I believe in high performance – I do not believe in highest performance every day… even elite athletes aren’t required to do that!
Is it possible that you are expecting things of yourself that even the highest producers and performers don't? In my management and executive career, I've observed that we often expect ourselves, our colleagues, our friends, and our families to perform at an equally high level every day.
Interestingly, this contradicts everything I've learned in my research and background in high performance sport as well as in my own life. Typically, once skills are developed and practice is a habit, strategic peaking is the key to avoiding burnout and achieving success.
So, how realistic are our expectations? I've concluded that, at least for myself, they often just don't represent reality.
I can’t perform at my highest level every day without burning out. I’ve tried it… in fact, in the name of science (and really, just pure stubbornness and inability to let go), I’ve tried it a few times. The results have always been the same. Either I have come to the end of my rope and realized that I was making myself sick, had already made myself sick, or my performance started to decline.
I have started to think of my life differently now. I am recognizing (although I still occasionally forget and need to remind myself), that I can expect peak performance sometimes but not all the time…and so, most importantly, I need to be conscious of WHEN I want to peak and in WHAT PART of my life. Timing and priority selection are the keys to strategic peaking.
For example, I cannot lead a large project successfully and, at the same time, expect to succeed in a number of other major priorities. And after a big project or effort, I benefit from rest and recovery time. In sport, we call this mix and cycle of high performance and rest “periodization”. Athletes and their teams decide when they most need to perform and make sure that they work to access their highest possible level of performance at that time. In some sports, athletes might peak only a few times a year. In no sport do they expect to perform exceptionally well every day, without periods of rest and recovery.
Some things to ponder:
Where do you need to perform at a high level right now to move forward on things that are important to you? At work? At home? On your health? On your relationships? Do I even know? Have I decided?
Do you need to work on sharpening some key skills? Or are you just coming off a season of high performance, needing rest and recovery time before taking on another big thing?
Pick one important thing to either move forward on and excel, … or pick rest and recovery…
If you pick a key project, recognize that you need cycles of rest too and PLAN for them or you may never get them.
When we allow ourselves to accept that we can perform at exceptionally high levels, but not every minute of every day, it allows us to plan for great successes, but in a way that is intentional and sustainable.
This ensures that we don’t become a "one-hit wonder", and can achieve many great things over time. The key is to take measured recovery time before taking on another cycle of high performance.
Strategic peaking, i.e. peaking for the right stuff at the right time, takes consciousness, discipline and courage.
Try it and let me know how you are doing!