There are several resources, tools, and methods for increasing one's personal performance, regardless of the pursuit.
Here are nine.
- Emulate a Role Model - Everyone needs role models to look up to and to emulate. Stepping into the imaginary shoes and souls of the people we respect and admire gives us the opportunity to get a glimpse, a feel for what’s possible for us. Emulating our role models, even if captured in the simple constructs of the imagination, allows us for a brief moment to become them.
Prior to Mike Tyson courting ego and rage, he spent most of his waking days emulating the great boxers of times past, training like them, walking like them, in every way striving to become just like them. “They were like gods,” he said.
Tyson fell from his ivory tower shortly after the self-centered thinking began creeping in. He began thinking he was unstoppable and greater than anyone, even the ones he once idolized. Humility it seems is a necessary ingredient to proper emulation. And continued emulation is a necessity in the continued quest for greatness.
- Competition – Whenever there’s a competitor involved in the pursuit, we inevitably raise our game to meet the challenge. While an exclusive focus on all the various competitors is a recipe for disappointment and mediocrity, a carefully chosen competitor or two is healthy and helps bring us to a higher level.
One CEO of a successful software company actually created another company to compete directly with the one he founded, in an effort to instill a new level of competition and focus.
- Keep Score – Whenever we’re involved in the pursuit of something great, keeping score and holding ourselves accountable for results, always increases the likelihood of reaching the desired goal.
Thomas S. Monson, the President and Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints once said, “Where performance is measured, performance improves.
Where performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates.” To the extent that we’re tracking our results and holding ourselves accountable to a higher authority, our performance in that activity will improve.
- Surround Yourself with Greatness – Being in the presence of great people of high regard, achievement and activity, even if they’re not engaged in the skill or duty you are, is one of the best ways to bring out the best in us.
Now, to be clear, focusing on the environment as a source of power is never the ideal. But we can choose which environments we perform in. And to the extent that we’re unable to choose our environments, we can shape the environment we’re in by brining out the best in others by being our best selves.
One of my friends, who took a significant step down in pay to join a startup company said, “The decision wasn’t hard for me. Sure it seems like a higher risk, with less pay. But I’m now working with people who actually enjoy working, who are passionate about what they’re doing. For the first time in my life, I actually can’t wait to get to work. We have a lot of fun and we work hard.”
If you’re associating with people you respect and admire, and there’s a genuine synergy of goodwill and common values, then your desire to execute for the good of the group and the mission of the company will be strong. And with this desire comes an increase in performance.
- Study, Learn, Apply – Knowledge is power.
Simply reading books or bogs isn’t going to get us to the next level of greatness. We have to be very selective in the content we choose to put into our heads. We have to be selective in which new skills we’re going to learn. We have to have a system for incorporating and integrating new skill sets while building and enhancing whatever skills we’ve already acquired and mastered. This integrating process requires wisdom, a philosophy, a framework for seeing the world.
Knowledge has a very short shelf life. Unapplied knowledge is latent power. But that power soon rots. We live in an age of exponential turbulence and informational overload. If we’re not careful, we’ll figuratively drown in all the information, while we starve for wisdom.
For those seeking elevated positions by way of formal educational rather than the harder road of applied knowledge, be forewarned that the rate of change out there is greater than we can keep up with from a simple knowledge-base perspective.
As Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric once said, “"When the rate of change outside exceeds the rate of change inside, the end is in sight." Don’t focus too much on formal education – don’t be one of the “learned”. Be a learner instead.
Said Eric Hoffer, “In times of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”
- Use a Mentor, a Coach or an Evaluator – Others see what we cannot see. The world is filled with critics, coaches and so-called experts who’ve never actually walked the walk. But, guess what? They all have the potential to be useful.
Some of the best coaches aren’t necessarily the ones who know how to do the work themselves. This is different from a role model you’re trying to emulate. A coach can be anyone who gives you encouragement, be it a spouse, a parent, or a friend. Coaches are great because they cheer you on and help you realize your true potential. I prefer coaches who are personal friends, who really know and understand me, rather than the 1-800-get-a-coach folks who simply offer information over the phone for a monthly fee. The best coaches are sometimes free and they’re all around us.
An evaluator can be nothing more than a critic who gives you honest feedback. I’ve heard countless CEO’s say that the angriest customers are the best sources for feedback. And they’re right. Feedback, whether positive or negative, is good. But it’s the negative feedback from evaluators and critics that help you know which areas you’re weak and what things can be improved.
But my personal favorite of the three is a mentor. A mentor can be anyone who knows a specific thing you’re trying to learn, and usually has some experience in the field you’re pursuing. Mentors are my favorite because they’re almost the best of both worlds – they may offer encouragement like a coach or a friend when it’s useful, or they can be an evaluator/critic when there’s something that needs be fixed. Best of all, they usually have some mastery and can truly say “I’ve been there, done that. Here’s the best way to do it. Watch me.”
- Increase the Stakes – Burn the boats behind you. This one is not one I necessarily recommend to most people, but it does increase one’s personal motivation to perform in most cases. In 1519, Hernando Cortez invaded Mexico and burned his 11 ships behind him. His 500 soldiers were more than motivated, because the only way they were going home was by conquering and gaining the enemy’s ships.
Some estimate that more than 95-99 percent of all multi-level marketing programs fail – and I believe it. It requires a very small investment to become an affiliate or distributor. But if each participant were required to take out a home equity loan, drain all their savings, and invest their entire 401K’s in order to get in and play the game, (say $500,000 rather than $500) the success rate might just be a bit higher – who knows? (Some experts estimate that franchises have a success rate of 95 percent). I believe when our backs are up against the wall, sometimes, we’re forced to excel and achieve. Great achievements are often preceded by great trials and difficulties and failures.
- Practice, Practice, Practice – It’s not what you got, it’s what you bring. A gymnastics coach once said that it wasn’t the most talented people that ended up winning the gold metals. It was usually those without the ideal body frame, or natural ability who went on to compete and win in the Olympic games. It was this self-realization, this humility that compelled them to improve and to practice harder than the ones who had the more natural ability.
Mary Lou Retton is a perfect example. When she competed and won in the 1984 Olympics, her frame was much smaller the stout than most of the gymnasts with longer and slender features, features the judges at the time favored. Many argued that she didn’t have the natural ability to compete against those with the more ideal frame, a frame that afforded them a more elegant style.
Practice and dogged determination trump skill and ability in most instances. There are those fields where it’s very clear we don’t have a competitive edge, and we need to exit and move on to an area where we may have the potential to excel. Retton had a disadvantage, sure. But she didn’t let it stop her. She had a burning faith in herself that she could become the best if she trained harder and better than anyone else. Self-knowledge, knowing what we may have the potential to become great at, is just as important as knowing which practices we should let go.
9. Visualization – See it, you’re going there. Those who visualize achievement and success were more likely to achieve it than those who simply went through the physical motions of training. In other words, physical training has its limitations. Mental training is just as important.
Denis Waitley, PhD, says, “The mind can’t distinguish between something that is imagined and something that really has happened. So why not preplay the desired result and shape it in your memory?”
Research supports Waitley’s claims. Numerous studies have shown that when athletes imagine themselves performing at their peak level, their muscles twitch and their neuropathways fire as though they actually were competing, Waitley says. By the time they head out to the track, they’ve already run the perfect race so many times in their heads that their bodies simply take over.
More than simply seeing ourselves performing optimally in our mind’s eye, we should take time to meditate, and to enjoy feeling the state we’re in, getting in touch with our core being. Once we’re in this state, we’re able to introduce our vision into the present moment with a deeper understanding, an acceptance and rapport that helps turn our vision into a reality without inner conflict.