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Published on December 23, 2020

How to Be a High Performer and Achieve Excellence

How to Be a High Performer and Achieve Excellence

Even if the idea of starting your day with a bout of exercise at 5:00 am doesn’t appeal to you, you can still achieve excellence and become a high performer in all aspects of your life. It does, however, require investing time in reviewing and regularly sharpening mental skills using different combinations of awareness exercises, growth exercises, and self-monitoring.

To be a high performer, you don’t need to exercise all of these following strategies together or simultaneously. Simply committing to a few of them in measured doses, over time, will have you well on the pathway to achieving excellence in whatever areas of life you wish to experience greater rewards and satisfaction.

1. Develop Plans

Becoming a high performer and achieving excellence doesn’t happen by accident. It’s planned and deliberate. Plans also contain more proactive strategies than reactive ones.

There is no shortage of research documenting the benefits of writing down plans and goals and that doing so increases the likelihood of you achieving what it is you set out to do, experience, and be[1].

There are at least two levels of additional processing occurring in your brain which foster the likelihood of achieving goals you write down:

  • External storage: By writing out your plans, you now have an external place which also holds this information. You don’t commit further energy to needing to remember your plans; you’ve created an external reference point you can go back to.
  • Encoding: A part of your brain called the hippocampus plays an important role in filtering information funnels and deciding what gets transferred to long-term memory. Your amygdala works in tandem with your hippocampus to modulate memory consolidation. When information has certain emotional frequencies attached, this helps to consolidate that information into long-term memory.

With this knowledge in mind, you can maximize your chances of becoming a high performer by strategically bringing life to your plans.

Don’t just let your plans consist of spoke diagrams and Gantt charts. Use an array of pictures, images, stories, animations and whatever other materials you can find that ignite your emotional resonation to action steps of your plan(s).

As you develop, write and map your plans, know they can also change. Be open to this and make space for this. Review and visit your plans often.

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Visit three to five key points each day that invite you to take specific steps and actions. Deliberately set time aside to routinely do this.

If you are finding you are developing plans but not following through with them, consider working with a coach to recalibrate them. There is likely misalignment with your goals and true values and priorities.

2. Regulate Your Emotions and Prepare for Discomfort

Any high performer is born with the capacity to feel and experience a wide spectrum of emotions.

There is a key separator between high performers who consistently manage to operate from a state of flow —even in the most stressful of circumstances—and those who crumble. High performers respect their experiences of negative emotions. They exercise considered and deliberate efforts to learn their unique response and reactionary patterns.

They don’t make excuses to mask or cover up negative emotional responses and reactions. They don’t repress them but cleverly compartmentalize and contain their experiences and commit to coming back to process them later.

Undertaking a few sessions with a therapist to learn and practice acceptance and commitment therapy techniques (ACT) can be widely useful[2]. You can learn to alleviate the intensity, sting, and duration of certain emotions.

Having techniques that teach you to predict, embrace, and process the mental and emotional impact of challenging relationships and situations will give you a winning edge. Another benefit of learning such skills is feeling you are living more fully and authentically, despite challenges. A new level of confidence develops as you come to learn and recognize that despite what happens, you will always be ok.

3. Self-Monitor and Live More Consciously

In order to become a high performer, you first need to know or set your benchmark as a starting reference point. Monitoring activities therefore must constitute part of your plans and goals. Determining and mapping starting points is essential. Simple as it seems, it must be done with caution, particularly in situations involving high pressure and mental strain.

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A study[3] examining the effectiveness of digital self-monitoring applications demonstrated numerous benefits, but also some very clear negative impacts. Across numerous studies assessing 1768 participants’ experiences with using digital applications that help to promote health and wellbeing, reported benefits included:

  • Highlighting of problem behaviors
  • Increasing individual accountability
  • Fosters more reflection and attention to activities that bring about positive change
  • Increase awareness and consciousness of the state of health and wellness
  • Concrete information and feedback give greater control to participants to make helpful and informed decisions

Some noteworthy drawbacks included:

  • Self-monitoring exercises being tedious and boring
  • Monitoring activities provoking health disorders, unhealthy behavioral patterns and thinking (e.g. excessive calorie counting, focusing on weight and body mass, as opposed to recognizing positive mental health changes).

If you are also in the pre-contemplation stage of behavior change[4], then self-monitoring can have a negative effect. If you are not willing or open to change, self-monitoring and goal setting in themselves are completely pointless activities.

Stages of Change

     

    4. Master Habits and Behavior Change

    To be a high performer means you need to engage in behaviors that align with excellence. Like the rest of us, you can probably come up with at least ten behaviors and choice patterns that are not high-performance-yielding behaviors!

    Created by psychologist and researcher Dr. Albert Ellis, the A-B-C model of behavioral change[5] can help you explore how your unique beliefs and values drive your reactionary responses.

    With this stronger self-awareness and understanding, you can then test to see if you are open to challenging your belief system by considering other perspectives and interpretations of what happened. In doing so, you get to explore different responses as opposed to remaining vulnerable each time you are triggered by similar events or situations.

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    Applying this thought process—particularly toward situations and circumstances that trigger uncomfortable emotional reactions—will greatly help you to regain a sense of mental balance. You increase your ability to remain focused and still maintain momentum in activities that are a high priority for you.

    5. Apply Growth and Learning in Regular, Small Doses

    Research repeatedly shows that getting optimal sleep improves our memory retention[6]. If you were looking to improve your muscle tone by committing to a weights routine, your personal trainer wouldn’t recommend you exercise the same muscle groups every day. Nor would they recommend you look to increase your reps nor amount of weights you lift, at every subsequent workout.

    We are at our greatest point of power to change when we are present in the moment. Therefore, it helps to set goals to focus on experiencing growth and change in short spurts over shorter periods. Our brains are highly powerful at reverting us to what feels safe, comfortable, and easy. If you set goals that require long periods of discomfort and pain void of enough pleasure and emotional reward, you’re setting yourself up for a setback, if not failure and disappointment.

    Set goals that entail shorter chunks of effort interspersed with reflective rest periods. Then, go again. This approach also allows for other unexpected life events and important relationships to be preserved and receive the devoted attention they deserve to remain strong and healthy for the long-term.

    6. Commit to Personal Development

    To achieve excellence requires taking action. A high performer knows and prepares themselves for the fact that taking action that will result in change is likely to bring them pain and discomfort.

    Our brains primarily function to protect us, help us survive, solve problems, and bring us back to feeling safe, comfortable, and in balance. We, therefore, look to avoid painful and uncomfortable situations as much as we can. For example:

    • Asking for a pay rise because we fear rejection
    • Saying no to things we feel uncomfortable about and/or disagree with because they are misaligned with our core principles, beliefs, and ethics
    • Fear of dating again after we have survived a nasty relationship dissolution
    • Starting again when we have experienced significant failure
    • Having confronting conversations with friends, loved ones, or work colleagues

    You might have experienced some or all of these above, at different times. High performers take time to review their own unique paradigms, belief systems, and behavior patterns when events and situations like these arise. They take time to predict how they might experience their reactions and contributions.

    It’s far easier to read a book or sit through a course. Your keep your emotional and mental states safe in these situations. However, the knowledge you want has no true value unless you apply it.

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    Expect your attempts at practicing skills and experiencing a change to be messy and fragmented. Expect to feel negative emotions if your practice doesn’t prove effective. This is a necessary part of growth, especially when it comes to interpersonal skills, because we are dealing with relational skills where other people behave, think, and respond in ways we have no control over.

    7. Identify and Remove Distractions

    Becoming a high performer requires focus on achieving results. However, you must learn to identify two main things:

    • Whether or not some distractions are opportunities to experience healthy rest and reprieve
    • Whether or not we engage in distractions to avoid and delay experiencing something else

    Here’s where we need to exercise true honesty with ourselves. Where you choose to spend your time and energy speaks volumes about your priorities and what is truly important to you.

    Do you spend more time making sure others’ needs are met before your own? Do you chase perfection in place of getting things completed? Do you allow yourself to get lost in busywork activities as opposed to challenging tasks that would move you directly toward achieving your goals?

    High performers embrace responsibilities, selectively say no, and exercise confidence to accommodate what primarily works best with their timetable.

    Do you feel bad about suggesting another time to reconnect with a friend instead of immediately saying yes? Do you always accept nominations where you are required to lead, manage, and coordinate? Do you feel you say yes more often than you say no?

    If your answer to these three questions was yes, it’s time to take a hard look at your true priorities and values before setting goals to achieve excellence. All high performers know their pathway to excellence starts here.

    The Bottom Line

    By choosing to try out a few of the tips above, you, too, can become a high performer in any area of your life. Through focus and determination, you can set and achieve goals that will get you closer to a life you can enjoy living.

    More on Achieving Success

    Featured photo credit: Charlotte Karlsen via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Malachi Thompson

    Leadership & Performance Edge Strategist

    How To Overcome Laziness in 7 Steps What Is Mentally Tired? 11 Ways to Combat Brain Exhaustion 5 Proven Risk-Taking Tips To Take More Chances In Life How to Be a High Performer and Achieve Excellence How to Handle Rejection and Overcome the Fear of Being Rejected

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2021

    10 Willpower Hacks to Help Achieve Your Goals

    10 Willpower Hacks to Help Achieve Your Goals

    “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” – Mahatma Gandhi

    “Willpower is essential to the accomplishment of anything worthwhile.” – Brian Tracy

    “Just do it.” – Nike

    The most important and satisfying things in life usually aren’t the easiest ones.

    The good news: In today’s hyper-connected world, we have access to all the information we could want to help us achieve our future goals. We know what foods will make us healthier (would kale or quinoa be as popular without the internet and Dr. Oz? I think not). We can also estimate for ourselves the benefits of starting retirement savings early – and the implications for the lifestyles of our future selves (that boat at 65 means fewer vacations in your 20’s).

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    We almost always know what we should do thanks to endless knowledge at our fingertips. But actually doing it is an entirely different kind of challenge. Most of us can relate to that feeling of inertia at the start of a big project, or the struggle to consistently make good, long-term choices for our health, or saving for the future. This mental tug-of-war we experience has evolutionary roots. While knowing this might bring comfort, it doesn’t help solve the problem at hand:

    How can we flex our willpower to become better, faster, smarter, and stronger?

    The bad news: you can’t Google your way out of this one.

    Or can you? A fascinating body of research (much of which you can turn up online through popular press and academic articles) sheds light on how to hack your willpower for better, easier results in all areas of your life. The Willpower Instinct, a great book by Stanford prof Kelly McGonigal, provides a deep dive into these and more topics for anyone keenly interested.

    Here’s the short version: we can make the most of our willpower through two types of hacks. First, there are ways to turbo boost your willpower. Second, there are ways to hack the system so you make the best use of whatever (sometimes infinitely modest) willpower you have.

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    The following 10 tips draw on both of these toolkits.

    1. Slow the heck down.

    Most regrettable decisions (the splurge at the mall, the procrastination on the project, the snacks in the break room) happen when one part of our brain effectively hijacks the other. We go into automatic pilot (and unfortunately the pilot in question has a penchant for shoes, Facebook and cookies!). Researchers suggest that we can override this system by charging up the other. That is, slow down and focus on the moment at hand. Think about your breathing. Bring yourself back to this moment in time, feel the compulsion but don’t act on it yet. Try telling yourself, “If this feeling is still just as uncomfortable in 10 minutes, I’ll act on it.” Take a little time to be mindful – then make your decision.

    2. Dream of ‘done.’

    Imagine yourself handing in the big project, soaking up the appreciation from your colleagues or boss. Or crossing the finish line for the half-marathon you’ve always wanted to run. The rush, the aliveness, the wind on your face, the medal …

    That’s a lot more fun and motivating to think about than how much work it is to get out of bed for your long, Sunday morning run!

    Re-orient your brain by summoning more motivating feelings than just “not running this morning is more enjoyable than running this morning.” If your goals are meaningful, this will help.

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    3. Make your toughest choices first.

    Scientists have found that willpower is like a full bathtub that’s drained throughout the day. So, why not start your toughest challenges when you have a full reserve? Get that project started or fit that workout in before you even check your email or have breakfast. Bonus: the high you’ll get from crossing off your hardest ‘to-do’ will help you sail through the rest of your day.

    4. Progress = commitment, not a license to backslide.

    A lot of times people will ‘cheat’ right after taking positive steps towards their goals. (A common version of this trap is, “I worked out three days in a row, so I deserve this cookie.”) Most of us can relate to this thinking – but it’s totally irrational! We’ll often trick ourselves into setbacks because we think we deserve them, even if we don’t really want them and deep down we know they’ll work against us in the long-run.

    How can you counteract this effect? Research finds that if you use your positive streak to recommit (“If I worked out three days this week, I must be really committed to my health and fitness goal!”) rather than an excuse for wiggle room, we don’t take the same cheat options. Cool, right?

    5. Meditate.

    Meditation is an expressway to better willpower. Bringing your attention to your breathing for 15 minutes, or even five, flexes your willpower muscles by applying discipline to your thinking. It does this by working two mental ‘muscle groups’: first, the set of muscles that notice when your attention is drifting, and second, the set of muscles that bring you back to your task at hand. Over time, even small amounts of meditation will help you build the discipline to easily do what was once hard – like pushing through a long stretch at work.

    6. Set mini-goals.

    Which seems more doable: committing to three 20 minute runs this week or a half-marathon? Mini-goals are brilliant because they’re easier to achieve and boost your commitment to continuing. When we size them up, we see them as achievable rather than daunting. Each time you succeed at one, it boosts your sense of efficacy and personal integrity: not only are you capable of doing what you set out to do, but you followed through on it. Nice.

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    The beauty of mini-goals is that over time, mini-goals – and the momentum you’ve built by doing them – can quickly turn into super-goals. So that half marathon might be more likely to happen, and sooner and more easily than you think!

    7. Eat.

    Low blood sugar decreases your ability to make tough decisions. If you’re running on empty physically, you’ll also be running on empty mentally. (Yes, this one’s somewhat ironic if your goal involves changing food patterns – but even so, letting your blood sugar drop too far will only sabotage you over time.)

    8. Sleep.

    Research shows people who don’t get enough sleep have a tough time exercising their willpower. Sleep is critical for a healthy brain – along with just about everything else. So to optimize your willpower muscle, make sure you’re catching your zzz’s.

    9. Nix the self-sabotage.

    Making yourself feel bad hurts, rather than helps, your willpower efforts. Researchers have found that compassion is a far better strategy than tough love – telling yourself “It’s OK, everyone has setbacks sometimes,” will help you bounce back more quickly than negative self-talk.

    10. Take the first hard step.

    As a new behavior becomes a habit, it is more natural. You have to use less and less willpower to ‘make it so.’ When you’re starting a new pattern that feels hard, remind yourself that the first steps are truly the hardest. It will probably never feel harder than it does in those first few choices. In the case of repeated behaviors, like exercise or saving money, it takes weeks for new habits to take hold. By that point, the habit will be so ingrained, you’d have to try hard not to do it.

    Featured photo credit: Kym Ellis via unsplash.com

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