World-class athletes understand the important of operating at peak performance, and they also realize the work that got them to where they are today won’t get them to where they want to be in the future. Think about it this way: the man who ran the first four-minute mile achieved a great milestone, but he needed to push himself to be even better as his contemporaries trained to best his time.
You can learn a great deal from athletes about peak performance—working in the zone by being fully present and continually moving forward. When you’re totally engaged in the process, rather than just focused on the outcome, you’ll experience a sense of being at one with yourself, and that will lead to extraordinary results.
Seven dimensions have been identified that make up peak performance experiences:
- Striking a balance between the skills you have and the challenges you face. You must choose realistic goals and continuously push yourself to meet and then exceed them—since what’s perceived as great today may only be average in the future.
- Being totally absorbed in your task. Your concentration and focus need to be laser sharp; thinking about the big picture will only distract you from your current project. This is commonly referred to being “in the moment.”
- Using unambiguous feedback. As you move ahead with a particular task, pick up on the cues you get from colleagues, audiences, etc. and adjust your behavior accordingly. Really be in tune with what you’re doing.
- Demonstrating a sense of control. This means you have to be confident about what you’re doing. You need to be your biggest cheerleader.
- Embracing intrinsic rewards. Not everything is about money. In most cases, you need to be focused on what’s happening around you because of your efforts.
- Losing track of time. You’ve heard the expression that “time flies,” and it certainly does when you’re totally engaged in a process.
- Being clear and specific. You can’t be unclear about your intentions; your goals must be obvious and understandable so you can maintain your focus.
These dimensions are what distinguish “superstars” from those who don’t excel, and they can apply to just about anything. For instance, I started thinking about participating in the 60-mile breast cancer walk a few years ago, but my fears initially stopped me from committing. I felt overwhelmed by the challenge. After all, I wasn’t an athlete, so the thought of walking 60 miles was daunting, and I became paralyzed by details like what kind of shoes I should buy and who would walk with me.
Once I realized I wasn’t exhibiting peak performance behavior—I was visualizing obstacles instead of my ability to overcome them—I refocused and reminded myself of the reason for signing up to walk and the passion I felt for the cause. When the big day arrived, I allowed myself to get “into the moment” and focus on the people and joy of the experience; I moved past my reticence and completed the walk.
If you feel stuck, unable to move forward, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- What are some of the irrational beliefs or fears that are limiting me?
- What is stopping me from setting higher goals for myself?
- What motivates me, intrinsically and extrinsically?
- What are my current strategies…and are they limiting me?
It’s really simple: if you’re not continually setting new goals for yourself and moving forward, you’re really moving backward, since other people who are more proactive will be passing you by. If you’re OK with the status quo, you must be OK with not getting all the potential rewards that are out there for those who operate at peak performance. Are you?