What Is Performance?
The basic definition of performance is the act or process of performing a task or function. We ‘perform’ in all areas of life. For the context of this post, we want to talk about performances that matter.
For me, the first thing that came to my mind when the word performance is mentioned is a stage. I see actors, speakers, singers or musicians performing on it. I also see a sports arena where athletes are in action. I see fields, courts, where sports are played. I also see corporate buildings and various workplace fields where people perform in their job. And then I see the ‘bigger stage’ called life, as how Shakespeare would describe in his famous quote,
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven stages.” ~ William Shakespeare
We are all on a journey and we want to get somewhere in different areas of life, work and play. This post will help you to understand why people struggle to perform at their best.
Before I continue, I’ve to give credits to legends like Timothy Gallwey and Alan Fine for their tremendous work in coaching, both in sports and the corporate world. The bulk of the information I’m presenting here are largely from their work.
Conventional Performance (Outside-In)
The self-improvement and training industry in the US are worth tens of billions of dollars yearly. Companies spend heavily on sending their employees for more courses, trainings and team-building activities every year, to increase their performance and production.
The conventional outside-in approach to performance presupposes that people need more instructions, knowledge and expertise information in addition to their capacity (potential) in order to perform well. If that is true, then the solution is very easy – everyone would perform well after reading a book or attending a training seminar or course. Knowledge can only benefit up to a certain point.
In his ground-breaking book, You Already Know How To Be Great, Alan Fine stated these startling observations from decades of coaching many performers in the sports and corporate world:
- It is not the lack of knowledge that hinders performance, it’s lack of doing what we know – The problem is not in knowledge acquisition, the problem is in knowledge execution.
- There is a gap between what we think we do and what we actually do – If we can objectively observe our intentions and compare them with the actual actions, we would be very surprised!
- By removing interference in our mental state, we can significantly increase performance – What keeps us from doing what we know is interference.
Imagine you’re driving a high performance car with one foot on the gas pedal and another foot on the brake. It feels like a drag. There are 2 ways to increase the performance of the car:
1) By pressing harder on the gas pedal to accelerate more, or
2) By releasing the foot off the brake.
I hope it’s apparent to you that the second option makes more sense!
When Timothy Gallwey and Alan Fine were coaching tennis players many years ago, they observed that the more instructions and expertise advices that they gave to their students, the worse they were able to execute them and their performance suffered. They realized that their ‘helpful’ instructions were actually unhelpful, and got in the way (distraction) of the natural learning process of the students. Their instructions were only beneficial up to a certain point.
When we talk about interference, there are the external and the internal interference. External interferences are events outside our control. It’s the internal interference (what happens inside our head) that plays the major role in hindering high performance.
Gallwey observed that there are two selves at play when performing (your mental chatters) – Self 1 which is the Critical Self, and Self 2 which is the Curious Self. Self 1 plays the analytical and judgmental part and is normally ‘louder’ than Self 2. When Self 1 is quitened, Self 2, who learns by experience is allowed to do its best. This is essentially high performance without interference, and it applies to all arena of sports, work and life.
How many times have we seen a sportsman or team who had been performing so well up to a point only to choke or slip up under pressure? Pressure is merely an internal perception to the external event. If they did what they had been doing without the internal interference, they would have been fine.
What’s really going on in the minds of successful top performers during critical moments of performance? When interviewed, many of them described the following:
“I don’t think much at all.”
“It just came out of nowhere.”
“I was in the Zone, as if time stood still.”
“It was so effortless.”
“There was nothing in my mind. I just did it.”
When your mental performance state is at its highest quality, there’s nothing much (no interference) going on in the head. You just do what you do with a clear mind.
Let’s take the common fear of public speaking as another example. The internal interference (or interFEARence) may sound like the following:
“Why do I have to do this? I hate this.”
“Everyone’s looking at me.”
“What would people think….?”
“How does my voice sound like….?”
“I’m feeling butterflies in my stomach.”
“I hope I can remember everything I want to say.”
That’s a classic example where a lot of our energy is expended on ‘fighting’ ourselves. If we can speak to a large crowd the same way we talk to just one other human being, it would be easy and all the fears would not surface. But we impose them on ourselves (interference) by over-thinking and having unnecessary mental chatters that get in the way of performing the task.PERFORMANCE = CAPACITY - INTERFERENCE Click To Tweet
1) In what areas of your life and work do your performance really matter?
2) In which areas do you have a challenge in knowledge execution?
3) What are the internal interferences that are hindering you from doing what you already know?
4) How can you release your foot off the brake to get out of the way of your performance?
In the next post (Part 2), I will write on the 3 vital core elements of high performance.