Introduction To Peak Human Performance
A Guide To Peak Human Performance Part One
I’ve been working on this guide for some time, and if you’re a subscriber to The Performatist, then you’d likely say too long. And I wouldn't argue with that. I began writing it during lockdown to keep myself busy and, at the same time, create a series of content pieces that would bring human performance-related search traffic to my professional website. The guide would also be a way to bring important information related to the #CommandYourOwnWork idea to people who were tired of working means-to-an-end jobs and wanted to direct their own working lives.
It seems fitting that the period when I began to write this guide appears to have been the catalyst for a major change in how we work. Millions lost their jobs during Covid, and many business owners were forced to close their doors. In the aftermath, perhaps millions of others voluntarily walked out on their jobs or indeed plan to. There has been a dramatic shift in how we relate to earning a living and people seem to be seeking a new way to work. I believe people want to get out from under the thumb of corporations and decide for themselves how to live. There is something more important to them than working 60-80 hour weeks and hardly seeing their wives, husbands and children. Maybe Covid lockdowns open the door to a better way.
#CommandYourOwnWork has become the anchor for everything I now write about the human relationship with daily work and this guide is a part of that offering. The guide gathers the fundamental principles of the psychology of human performance as the primary means to direct oneself towards gratifying and fulfilling work. It is the starting point to living and working on your own terms regardless of your skill level or experience. #CommandYourOwnWork suggests that you hitch yourself to that thing that captures your curiosity, explore the basic principles of peak human performance, and go headlong into work of your own choosing.
Over the next few weeks on Sunday Letters, I’ll be sharing the ten parts of this guide (this is the first). They will also be published on The Performatist site and the Peak Community with the PDF Guidebook pictured below. The content aligns with Maslow’s Peak Experience and Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow, and really is the basis for all peak human performance in all domains in which people operate. I hope you get value from this content.
The Guide To Peak Human Performance
Welcome to the guide to Peak Human Performance. This material is suitable for newcomers to the study of the psychology of human performance and all those who wish to improve their performance in work or sport. In fact, consuming this material and weaving it into your thoughts and behaviour will likely improve your life on the whole because the principles you will learn in this guide are fundamental to healthy and successful living no matter what you do for work. This guide is an introduction to the basic mental concepts every performer, no matter what the domain of work or level of expertise, needs to understand and practice in order to produce consistently superior performance under pressure. This material will provide the foundation for personal choices and future success in your work and sport.
In part one of the guide, we explore the relationship between mind and body, moving on in part two to the nature of attention and perception and their role in peak performance. Part three addresses the concept of mindset and explores optimism, pessimism, resilience and mental toughness. We look at goal-setting and its positive and negative aspects in part four, the impact of good and bad stress on performance in part five, and how to make decisions under pressure in part six. In the final two parts of the guide, we explore how to become an expert performer. Part seven looks at purposeful and deliberate practice, and part eight offers proven mental strategies for the improvement of performance in work and sports. Each chapter includes a reading list, references to research papers and books for further exploration of the topics discussed, and a notes section at the end.
Part 1: Introduction to Peak Human Performance
Part 2: The Brain And Nervous System
Part 3: The Role of Perception & Attention
Part 4: Developing A Peak Performance Mindset
Part 5: Goal Setting For Peak Performance
Part 6: Effects of Stress on Performance
Part 7: Decision Making in Performance
Part 8: Deliberate Practice in Performance
Part 9: Strategies For Peak Performance
Part 10: Conclusion & Wrap-up
First, A Story
One afternoon when I was about 13 years old, I was training with the school football team. We were playing a short game into the goals at the railway side of the playing field, and I was togged out corner-forward. The ball came to me, and I turned and snatched a shot at the goals – it went wide. The coach pointed at me and shouted, “Maguire! you can't shoot. You can't shoot Maguire! You're not accurate enough. In future, pass it to someone else, do you understand?”. He was the coach by name only, and his certainty about my ability became mine. It impacted my self-concept in the game for the duration of my playing career. And despite good performances, team selection and later leadership roles, my limited ability was always there firmly rooted in my idea of myself.
I hadn't realised the relevance of the experience until I finished playing the game. I was sitting my undergrad in psychology at the time when an old school friend told me our coach and secondary school teacher had died. Good riddance, I thought. He was a brute who had little concern for the children he taught, regularly beating on the weakest of us. As I thought about the old bastard, the incident in the field came back to mind. I realised the impact he had on my thought about myself as a player and my success in the game. Like many kids who play the game, I had talent, but the coach's words became my active belief about my ability and dramatically affected my sense of belonging and ability to perform. Now well beyond my playing days, I realise in a very concrete sense the vital role our mindset, thoughts, beliefs and ideas about ourselves have on our success in life and work. Because although this is an example within a sporting context, it's not just about sport.
Why We Fail
Past life experience dramatically influences our self-concept and the version of ourselves we present to the world. It is why I have come to understand, that on any given day, despite commitment, dedication, will to win, training, superior nutrition, lofty goals, professional surroundings and so on, we can fail. Often these repressed experiences, unconscious habitual tendencies and behaviours perpetuate our lack of success despite our best efforts. All other things being equal, the mental game must first be won before the physical. The psychology of performance is, perhaps, the missing link in all real-world achievement in sport, work, business, the arts and all domains and levels of human performance.
What Makes An Elite Performer
It's tempting to assume there are simple solutions to complex problems. We like to think, for example, that the harder we work blinkers on, head down, the better chance we have of success. We think we’ll find a breakthrough eventually, but really we’re prolonging the failure. As any experienced performer will tell you, no amount of action in the wrong direction will get you where you want to go. Training harder and longer or allowing work to impose on family time is never the answer. Others like to suggest that performance psychology provides a magic bullet, but that would also be a mistake. The aspects that make you who you are and what make a team what it is are as unique as the contours of your fingerprints, and we have to understand that unique pattern.
Every person and every group is different, and there is a dynamic, not a stagnant, set of attributes particular to every individual or group in a given situation. But there are patterns to peak performance that appear to apply to most individuals and groups of people under most conditions. The performer's job, therefore, is to become informed about these patterns and discover how attributes unique to them merge and blend with those of others and their environment to produce peak performance. If predicting success was easy, if there was a cut-and-paste formula for success, then everyone who applied it would win. But there's not, and they don't – so be wary of shortcuts and promises that seem too good to be true.
In Pursuit of Success
In the pursuit of excellence and elite performance, there are no shortcuts, there are no loopholes, tricks, backdoors or wrangles that work. More accurately, the more you try to outsmart the incomprehensibly complex system, the more it will work against you. There is no way to hack success. You cannot “make” it happen. Instead, you must allow it to happen, and you allow it by removing interference and getting in deep for lengthy periods on a consistent basis. Get in so deep that these things conducive to success become that thing you do. If there is a secret to success, then this is it.
In the pursuit of peak performance in work and sport, there are many moving parts. What I hope to offer you with this guide are some, of the most important concepts for understanding and improving your performance results. In forming an understanding of how the human organism operates and performs successfully in its environment, we can perhaps be better prepared, and indeed programmed, for higher-level success in work and sport, business and career, music, art, and anywhere human beings choose to perform.
What Is Performance Psychology?
Performance psychology is a subdivision of psychology that examines mental and emotional factors influencing peak human performance. It is the practical application of psychological principles in domains such as sport, business and creative pursuits. Principles of performance psychology are employed to assist professionals and amateurs alike to produce superior results, often under pressure of competition, role or spectator expectation.
We can observe performance in all walks of life and in all domains of work and play. We use the word performance as a catch-all term to describe the behaviour of individuals or groups of individuals, such as businesses, business units or sporting teams. The focus of this guide is human performance in general, and the principles and strategies offered can be applied in all walks of life. You can apply what you learn here to achieve specific goals such as a sales target, obtaining a promotion, or winning a sports competition. Or simply being a better parent or partner.
Performance can be examined from many perspectives. In this Guide, we will take a psychological perspective. However, given that human beings are psycho-physical, bio-electrical organisms, including physiological aspects, are unavoidable. We will also include references to neuropsychological aspects of performance and refer you to books and research that take those perspectives further.
The study of human performance from a psychological perspective has validity across all domains, including sport, business, education, science, military, and many more. Through empirical research, it has become apparent that the same psychological components are common to performance in all of these domains. Perception, memory, emotion, cognition and so on. The following chapters may refer mainly to business and sport, however, the material can be applied broadly.
What You'll Learn
The aspects of performance that we will cover in the Peak Human Performance Course are the discrete psychological components of that thing you do – your work or sport. They relate to creativity, memory, attention, perception, imagination, and emotion and apply to all domains of human performance.
You will learn about the brain and how it interacts with the body. You will learn about psychological pressure, methods of coping with stress and the neurobiology of anxiety. We will cover how elite performers make decisions that aid success, what deliberate practice is and how you can use its principles to become an elite performer, and how you can create performance habits and strategies that will help you reach your work or sporting goals.
As mentioned earlier, the strategies we will present here are not a magic bullet for success in your work or sport. Rather, they are ways by which you can get in the zone, get on autopilot and stay there for longer. This is really what we are talking about. In this state of mind, which Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow. Here, we can perfect the skills and reach what Maslow called Peak Experience. It is in peak experience that we can realise the success we crave.
Applying What You’ll Learn
The following chapters will introduce you to the concepts of human performance psychology. Apply the principles where you can and read broadly on the subject, but be sure to go to the source. I have distilled the guide content from coursework, core academic texts, research papers and books, and reproduced it for you here as honestly as I can, and in ways you can easily digest. Download the PDFs, share them with your coaches, teammates, and colleagues, and come back weekly for new content on the psychology of performance.
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