How do I stay ahead of the game consistently and constantly?
This question is probably the most frequently asked question by those that are operating at their peak in any profession. Though there are many books, a lot of advice and much research conducted about human development and personal growth, very little has been published or discussed on how or what we need to do to sustain peak performance levels. This article is for those that are at the top of their game and wondering NOT about how to get from good to great, but rather about how to remain great.
Focus on Your Desire
Every accomplishment starts with desire and every desire starts with an object of desire.
We see, hear or experience a result that triggers a deep desire to achieve the same for ourselves. You may have seen the tenacity of a successful entrepreneur or the charisma of a prominent leader, a mansion of a billionaire or unfailing kindness in a missionary doing God’s work in the most remote areas of Africa and said “I want to be like that”!
That “feeling” is your desire, the person or experience that triggered that desire is its object. As we start to work towards our dreams our desire decreases because we inevitably distance ourselves from the object.
Midway through my speaking career, I went through moments of doubt and even, in some occasions, despair. I was working 18 hour days and so focused on developing my content and consulting business that I didn’t even notice I was isolating myself from the people that inspired me — “my objects of desire.” I was literally working so much that I had cut off my sources of inspiration. At one point I was working, working and working while never making time to see, feel or associate the result I wanted for myself.
Today, I leave close to 10 hours a week to spend with speakers, leaders and mentors that inspire me. Literally the “people I want to be like.” The amount of inspiration, insight and knowledge I receive from one of my many monthly “mastermind sessions” with them allows me to do double the work in half the time.
How many hours a week do you spend with the people you want to be like? How far away are you from your object of desire? I often tell my clients that unless you see and feel and understand the result you are seeking, the desire to achieve that decreases.
Engineer your discomfort on purpose
If you are comfortable with where you are in your career right now, then you are not at your peak and some would even argue that you have stopped growing. Leaders and professionals that operate at their peak consistently and constantly feel uncomfortable because they take risks that position them in uncomfortable situations.
Almost intuitively they understand that getting out of their comfort zone is the best way to grow their level of endurance to handle bigger and more challenging tasks.
For the first five year of my speaking career I was completely fine with taking small speaking assignments that were completely within my comfort zone. At some point I realized unless I took on bigger more challenging assignments, however, I was going to wither away into oblivion.
Today, on purpose, I do at least 10 speaking assignments a year that literally make me nervous — and it take a lot to make a World Champion of Public Speaking nervous. One such event was the Keynote at the Rotary International Convention this year. Audience size: 28,000. The hall was so big that when I spoke there was an echo. I could have easily said no to this assignment, but I said yes. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Did I do as well as I wanted? NO. Did I learn? Answering “Yes” would be an understatement.
I learned so much that I know there was no other way to learn those lessons — handling a challenge of that magnitude gave me insight, knowledge and experience that no institution or individual in this world could have given me. As a result my endurance and capacity to handle massive events increased.
Are you taking risks ? Are you doing things that make you uncomfortable? Unless you take a risk and do something that truly makes you uncomfortable, you are not learning. When you are at your peak, there are very few people that can teach you something you don’t know already. Working with some of the world’s leading executives one thing I consistently tell them is that the only way to grow after a point is to engineer your own discomfort from which you can learn.
Don’t look for the white elephant in the room, you will not find it!
When you are at your peak you wont find any massive faults that are keeping you back. You could have never peaked or operated at a high level of efficiency if you had any. Then why look for massive interventions that will increase your productivity?
Think about it: how many trainings, professional development or degree programs have you gone through over the last few years? Have they increased your productivity? Yep, that’s right, I am guessing it didn’t. When you are operating at your peak you can get ahead only when you do the little things right.
A common mistake top performers make is that they look for the life changing intervention or event that is going to take them to the next level.
When I started out in my career I had to take intensive, long and “massive” learning interventions as I was at the start of a growth curve. As I progressed passed my 10th year as a speaker I found that little changes I made gave me more progress than high intensity self-development interventions.
In my profession I found that a small alteration in the way I told stories (for example — demonstrating the dialogue as opposed to narrating a dialogue in a scene) made it infinitely more engaging for the audience. I found that when I speak in Asia, the audience loves it when I tell the story and then make the point. In the west the audience engages more if I make the point and then tell the story.
These small changes gave me massive results. How did I discover these changes? By experimenting and getting the right coaching. When you are at your peak, coaching helps! In comparison to classroom learning, having the right coach can help you make the small tweaks that get you ahead.
What are the small changes that you need to make to make your craft more prominent, effective and engaging ? Those little things that make a massive difference. When you are at your peak, there are no more white elephants in the room…it is more like little critters that you forgot to chase out. So stop looking at big changes and look at the small tweaks that you can make to your craft that will leverage your game to the next level.
It’s easy to feel accomplished when you are at the top of your game. The trick however is to stay hungry.
If you feel like you are the king then and you have nothing left to conquer you get complacent. And that’s right about when your kingdom gets snatched from right under your feet. Great leaders and individuals that sustain their peak are always at the bottom of another mountain.
The year that I won the world championship, I thought I had reached the peak and immediately started to slack both in terms of my routine as well as my drive to learn. As a result, my speaking impact reduced and I wasn’t as efficient and effective as I used to be on stage. It took me another year to come out of the year that I slacked and get back to my peak.
Today I constantly underplay my achievements. This allows me to stay focused on the next goal. Mentally I don’t allow the accolades, the titles or designations get to me. I constantly surround myself with people that are better than me, something most people avoid when they reach success. When I am surrounded by people that are better than me, I automatically go into student mode. I start to learn, ask questions again and benchmark myself.
Who do you surround yourself with? Are you more involved in teaching others or learning from others? Keeping a student mindset will help you progress and sustain your success.
If you are a leader then this is for you!
Getting to a peak in your career, craft or competency is a tough journey, sustaining it is even harder. If you are aspiring to sustain your peak then focus on the above four areas. Many leaders in organization, as they lead teams forget that teams are not facts and figures. Strong leaders constantly show their teams the results they can achieve for themselves professionally and personally. When was the last time your team saw, felt and touched what they were working towards? Strong leaders also put their team into uncomfortable situations and constantly encourage them to take a risk and do things differently (like trying new things in their classrooms and new ways of running their schools). If they succeed the leader gives the team the credit, if they fail the leader takes the responsibility and seeks to figure out how to support their teams in risk-taking more. These leaders help teams and individuals find pivot points or small changes that will bring them big gains. They lead by example when it comes to learning and development. If there is one thing that I can pin down and say that I have learned from the many leaders that I have had the privilege to work with is that great leaders always encourage a student mindset and philosophy in their team and organizations — making them PEAK faster, longer and better.
About the author: Dananjaya is a peak performance coaching, public speaking trainer and an inspirational speaker. He helps organizations and individuals tell their story better. He is also the 2014 World Champion of Public Speaking and draws on his 10 year journey to the top surpassing 33,000 contestants form around the world to help understand the phenomenon of peak potential and how to sustain it). www.iseesomethinginyou.comThis blog post first appeared in Education Element's Medium blog.