Embracing a peak performance mindset will elevate your achievement in any area. Specific mental training tools and techniques will help you access this mindset and realize your performance goals. You’ll also enjoy greater satisfaction, improved mood and increased agency at work and home.
What is the peak performance mindset? The peak performance mindset is a systematic approach to thinking about one’s life that promotes and achieves the mental creation of success. Stephen Covey told us in 1989 that “all things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation, to all things.” This is the basis for his Habit Number Two – ‘begin with the end in mind.’ He goes on to say that this first creation can be either by ‘design or default,’ meaning if we don’t write the script, someone else will hand it to us or we will react to circumstance or default to past habits. So if you are going to have any success in the physical world, you must create that success in your mind first.
When we talk of mindset, what kind of mindset do we mean?
Carol Dweck has built an incredible body of research and essentially created a field of study around mindset. She has very graciously distilled this body of work into her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In it, she outlines two basic types of mindset: a fixed mindset, or a growth mindset. As she says,
“The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life."
In sports, we overemphasize talent, giving it too much credit for an athlete’s success. To some extent this is media-driven, as commentators and pundits drool over how talented and physically gifted an athlete is, as they look at the finished product on game day. But to no small extent, I believe this cultural emphasis on talent stems from the discomfort that the average person feels with the idea that high performing athletes simply work harder than everyone else.
But how else can you explain a 5’ 3” player like Mugsey Bogues having a successful NBA career? Or 5’ 9” Nate Robinson winning NBA slam dunk contests? He’s the same height as me. I never viewed dunking a basketball as something that was possible for me. A growth mindset believes that your abilities are not fixed. Rather, they can be cultivated through effort, strategy and coaching. With this mindset, Dweck reminds us that our true potential is unknown and unknowable.
When David Goggins went to the starting line of the Las Vegas Marathon, he intended only to accompany his wife to the start. He had tried to run in the lead up to the race, but injury had hobbled him. Caught up in the roar of the crowd, he began running and didn’t stop. He ended up completing the marathon in 3:08 and asking himself,
“What am I capable of?”
The question propelled him to seek out new challenges and become a beast of an ultramarathoner. Most people don’t come close to their performance limits. What are you capable of? What’s holding you back? Don’t let it be your own mind.
Is the mindset just about optimism? Certainly not. It requires optimism, but you need more than rose-colored glasses to achieve. It also requires accepting reality. But at the same time you can choose optimism. In its essence, optimism is about believing that the future can be better than the present. But in order to avoid being in conflict with reality, we need to be neutral about the present. We need to radically accept it. A peak performance mindset embraces this radical acceptance. Once you’ve accepted that, however, what sparks an optimistic outlook? Identity. It has to come from within.
“Your performance and your self image are always equal.” - Lanny Basham
You will not exceed the performance level of your identity or self image. Identity determines habits. Habits are the system that determines the outcome of your endeavors.
This is why someone who thinks of themselves as a smoker who is ‘trying to quit’ has less of a chance of turning down a cigarette than someone who identifies themselves as a non-smoker. Think about the difference in those statements. “I’m trying to quit.” “I don’t smoke.” Just saying that reinforces the identity.
"Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity." - James Clear
Why is mindset important?
"Baseball is 90 per cent mental. The other half is physical." - Yogi Berra
Think about what separates a gold medal performance from a silver. How much of the difference among top performers is mental? Why is Messi a world champion and Ronaldo getting benched by his coach? Can we really attribute the difference in performance to talent? Or anything physical, as opposed to mental? Or just think about your best performance in the last year. How much of your best performances can be attributed to your mental state that day? Yet compared to your physical training, how much training time do you dedicate to mental exercise?
How much training time do you dedicate to mental exercise?
The mind can be trained to create success just as a muscle can be trained to resist load. Creating success in the mind allows achievement to flow forth. Give as much thought and planning to your mental training as your physical training.