about the shot, the people whom you’re playing with; in life or business, the distractions might be the desire to constantly check e-mail/social media, or a lack of a structured environment. The key is to recognize the distractions and constantly define what the goal is.
3. Clear Intent; Aware of Action Steps. What separates peak performers by and large from the rest of the population is that they know what they want and how to meet their goals. Oftentimes, simply having a goal in business/life will set one apart from the realm of mediocrity, but one must also be clear about how to progress toward the desired outcome. Thus, the first step should be defining several goals, but then to specify these goals. That is stretch the goal while still in the realm of possible and be aware of how to meet this goal when creating it. At Performance In Motion, we use scorecards to write down goals, and encourage clients to spend time critically analyzing the action steps/short-term plan needed to meet this goal. If the action steps do not line up with the goal, then it must be refined; it was not clear in the first place.
4. Balance Risk with Reward. How many times have we seen a peak performer in basketball nail a three-point shot that looked like it had no chance of going in? We might be apt to question the player for taking this risky shot had it missed, but would if it was do or die; they had to take the shot to tie or win the game with a second left? Consider this in business: seldom does one have to take the high risk, do or die shot, but when a business is tanking, or the model is not working, one has to be willing to take the risk to save oneself and others. Peak performers take risks when necessary, or when the reward is sufficient. Yet, they still understand when to be mindful and when to remain committed to a game plan.
5. Enjoyment Synonymous with Peak Performance. Peak performers take great pleasure in achieving their goals and know how to celebrate their successes. Celebration helps to reinforce the “feeling” of success and enhances motivation to get through more difficult times. That is, being able to remember what it felt like to accomplish X will make it easier to get through Y. Peak performers seek to spend as much time enjoying their successes as possible but will demonstrate a tenacity to get through grueling circumstances with great poise. One method to increase enjoyment in a long-term, or otherwise “difficult” process, is to reward oneself for short-term goals along the way. This strengthens the belief that short-term goals really do add up to the long-term goal. Peak performers only celebrate real progress.
6. Positive Mindset. Even peak performers have negative thoughts and experiences, but they become aware of them quickly, can change and adapted quickly. Here at Performance In Motion, we coach clients to use mental tools to maintain a positive mindset. Techniques such as visualization of positive outcomes or reflection creating mental images through vision boards are powerful methods to overcome a negative thought or attitude. These techniques are based in forming positive mental images, which have been found to correlate with positive outcomes in reality. For instance, a free throw shooter, who visualizes making the shot, is more likely to drain it in reality. But visualization is just one tool—we also encourage clients to engage other senses and faculties to maintain a positive attitude. Listening to music can change one’s brainwaves and thus change one’s mood. Moreover, stimulating the intellect is an effective tool to promote more positive thought. This can be accomplished by including a balance of reading for leisure into one’s daily schedule. Yet another way to maintain a positive mindset is to create meaning or purpose in life.
7. Determination. Peak performers are bent on achieving their goals and rarely lose sight of their target. They believe that they will succeed in the long run and do not back down when failures occur along the path to meeting goals. They accept that the business culture will throw a few distractions or setbacks their way, the letdown becomes an opportunity to breakthrough, even when they are forced to start over with a whole new process. But determination is more than just an inclination; it can in fact be fostered through reflection. Peak performers often look back on positive experiences to motivate them when they experience adversity. They possess a wealth of positive memories, from which to draw when times are tough.
8. Letting Go of Control; Empowering Others. In business, life and sports, it is inevitable that certain variables will be out of one’s control. Take for example, the economy as a whole. Business leaders cannot always control the economy, but can find ways to adapt. Peak performers understand this principle: they are aware of what is out of their control and know how to glean the most out of what they can control. One pitfall of high achievers is a tendency to prefer to control the environment, but peak performers know that they must give up some control to maximize their successes. Peak performers engage in strategies such as trusting and empowering others to be successful. They make the people around them “better” as a function of this approach. They recognize that the world is not perfect, but that they cannot seek perfection on their own; they take advantage of the resources around them and will make the most out of any situation. At Performance In Motion, we coach clients to find ways to empower others around them and become well aware of their strengths and those of their coworkers/teammates.
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9. Commitment to Goals; Unattached to Outcome. Peak performers maintain an uncanny balance of remaining tenaciously committed to their goals, while not becoming consumed by the outcome. They always have the goal in the back of their mind but can work through a number of action steps or endure through the process to their desired outcome. More importantly, they have tremendous amounts of patience and will move on quickly from failures. It is remaining 100% committed to the outcome while 100% unattached to the results.
10. Excepting the Magic of Believing. It by far is the most powerful tool one can have to achieve peak performance. When an individual or group can have a firm belief in what they would like to accomplish. The magic of believing is when one remains clear on their target and goals throughout the performance.