The Psychology of High Performers

“Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.” – Henry Ford

What is the psychology of a high performer?  I’m not taking about the habits or what do successful people do that make them that way.  There are lots of books outlining the behavior of high performers. A better question might be, with so much information on how to be “successful,” why don’t more people have the life they want?  On a psychological level what is the difference between high performers (those who get what they work toward) and low performers (those who are constantly stuck in the same rut)?

On a side note, this is not a discussion on how we measure success.  Although it is important that you identify your Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s a phrase commonly used in business).  If your goal is to be healthier what would be your KPI’s? A smaller waste, weigh less, muscular definition, lower blood pressure, maybe you’d like the endurance to run a marathon!  When we are talking about health there are a number of KPI’s.  KPI’s could be goals, or signposts that we are headed in the right direction. KPI’s are the objective results that are part of a larger vision.

I would also like to point out that many higher performers I’ve worked with are not happy.  I don’t want to suggest that the psychology of a high performer is necessarily better than a low performer in terms of health, fulfillment, joy or happiness. We all hear about the famous actor who struggles with drug addiction, the successful executive who commits suicide, or the politician caught up in a sex scandal.  High and low performers alike have their fair share of problems.

I am developing a pragmatic model for Performance Behavior/Performance Psychology based on my experience in trying to transform my life and as a coach helping my clients to so the same.  I’ve come up with what I perceive to be a linear path of thinking that leads to high performance behavior after listening to hundreds of people.  The Five Questions model is a framework I’ve developed in working with my clients. It’s a homework assignment that I ask my new clients to do before our first session together. This exercise allows for me to gauge their level of performance and the barriers to achieving goals.

The Five Questions

1) What do you want?

This is a simple question that I find most people answer like a kid writing a letter to Santa Claus.  I’ve heard many times the idea that we work hard to buy things we don’t want to impress people we don’t like.  What is it YOU really want?  This question for many is not easy.  Of course there is the standard, financial security, love, joy, acceptance, etc. but what does that look like to you? Knowing what you want must be objectively clear. High performers are very clear about what they want. They set goals and constantly measure success.

2) Why do you want it?

Are you driven by fear or purpose?  I find that many wants are driven by fear, greed, social expectation, or sometimes a personal expectation that is meant to make one feel “GOOD ENOUGH.” What do I want, is not the same as what will make me feel OK about myself. The reason why we want is more important than what we want.

When we follow the GREAT framework, Rejecting Negativity comes before Excitement (Visioning) because we don’t let our negative factors influence our vision of ourselves or let it direct out actions. Why do you want what you want, should be in alignment with your LIFE purpose. It should be directly linked to what you LOVE, what INSPIRES you, a practice of FORGIVENESS, or what you ENJOY. Most important is should be free of social expectations that don’t make you happy.  For example, you may become a doctor to help people, however if that vision is one your parents encouraged your whole life, it may not be the vision that makes you feel fulfilled because it may be covering a greater desire.

High performers are driven by purpose. They may be motivated by fear, greed, a desire to be enough but those who are most successful are in alignment with a purpose. They are driven by a higher purpose.

3) Do you believe what you want is possible?

This is not a YES/NO question.  This is an introspective exercise. Dig deep.  Is there any doubt?  The slightest doubt in your ability will grown into negative thoughts that stop you from pursuing what you want!  If you don’t believe you can get the job of your dreams, you might not apply. If you don’t believe the partner of your dreams will go out with you, you won’t ask him/her out.  If you don’t believe in yourself than who will?  If you don’t believe you can get what you want then what is stopping you?  If you answer is yes than move to the next questions.

It goes without saying that high performers believe they are capable achievement. They have no doubt in their abilities and “act as if” when their confidence weakens.

4) Do you believe you are worth the time, effort and investment?

Again, not a yes/no question. You may believe what you want is possible but do you invest your time, effort and investment to get what you want? Or Do you make excuses. I don’t have time; I don’t have the energy.  Our time is the most important resource and we give it away. We waste our time on TV, the internet, other people!  You may believe you can accomplish your goals but you won’t take the time or investment to do it, or worse, you make the time and make the investment but you don’t put in the effort! You go through the motions blaming outside conditions for your poor results. You get the job of your dreams and you show up late, make mistakes, and lose your job!

High performers invest in their future. They work long and hard and invest in their education and often hire people to help them build skills.  They put in the time, effort, and money to make their dreams come true.

5) Do you believe you are deserving of the reward and recognition?

At the heart of self-sabotage is the belief you are undeserving of what you want.  These people believe they can get what they want but don’t try. They go through the motions always falling short of their goal.  Then there are those few who know what they want, they are connected to a passion that drives them. They believe in themselves, they take the time, put in the energy and make huge financial investments in themselves and achieve their goals! Then they self-sabotage all their success.  They got the thing they thought would make them happy. They got the job, the relationship, the recognition… then took it for granted. Or they didn’t take care of what they worked so hard to get. These people celebrate losing weight by going out to dinner and ordering desert and soon gain all the weight back. These are the people who get the degree and never go after a career they studied for. These are the people who get the relationship, then fail to nurture and cultivate their partnership. These are the people who deep down inside don’t believe they are deserving.

At some level those that sabotage their success are people who thought success would bring emotional rewards. A sense of love, belonging, accomplishment, pride… These people might have played the WHEN-THEN game. When I’m successful, then I’ll be happy. When I make more money, then I’ll feel less worried. When I get that relationship, then I won’t feel so lonely.  When the goal doesn’t produce the feeling we self-sabotage.

This is why knowing what you want and why you want it is so important.  If we are driven by our wants that are motivated by fear, greed, or a need to “be enough” getting what we want will not produce the feeling we truly desire.

High performers not only feel deserving of all they work for, in some cases their history of success makes they feel entitled to more.  High performers are driven by passion, it is a game they enjoy playing. 

The five Questions is a great framework to understand where you might be stuck.  Don’t be surprised as your confidence, worth and esteem grow, what you want and why you want it will change. Continuous growth is when we constantly challenge what we previously thought was not possible. I’ll leave you with the most important advice I try my best to follow, that is remember to enjoy the journey and let faith guide you toward your destination.


Redefine Masculine: Ask For Directions.

“My ancestors wandered lost in the wilderness for 40 years because even in biblical times men would not stop to ask for directions” – Elayne Booster

I’ve recently attended a couple personal development workshops let by up and coming experts Gabriel Berstine, Mastin Kipp, and most recent Lissa Rankin.  While I’m motivated by the content of the speakers at these events, it’s nice that these events are filled with beautiful women!  My most recent workshop hosted by Mastin Kipp to promote Lissa Rankins new book Mind Over Medicine.  In attendance were approximately 15o women and 4 men, not including the 3 men on the speakers panel.  I will say that the high attendance of women is more than likely due to the combination of workshop with the practice of Kundalini Yoga.  A form of yoga that I’ve recently fallen in love with.  However Marianne Williamson, best selling author and internationally sought after speaker, offers lectures every Monday night in Los Angeles and I have found that those events also have a greater number of women to men in attendance.

It seems like you hear more and more how women are becoming more successful in every aspect of life quicker than men.  The number of college degrees including graduate degrees are awarded to more women, and women are outperforming men in the workplace.  Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men and Rise of Women describes in our pop culture a proliferation of strong women characters playing opposite the male “slacker/lovable loser.” For me Hanna’s work is a disturbing insight… I don’t want to be a “lovable loser!” I don’t want to be part of the good old boys club that can’t quite get it together in today’s modern world.

I have to admit… I don’t get it.  I go to these workshops, I spend quite a bit of time focused on personal and professional development and it’s rare that I’ve experienced an audience where the women didn’t outnumber the men. It’s no wonder why women outperform men! I’ve read Hanna Rosins book, I’ve seen the gender gap flip in many of my friends where the woman is the bread winner, often more educated and overall more successful.  I don’t get why more men don’t actively seek personal development at the rate women seek it.

I understand that throughout history women have gotten the shit-end of the stick. It’s about time things are changing… or should I say just in time! Societal problems are getting worse and the world is needs a hero, a feminine one! I say feminine because we don’t need another woman who imitates a man. Unfortunately many of those women who paved the way for today’s modern feminist movement were women who adopted management practices that don’t differ from from their male counterparts. Thanks to them however, the creation of women support groups are everywhere! While women are enjoying the benefit of years of social, personal, and professional growth, men are lost.

Are we (men – women feel free to stop reading) really so dense that we still are unwilling to ask for directions? In my years of working as a coach most of my clients have been women who stick with coaching for longer engagements than any of the men. It’s possible that it is something about my coaching methodology that is more supportive to feminine traits (cooperation, collaboration, nurturing, vulnerability). Most of my women clients are driven by their passion, while most of my male clients have been motivated by a passion for money, power, and prestige and what they think it might get them. I’m not judging my men clients, but when we start to discuss the roadblocks that keep them from their goals, a discussion of fear and vulnerability is inevitable and I can see their discomfort is sharing their feelings of insecurity.

I strongly believe that the key to getting social, personal and professional development is in creating a safe environment to be vulnerable. Women and some minorities have created forums to discuss the struggles they face and offer a community to lend support toward growth and development.  Men, in this country have no such support systems. I believe that its in our competitive masculine nature to ask for support is still seen as a sign of weakness. There is a stigma in taking care of yourself, asking for help, and needing support.  It’s not hard to admit we don’t know what we’re doing but nobody does!  We can all, men and women, use a little help and support.

I don’t believe that it’s as difficult today for men to reveal their fears and insecurities… Frankly, there are so many men that don’t quite have it together that it’s easier to find someone who can relate. But it’s still not socially acceptable! There’s a reason Hanna Rosin addresses the growing number of “lovable losers” in film and TV. Lovable loser is how we see men who don’t have it together.  We don’t see them as eccentic or creative wanderers… There losers in our culture.  I’m not saying thats right. It’s not.  But get use to it… It’s going to hurt and masculine pride is going to sting. Socially there may be no safe place for men to get support, but get over it! I don’t go to workshops to meet women.  I go to workshops to grow into the man I want to be for myself and for the woman I love. Yes it sometimes sucks to reveal my vulnerabilities in a group of women but I’m not there for them I’m there for me! 

I’ll end on and idea.  There needs to be an evolved definition of masculinity.  Our understanding of what it means to be masculine can’t be limited by some antiquated notion of machismo.  I believe the role of the masculine is to hold a safe place for the feminine to grow.  Unfortunately in this view there is a cap on how far the masculine model will take us.

When we were cavemen, we provided safety and security for our family and communities.  Over time safety and security is synonymous with financial security. Well now that feminine qualities are the skill sets that employers favor, it’s great that women are now dominating new opportunities in the workplace. The role of the masculine is to hold a safe and secure place for a woman to grow and that might mean financially.  Get over it guys. If you have a woman who loves you who also earns more than you, your job is still to provide emotional safety and security which is what our role as men has always been.

Many good men are lost. J.R.R. Tolkien said, “not all that wander are lost.” I believe those that wander aimlessly can use some direction. Be a man, don’t be afraid to ask for directions, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and most important don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.

Change and Transformation

“Personal transformation can and does have global effects. As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us. The revolution that will save the world is ultimately a personal one.” – Marianne Williamson

I believe that an individual or an organizations difficulty with managing change comes from the confusion between the terms change and transformation. Not knowing the difference is why we fail at realizing our goals or achieving the results we want.  If we do achieve the goal, it’s often short lived. By understanding the difference we can better manage the actions that need to take place to achieve long lasting success.

The first question one needs to ask is, am I looking to change or transform? There are a lot of articles on philosophical ideas about the differences but I believe they fall short of a pragmatic definition.  On a side note, I believe that change and transformation at a personal and organization level are the same.  There is no question in my mind that an individual who has experienced managing transformation in their life make the greatest leaders in organizations managing change.  For this article I will discuss what I believe is the difference between change and transformation through personal perspective.

Change is the act of focused effort to modify or adjust one area of an individual life.  Transformation happens when change in all the areas of an individuals life occurs to support lasting change in one area.  It is critical that the difference between change and transformation is understood at the individual level. All the areas of an individuals life can be broken wond into what I refer to as the Human System.

The Human System breaks down into three levels are: Personal, Relationship, and Environment.  By taking a deeper look at each of these areas of our life we get a clear picture of how one affects the other and we can create a plan for a balanced approach achieving change that last.

At the personal level people seek to change Physical, Emotional, Spiritual, and Intellectual characteristics.

At the level of Relationships a person seeks to change Personal, Romantic, Social, and Professional interactions.

At an Environmental level people seek to change their Personal Space, Shared Space, Social Space, and Work Space.

If you want to change one area of your life you have to change all the areas of your life that support change in that one area.  If you want the change to be lasting, or sustainable, you must transform.

I believe an area people struggle is in personal health.  Many people focus on weight loss through diet and exercise with short-lived results.  The results are short lived because change usually occurred at a Personal level with diet and exercise.  Diet and exercise can impact all the areas of an individual’s life but the focus is rarely on relationships or environment.  Dieters who don’t tell anyone they are on a diet fail to foster relationships what can offer support and accountability.  Dieters who don’t structure an environment that fosters healthy behavior can fall into traps of habit.  For example dieters may spend hours in front of the TV when a healthier choice may be to go for a walk.  The truth of the matter is we don’t begin to make physical change that last until we change every area of our life to support the lasting change we desire.

Business professionals understand managing change is a systematic process.  When organizations transform they change business structure (environment), policies and procedures (dictate relationships), and they offer training (personal – Intellectual level support).  Where business fails is in their understanding of how transformation affects their associates personal lives.  People struggle through organizational change because they fail to see how change at work impacts their whole life.  By understanding how change in one area of our lives affects all other areas we can create a more comprehensive plan at managing transformation.  That is of course, if transformation is required for change to last.

If you want to change some area of your life, or if some area of your life is changing (environment or relationship), ask yourself, how can I manage each the areas of my life so that I can have the lasting change and transformation I want?