I’ve been fortunate over my 26 years as a performance, success, and transformative coach to work with people who are hugely successful in a wide variety of fields. While the reasons they originally hired me have varied from accountability to strategic innovation to spiritual guidance, one of the most common benefits they report is a bit less obvious – they come to understand why they’re great when they’re great and why they’re not when they’re not. To realize that the keys to high (and low) performance are neither random nor hard to grasp can be oddly settling – like realizing that what you thought was a heart attack was really just indigestion, or that what you thought was an earthquake was really just a train rumbling past outside your window.
The more accurately you can see how things work, the less superstitious you need to be. And the secret to being at your best when it matters most is not your lucky briefcase, your girlfriend’s underwear, or how many magpies you saw on the way to the big game. It’s simply taking advantage of how the human system actually works.
Here’s how I wrote about it in The Space Within:
One of the things that bogs us down when it comes to understanding human performance is a fundamental confusion between what is innate and what is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced in order to be usefully implemented in the world.
For example, resilience – the ability to bounce back from any setback – is both natural and built into the human system. As any six-month-old baby would tell you (if they could talk, obviously), no matter how upset you are and no matter how big a tantrum you’re throwing, you’re only one thought or good cuddle away from returning to the quiet and peace of the space within. We adults, however, tend to think of resilience as a skill we have to develop if we want to let go of the upsets and tantrums that many of us have been nurturing for years.
Like resilience, wellbeing, confidence, learning, and creativity are already built into the human system. They’re as natural a part of how we’re designed to operate as plants turning sunlight into energy and the human body turning food into fuel. By way of contrast, building a business, playing the piano, coaching a sport, and even writing books are not things that we’re either intrinsically good at or not – they’re learnable skills that will develop given time, effort, instruction, and practice.
Because most of us confuse what’s normal with what’s natural, we struggle along in first or second gear most of the time, maybe even happily thinking that 30 miles per hour is as fast as a car is meant to go. But as we gain a better understanding of how cars actually work, we come to realise that instead of pushing the engine harder and harder in a low gear, we can simply shift to a higher one. We’ll get better performance and reach higher speeds with less wear and tear on the engine and parts.
When it comes to human performance, that ‘gear shift’ starts to happen automatically as we learn a bit more about how the system works. Almost without noticing, we begin to get far more done with far less effort.
In traditional coaching, that gear shift is often explained with some version of this formula:
performance = capacity + information
If that were true, the only thing between you and optimal performance would be a missing piece of information. Once you knew what to do, you would get the most out of your innate capacity.
But even a cursory glance at our own life will show up the fallacy in that idea. How many ‘strategies for success’ have we studied in our lifetime? How much of what we know do we actually apply? Are our results commensurate with what we know, or do they seem to have more to do with what we actually do?
The actual formula for high performance looks more like this:
performance = capacity – interference
In other words, when we eliminate interference, we perform closer to our full capacity. But in order to eliminate interference, we first have to understand what it is and where it comes from.
Here’s a visual representation of how our mind functions when we’ve got our mojo working – in the zone and on our game:
When we’re operating in sync with our natural design, we’re tuned in and receptive to the infinite potential of the universe (Mind). We’re able to experience the energy of the universe taking form (Thought) via an aperture that is continually expanding and contracting (Consciousness).
To function at our absolute best, all we need to do is allow the system to operate as designed. Thought takes form in our personal consciousness as fresh ideas, creative possibilities, loving thoughts, and a moment-by-moment sense of direction, and we move forward in absolute harmony with the intelligence of the universe made manifest via our common sense and a sort of ‘wisdom within.’
What could possibly interfere with such a great design?
Well, the problem with a brain is that over time it starts to produce lots and lots of repetitive ‘personal thinking’ over and above whatever ‘fresh-from-the-cow thinking’ we really need to perform at our best. Since our experience of life is really an experience of Thought, the more we have on our mind, the more complicated everything seems, and the more the aperture of our consciousness tends to contract. Before we know it, all we can see when we look out into the world is our own thinking reflected back to us in the fun-house mirror of our own self-consciousness.
Where we get ourselves into real trouble is when we then start analyzing and attempting to control our thinking. In the process, we completely lose sight of both the power of Thought and the intelligence of the deeper Mind that can guide us through life with relative ease if we let it.
It looks something like this (but not this):
Simply put, the less we have on our mind, the higher our level of performance. The more we have on our mind, the more we’re prone to behave like a bit of a mor(e)on…
While we don’t actually control how much thinking we have on our mind at any given time, we also don’t need to control our thoughts to be free of them. Our brains are already designed to screen out background noise so that we can pay attention to the task at hand. And as we see that the constant noise of our thinking is simply static interfering with the clear signal of our natural wisdom, our brains will automatically dismiss that thinking without our having to meditate it away or affirm it’s positive opposite. Because there’s nothing you can do to quiet your mind that will quiet your mind faster than doing nothing to quiet your mind.
With all my love,