Everyone strives to achieve optimal performance, but how do we get there? How indeed do we even know when we have?
Let's define optimal performance as the state where you feel totally immersed in the tasks that take you to your goal. From this it follows two factors need to be present: a clear goal and the motivation to achieve it. Motivation is one of the most researched subjects within the area of performance (and the research base is for another blog post) and is what mobilises you to get started, choose a direction, and sustain effort without overstretching your resources.
To get motivated to achieve a goal or a task, and so reach peak performance, you need to harness three connected elements:
A clear external incentive;
A determination to begin; and
A confidence that you have the necessary skills and can use them effectively (we call this self-efficacy).
An external incentive is crucial as it connects your achievement to other people. It could be purely monetary, but the recognition from others or the prospect of gaining authority or responsibility is in practice more effective.
To obtain the determination or inner drive to begin and to continue, you must link the goal to your personal values so that it has meaning for you. Without this sense of purpose you will find it hard to sustain effort through challenges and setbacks.
Your perception of self-efficacy, as well giving you confidence that your goal is achievable, also supplies intrinsic motivation. Putting your skills and strengths to practical use, and growing them in the process, can be a great source of satisfaction; it gives a value to your own hard work.
What happens if one (or more) of these three elements is missing? Lack of determination and inner drive leads to procrastination – the inability to start a task – while lack of incentive leads to the inability to finish. It is the external incentive which gets us to “dot the I's and cross the T's” after the most exciting part of the challenge. Without self-efficacy, the task seems impossible and instead of the positive pressure that gives us a sense of stretch, challenge and growth we experience negative stress. All of these, naturally, will keep us a long way from peak performance.
Getting these key three elements in place will help you towards attaining your best. Of course this is only a summary and the details will vary for each individual; this is where the services of a personal coach come in – moving from general advice to tailored action.