“Whether we realize it or not, the culture in which we live, and with which we identify, powerfully shapes just about every aspect of our being” — Angela Duckworth
I’ve long been fascinated with successful people and teams. Whether in the form of reading about them or directly interviewing them, the goal is simple: figure out how they overcame the odds and became world class.
I’m still learning, but one thing is clear. In order to become the best in the world, you need to become your “best self”. In other words, attain peak performance.
Which begs the question: how do you attain peak performance? Even more difficult, how do you inspire your team to attain peak performance? To help find these answers, I turned to high-performance psychologist, Michael Gervais.
Put simply, Dr. Gervais knows how to find mastery. He has worked with some of the world’s top performers in their craft — including Olympic Gold Medalists, internationally acclaimed artists and musicians, MVPs from every major sport and Fortune 100 CEOs.
Nowadays, he spends much of his time with the Seattle Seahawks. His relationship with Head Coach, Pete Carroll, has led to them co-founding their consulting firm, Compete To Create.
“It was about 6 weeks before we were playing in our first Super Bowl and we are in the hallway at the training center. And Coach [Carroll] says ‘Do you feel it? Do you feel what’s happening here?’ And I say, ‘it’s amazing!’ And we were just nodding our heads thinking ‘God it feels good around here’”
Why did it “feel so good” around Seattle at that time? And how do you replicate that for your team?
Develop A Guiding Philosophy
The Seahawks have a guiding philosophy, led by Pete Carroll, called “Always Compete”.
In Pete’s USC commencement speech, he declares that this is present in every piece of the Seahawks organization. Pete found this guiding philosophy years ago, after being fired by the New England Patriots (among other teams). He turned inward, and with some help from reading John Wooden’s book, he created this guiding philosophy. This became the mantra for Pete and the entire Seahawks organization.
Gervais’ guiding philosophy? “Everyday is an opportunity to create a living masterpiece”.
“Success is never final. Failure is never final. It’s courage that counts”
— John Wooden
Become Deeply Optimistic
Many people highly underestimate how powerful our thoughts can be in shaping our present & future outcomes. Similar to going to the gym, our mental muscles can be strengthened through practice.
One strategy that Gervais explained is called “Imagery” or creating an environment in your imagination that’s so rich that it feels like you’re in it. This requires deep focus and is the entrance to “flow” state. In order to maximize effectiveness, you should be leveraging all five senses when practicing imagery.
For example, let’s say you have a goal to earn $1M this year. It is not simply enough to visualize the money, you need to be more specific. Imagine you are in possession of the million dollars. Would you buy a car? What kind? What color would the leather be? How comfortable is it? How does the engine sound when you’re driving it on the highway? What does it smell like when you’re in it for the first time? How does your coffee taste on your morning commute in that new car? I think you get the point.
It certainly doesn’t have to be this materialistic — the same principles apply if your goal is “to become a better father” or “spend more energy being philanthropic”.
The point is to be specific and optimistic that your thoughts can control your future. Andy Frisella does a great job describing how this works in his podcast, the MFCEO.
“If you believe it, the mind can achieve it”
— Ronnie Lott
Learn To Handle Adversity Well
Sometimes, you can do just about everything right and it still won’t bring your desired outcome. One good example is the Seahawks devastating Super Bowl XLIX loss to the Patriots on the last play of the game (As a Patriots fan, I could watch this video all day long).
Gervais says “through pain is why we change, uncomfortableness is why we grow”.
Did you know that the same parts of the brain are activated during experiences of losing a loved one, losing a football game and losing your phone?
These experiences are much different, but our brain finds it difficult to differentiate.
So, if you have a bad day, a typical response may be to grab a beer or eat a big meal, which are easy responses and lower level decisions. The true way to grow is to get introspective about the event and understand how you can learn from it.
I’ve found journaling is a massively underrated way to get your thoughts on paper and learn to use the obstacle as an opportunity.
“The obstacle is the way”— Ryan Holiday
Be Precise With Your Language
Gervais describes confidence as “knowing that you have the inner skills and outer skills to go the distance”.
We all know confidence is important. But where does it come? From one place — what you say to yourself.
This coincides with the importance of having precise verbal & body language. Think about that for a second. How precise is your verbal language? Are you wasting words with “ums” and “likes”? How about your body language? Do you slump your shoulders or walk around with a frown?
As a leader, your language is contagious. Your team members will draft off of what you say and how you act. That means if you speak eloquently to customers and if your body language is confident and enthusiastic, then your team will follow suit.
By being precise with your language, you can help to shape your confidence. And, thus, the confidence of your team.
Need suggestions on how to start? Listen to how eloquently Gervais speaks.
“Confidence is a cornerstone for great performance.” — Michael Gervais
Trust is a cornerstone of any successful team.
A great example of this is Felix Baumgartner and his Red Bull Team. If you’re unfamiliar, Felix is best known for becoming the first person to break the break the sound barrier through a free fall of 24+ miles and reaching 830+ MPH.
However, this jump almost didn’t happen. About 4 years into the project of testing for this fall, Felix had a psychological barrier. He had all of the skills but lacked trust of his team. His life was literally in the hands of scientists.
Dr. Gervais stepped in and was able to help Felix overcome his mental obstacle and help him execute one of the most extraordinary feats I’ve ever seen.
Okay, this is an extreme example. But trust remains important for teams of all shapes and sizes that want to achieve peak performance.
How can you earn trust as a leader? It’s simple (but not easy).
Trust others to make decisions. Have their back at all times. Be honest. Work hard. Give them feedback. Encourage them to reach their goals.
“Trust is earned, respect is given, and loyalty is demonstrated. Betrayal of any one of those is to lose all three.”— Ziad K. Abdelnour
Most leaders will settle for good. Or “above average”, whatever that means. Strive to stand out and to reach for greatness.
Try following these principles and attain peak performance.