“There are so many other men that could be sitting in this seat, but he’s sitting here (as Olympic champion). The reason that he’s sitting here is because of the choices that he’s made and that’s something that’s valuable to each and every one of us”

Mike Singletary, American Football Coach (talking to camera when meeting Mark Hunter, Olympic gold medallist)

It’s not a level playing field
We often talk about getting the physical part of your performance in shape. By that we mean looking after your physical energy sufficiently well that not only do you stay healthy, but that you use this performance factor to help you concentrate, think better, problem solve, get perspective, make better decisions, help moderate your mood, help you choose your attitude and help you choose your responses to events. However, looking after the physical part of your performance requires effort.

Taking care of all things physical requires effort because the world is full of labour saving devices that encourage you to move around less. Given that we’re programmed to save energy, then if we don’t have to move and we don’t choose to move we can lead very sedentary lifestyles, from bed to car to escalator to car to sofa to bed and we can become very lethargic.

Having a great physical resource requires effort because within a short distance of you is probably enough food to keep you going for a year, or more, and together with that we’re bombarded by adverts to encourage us to eat. Even the adverts encouraging us to eat healthily are encouraging us to eat. No one is advertising the message to eat less!

Staying physically prepared requires effort because the world is a 24 hour place and there are screens in your house, in bedrooms and in your hand that are encouraging you to take in information and interact with others rather than resting or going to bed when you’re tired.

Desire to improve
As with managing the physical piece, getting better at performing at work has to be a choice. Most performers in business have the predominant thought of “what have I got to do today?” rather than “how can I get better today?”. Many people have taken the decision to accept a role that means putting in the hours required to get the job done. They accept that this is the territory that they’re in. However they are in a role where the job is never done! There is always more you can do, more emails in the inbox and more tasks you could get on with. This never ending flow of work is a challenge! You have to set the boundaries and prioritise getting better against doing more.

Most people would state that they have a desire to improve, but because they’re so busy, if they’re not careful their learning cycle, rather than being plan-do-review-conclude, looks more like do-do-do and more do! Once again this means we’re not on a level playing field. The conditions are encouraging more and more activity, more and more focus on results and even more pressure – and usually stress, because stress happens when the demands outweigh the ability to cope. So, if you really want to improve it’s not going to happen without some consistent, mindful effort and some conscious choices.

Making it happen
We know exercise helps with physical readiness, but if you want to exercise two things need to be in place. You need to have, or create, the opportunity to exercise and then you need to actually take that opportunity. Two things.

If you want to ‘get better at what you do’ then two similar things need to happen. You need to have, or create the opportunity to develop specific skills or knowledge and then you need to take that opportunity. Of course taking the opportunity is not a choice you have to take. But choices lead to consequences. When my daughter turned 16 my 11 year old son asked if that meant she could leave home. “Yes”, I said. “Could I leave home?” he then asked. “Yes”, I said, “the door isn’t locked and you’re not chained up, so you could leave at any time. But”, I said, as I watched his cogs turning as he thought about it, “there would be consequences”.

You can choose to not look after yourself physically and it’s likely you’ll underperform as a result. Similarly you can choose not to create opportunities to get better or not take them. The consequence will probably be that in a competitive world someone with less talent than you will outperform you very, very soon. If you’re happy with that then that’s fine of course. But if you’re not happy with that remember that performance is a choice based on all the decisions you make about what to do and what not do. We encourage you to make good choices.

We help the business world to think, prepare and perform like elite athletes. The elite athlete piece is no mere analogy or metaphor but a very considered and deliberate philosophy, to apply some very powerful thinking and practice, in a simple and easy to understand way. If your world is do, do, do and a relentless daily treadmill of tasks and pressure (or if you know a friend whose work feels like this) then we strongly suggest you (or they) start by creating and take the opportunity to step off that treadmill to think about how you could turn it more effectively. Give yourself an hour to think rather than do. Talk to your boss, peers or colleagues about how you could improve in your role. Identify what you’re good at and do more of that. Oh, and we also suggest you contact us to help you.