Corporations today are committed to helping organizations empower
their people with high-performance work styles. People who are identified
as peak performers, even in high stress environments have mastered
the skills top achievers in all disciplines possess. We share the
secrets of renewing oneself in a high-stress world.
In a fast-paced and ever-changing workplace, we are all concerned
about stress, burnout and how to achieve peak levels of performance
on an ongoing basis. We propose the Sports Metaphor to help your
people move away from burnout, stress and chaos toward peak performance.
Part of the answer to reversing declining levels of performance
lies in empowering individuals at all levels of the organization
to effectively combat stress and to rise above daily challenges
to strive toward self-mastery, which ultimately leads to organizational
wellness. All levels of the organization can then learn how to partner
to create individual and organizational health.
Burnout At All Levels
Burnout may be characterized by a generalized
energy depletion, a sense of isolation and poorly-functioning levels
of achievement and satisfaction with life. People feel helpless
and resigned to their condition. How is it possible to deal with
the demands of our work, our lives and to protect ourselves from
illness and distress?
Today's environment is starkly different from that of the past.
Formerly, life was more stable, predictable, orderly and understandable.
Change was slow and manageable and responses to challenges could
be met with a limited, narrow set of coping skills and mental responses.
The last two decades have brought an ultra-paced, ever-changing,
confusing, complex, inter-related existence requiring rapid personal
and organizational responses to the chaotic landscape.
This new, demanding, high-stress environment in which we live calls
for novel, creative ways of coping and for new levels of awareness.
This new environment demands that we adapt, change and develop a
new set of tools for dealing with its challenges. We must become
more resilient and more hardy to withstand the daily tests that
come our way. Rather than admitting defeat or running from life's
stressors, the peak performer reorganizes in response to intense
pressure and rapid change. In this way, humans operating at peak
plan better, have a vision of new behavioral alternatives and reframe
stressful situations by turning them into opportunities for peak
performance. Peak humans become self-determining by expanding their
stress management/peak performance tool kit, which involves increasing
awareness abilities, taking responsibility for decisions, taking
wise risks, changing maladaptive patterns of thought and behavior
and dealing with life's demands in a powerful, effective manner.
Peak Performers Reinvent Themselves
Classic management practices and organizational
systems have neglected the needs and skills of each person to ward
off excess, unyielding stressors and have actually contributed to
the increase of burnout in the workplace. A core value of the corporate
athlete is to be continually renewing, to be continually reinventing
oneself. and to learn how to self-manage and rise to consistent
levels of peak performance in their work and in the rest of their
lives. Just as traditional external management of resources and
people is important in organizational life, the internal climate
is vital in the creation and maintenance of the corporate athlete.
Corporations need training programs designed to allow individuals
to respond creatively and with a renewed sense of enthusiasm to
the pressures and demands of work and life. In this sense, such
programs move beyond traditional stress management courses where
stress is merely reduced, to a new paradigm whereby stress is embraced
and utilized as an energizing force to catapult the peak performer
to higher and higher levels of achievement. The result? The creation
of a finely-honed corporate athlete.
The peak performer learns about and utilizes three critical areas
of functioning in a high-stress environment. First, self-awareness
is the foundation of all change. The peak performer examines current
practices around stress control and begins to actively reflect on
their efficacy. Next, self-renewal is the conscious, ongoing
efforts to rejuvenate and regenerate oneself, a necessary factor
in combating regular, potent stressors. Finally, the peak performer
formulates strategies and tactics for dealing with the demands of
work and life. This self-management is the key differentiator
that makes peak performers stand out from individuals who give in
to life's challenges. The corporate athlete is in charge of his
or her destiny.
Who Are Peak Performers?
Pioneering medical researchers. Award-winning
musicians. Heroic military pilots. Creative artists. Championship
athletes. These are the images that come to mind when we hear someone
describe peak performers. These people hold the highest ideals of
commitment, dedication, singleness of purpose, and high energy we
envision top performers possessing. If one end of the performance
continuum is the residence of the burned-out or stress-impaired
individual, then the uppermost reaches of human functioning is the
dwelling place of the peak performer.
Do these special achievers have unique skills that enable them to
rise to the top of their arenas? Certainly, peak performance will
not occur without special talents, but much of what these superstars
utilize to propel them to the top is available to any person desiring
to become a peak performer in their chosen field. The mental technology
exists which turns stressful environments into super-charged performance
laboratories. These skills are readily learned and can then be used
to raise personal and organizational performance standards.
Are peak performers always so obvious in an organization? Is the
superstar in the workplace so easily identified? We think anyone
can be a peak performer with the right combination of mental technology,
training and skills tool kit. The main credo of the peak performer
is to continually increase performance, and to do so across all
disciplines. As the peak performer-in-training gradually increases
performance outcomes, they overreach themselves by producing high-quality,
Research On Peak Performance
How is it that some people are able to draw forth
higher levels of ability from themselves while others around them
are struggling to avoid boredom and burnout?
For around thirty years psychology has been studying the more healthy
individual, in contrast to the previous 100 years when only the
sick and unwell were being studied. Recently, through the combined
research efforts of such diverse disciplines as sport psychology,
studying championship athletes and coaches, military and astronaut
pilot training, elite special forces military training and extensive
studies of top achievers in business, music and the arts, we have
begun to learn from these most healthy individuals exactly what
makes them want to achieve and most importantly, how they achieve.
We have now risen above the study of the unwell, beyond the next
generation of human achievement, those who handle stress well, to
the ultimate level of human functioning, the individual who on-demand,
delivers consistent levels of peak performance.
Characteristics Of Peak Performers
There is more to peak performance technology than
merely avoiding burnout and handling stress to maintain homeostasis.
Having excellent coping skills and dealing with a complex environment
by having well-developed self-management skills is admirable, but
peak performers move well beyond this skill set. The individual
who consistently manages stress and stays well moves closer to being
a peak performer.
Are peak performers really just lonely, eccentric, driven, workaholic
over-achievers? Actually, the research indicates that peak performers
are not maladjusted, are not isolated, are not social misfits. Indeed,
they are healthy, well-balanced, satisfied, genuine and fulfilled
people. They do not achieve at the expense of others around them.
Rather, they enhance the organization by acting as role models for
higher levels of performance. They are living examples of well-being,
self-esteem, creativity, and the fulfillment of human potential.
The characteristics--we call them the five fundamental peak performance
proficiencies--of peak performers, cut across all performance
arenas. Whether it be attitude, motivation, preparation, concentration,
the ability to enter the flow state, coachability, being a team
player, leadership, or the ability to relax under pressure, the
peak performer possesses common elements under any conditions, whether
they be physical, creative, personal or organizational. These fundamental
proficiencies are: awareness of the self in all domains,
behaviorally, affectively, somatically, inter-personally and cognitively,
control of effort; where the performer learns to master energy
and muscle tension levels, visualization; for mental practice
and feedback purposes, cognitive skills; for strategic planning,
motivation and attitude control, and self-programming; for
preparation before any situation the peak performer encounters.
These five fundamental peak performance proficiencies are master
skills all top achievers have in their performance toolkits. The
individual performing at peak has learned and mastered them and
knows how to apply them in particular situations and has developed
an ability to creatively adapt them in new and unusual situations.
These fundamental proficiencies are access skills to the
internal climate necessary for peak performance. They allow the
performer to consistently be engaged at peak.
The Flow State
The peak performer is able to access a special
mental and emotional interior climate conducive to top levels of
performance. It is different from our ordinary daily reality and
quite different from the relaxation state. It is a state of flow,
where the performer enjoys an effortless, focused, relaxed, automatic,
confident existence. There is little anxiety, energy seems to be
abundant, there is an optimistic outlook, mental focus is sharp
and intense, the individual feels in control, physical relaxation
is evident and there is a feeling of calm and quiet inside the performer.
This flow state, coined by the psychologist Czikszentmihalyi, has
been studied extensively and is now becoming the model of choice
in facilitating peak performances from "ordinary individuals".
Capturing this flow state is a prerequisite for peak performance.
This special internal climate is also known as the zone of optimal
functioning (ZOF), and the ideal performance state (IPS). The performer
focuses on the process and becomes so engaged in the moment that
all sense of time can be lost. The IPS is often likened to a sense
of play, of being absorbed completely in the task at hand, in becoming
one with one's work at that moment. Time seems to slow down, or
cease to exist altogether, or at least that the performer has plenty
of time to execute what needs to be done. The individual performs
at or near capacity, with deep involvement and with full enjoyment.
And although flow can occur in any endeavor, it is most likely to
be brought forth when the task is right at the individual's limit
of capabilities. The flow state is enhanced when one is pushing
one's limits, but not so much that anxiety is created. Conversely,
boredom sets in when a task is too far below one's abilities.
The flow state finds the peak performer staying in the here and
now, in the moment, not living in the past or looking ahead to the
future. The individual is deeply absorbed in the current task and
is less focused on the outcome of that task.
Adapted from an article in The Mental Game Journal.
To learn about sports psychology coaching services offered by
Bill Cole, MS, MA, the Mental Game Coach™, visit www.SportsPsychologyCoaching.com.
Copyright © 2005-2008 Bill Cole, MS, MA. All rights reserved.
Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on sports psychology, peak performance,
mental toughness and coaching, is founder and CEO of William
B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps sports teams and individuals
achieve more success. He is also the Founder and President of the International
Mental Game Coaching Association, an organization dedicated to advancing
the research, development, professionalism and growth of mental game coaching
worldwide. He is a multiple Hall-Of-Fame honoree as an athlete, coach and school
alumnus, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published author of books and articles,
and has coached at the highest levels of major-league pro sports and big-time
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