The ranch I grew up on in the middle of Wyoming was isolated so it was impossible for my brother and I to attend public schools. Instead, we had a private tutor. The only person I had to compete against in my class was myself, so it was a continual game of personal best.
I worked hard to beat my own record, and my teacher would respond by saying, “Look at you—you’ve worked hard to get a better score.”
As I’ve gotten older, I realize that my teacher’s response was incredibly unusual. Instead, most teachers, parents, and others in the educational system respond with, “Look at you—you are so smart.”
Without realizing it, my teacher had a growth mindset which believes that people get better by challenging themselves.
The opposite represents a fixed mindset and is represented by how our educational system distributes grades and how most corporations conduct performance appraisals: talent is something that happens to you, not something you make happen.
Whether you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset influences how you approach peak performance.
Peak performance is successfully using mental toughness to develop the power of the mind and to practice mental skills training in every aspect of life.
Successful people believe that they can challenge themselves to continually grow and improve performance.
Let’s take a look at how they do this:
We intentionally focus our attention on what is important in our life and those areas we want to grow.
Our consciousness can handle only so much information, so we have selective attention. One key part of the brain which focuses our attention is the Reticular Activating System (RAS). It filters out important information that needs more attention from the unimportant that can be ignored. Without the RAS filter, we would be over-stimulated and distracted by noises from our environment around us.
Focusing on the goal + focusing our attention on the activity to achieve the goal at the same time overstimulates the brain.
Attaining a goal is something that happens in the future, and it pulls our attention away from where it needs to be in order to focus in the present moment. This explains why so many golfers miss a putt at the end of the final round or why football players drop the ball inches from the finish line.
They choke because their attention switched from the present and moved into the future. As a result, they lose their focus.
Whatever we choose to focus our attention on will make it past the mind’s filtering system.
2. CHUNK IT BY BREAKING DOWN GOALS
Successful people establish their goals. They visualize themselves achieving those goals. And then they break those goals down into tiny, clear chunks.
Successful people understand that clarity gives us certainty.
You and I can also break down our goals into tiny, bite-size tasks and move from there. Small, clear goals keep our attention focused and yet are not enough to stress us out.
3. LOOK FOR FEEDBACK TO HELP KEEP YOU MOVING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
In order for feedback to be most effective, it needs to be immediate. The smaller the gap between output and feedback, the more we will know how to perform better. The reason is that our attention does not need to wander because the information is at hand.
If real-time feedback is not possible, find a way to measure your progress. It’s important that your feedback loop is timely.
For yourself, and others, tighten the feedback loop as much as possible—try to make it a daily habit.
4. STRETCH YOURSELF TO ACHIEVE PEAK PERFORMANCE
You need to stretch yourself to perform to your greatest potential. Exactly how much you need to stretch each time is debatable, but experts generally agree that the challenge should be 4% greater than either your skill or your last effort.
Increased stress will lead to increased performance—up to a certain degree. When you move beyond the healthy levels of stress, both performance and health will decline.
In high doses, stress can kill us. Ironically, it is also fundamental to psychological and physical growth. 4% growth is seen by researchers as the magical tension between challenge and skill. Most of move past 4% increase in performance without noticing, and it’s beneficial because this tension keeps us locked in the present and gives us enough confidence that we can do it again.
Our success begins and ends with our mental toughness. We can move toward peak performance once we find ways to use our mind to do it.
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