Sustainable Performance: how to make success last?

Consistency is a competitive advantage: creating and sustaining higher performance is a skill that can be learned. Sustainability performance means performing at your very best in a consistent manner. You can build up energy and resources over time. Instead of burning out and missing family time, you can get things done while feeling aligned with your values. Who said you have to choose?

Consistency is a competitive advantage: creating and sustaining higher performance is a skill that can be learned.

Sustainability performance means performing at your very best in a consistent manner. You can build up energy and resources over time. Instead of burning out and missing family time, you can get things done while feeling aligned with your values. Who said you have to choose?

Changing or reinventing the wheel

One piece of warning, though. Today, there is so much talk about thriving through life and professional challenges that we may almost think that's an easy common practice. It's not. Here are the usual top 5 derailers I experience with my clients, business partners, friends, and myself:

  • We lack focus: emails, phone pinging, friendly requests for support, multitasking, all things that press on us and insist on action, so we forget our priorities. Lack of focus is the Number #1 challenge in this 21st-century frenziness.
  • We lack grit: there is always a gap between an action or the stimuli (e.g. "I exercise") and its result (e.g. "my body shape changes"). In this gap, we tend to stop working towards the positive change we initiated before we even see the results of our efforts.
  • We endure for too long: we wait and initiate change only when facing the wall with no further alternative. By that time, our physical & mental resources are already severely depleted.
  • We're too radical: when we're finally ready for change, we want to make everything different right away. What happens next is often a succession of failures (because willpower is a finite resource to be used progressively) that make us feel ashamed and worthless.
  • We're short-sighted: we initiate new habits, but we don't consider the root cause of the initial behaviour. It's like sweeping the dust on the floor without closing the door. It keeps coming back until the root cause is addressed; close the door first.

On the journey, not all solutions come easy, and they often have to occur from the personal before being translated to the professional.

Everything is personal

Ultimately, everything is personal: our emotions and desires run the show whether we're conscious of it or not.

As a kid, I dreamt of becoming a fighter pilot. I renounced it because of my eyesight but later settled to apply for summer flight attendant positions. It turned out that my English skills were not good enough at the time. But my love of being in the air remained. So, I trained in gliding. And a few years later, I started a long banking career with aviation finance. The dots connect in hindsight as Steve Jobs' made immortal in his famous words:

"You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down and it has made all the difference in my life."

While I continue to connect my own dots, I help others do the same. When it comes to sustainable performance, here is what I know: it's easy to bring forth a burst of energy for a short period, not so to show up at your best consistently.

Here are a few tips to pack you with on the road to sustainability performance if you're here to make success last.

My first piece of advice is to make any advice personal. Like for any food: before you decide to swallow it and make it part of who you are, consider what's on display, taste a bite, choose your favourite condiments that go with it, chew it for a while and savour it the way you like it best.

Take care of yourself

We all have heard this little inner voice whispering how selfish we are when spending time on ourselves.

This injunction will likely remain a broken record until we adapt our behaviours accordingly. Until acts of self-care & self-love are seen for what they are - the prerequisites to be present & resourceful for ourselves & others - sustainability performance & wellbeing remain a wish. Many high achievers get sucked into their work & end up sleep-deprived, giving up on exercise and living on takeaways.

Neglecting health or personal relationships to focus on professional goals has short-term rewards but will burn your resources in the long run.  Your physical body is your main productive asset. Taking care of it is a non-negotiable if you want it to carry you far throughout your lifetime.

So protect your sleep, stay hydrated, eat healthily & do regular exercise. You take care of the car you use for work, so why not do the same for your body?

Fake it till you make it

Really! I, too, found that statement superficial at first, but I've come to see its wisdom. Here is why. We often fail to adopt new habits because they are not congruent with our identity or beliefs.

Let's take a step back & consider the cognitive levels that shape neuro-linguistic therapies. In the process of learning, change, and communication, there are natural hierarchies or logical levels that reflect the different levels of thinking.

  • Our Environment
  • Our Behaviour
  • Our Capabilities
  • Our Values & Beliefs
  • Our Identity
  • Our Vision

The higher the neurological levels, the more lasting the change!

Let's say you want to be fitter. You can change your environment by finding a running partner. You can change your routine by waking up earlier for a quick workout before breakfast.

What if you shift your identity? What if you envision yourself as an athlete, someone who enjoys & needs pushing your body to feel good. With this new state of mind, what reason on Earth could keep you from your workout? Are you faking it by pretending you're an athlete? Or just helping yourself become one?

Build positive feedback

This is another way to say "enjoy the voyage". Because sustainability performance is a journey more than a goal. You can always get better.

To enjoy that journey: identify milestones, and look for positive feedback that spikes dopamine (that brilliant feel-good chemical that gives you a boost to achieve more). Setting regular checkpoints is also a way to note your progress and build more resources: fresh motivation and refilled willpower.

You can also obtain positive feedback through social reinforcement. Sharing your achievements, learning & progress will spark motivation. Surround yourself with like-minded & supportive people - either in the flesh or by joining regular online interactive group calls - to boost inspiration & success.

Accepting cyclicality

Finally, despite all the tips, life is made in such a way that cyclicality pervades: the seasons, the tides... Similarly, after a period of high performance, we experience a lull in our capacity and the need for recovery.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is known as "the godfather of flow" (that zone of optimal consciousness where you feel & perform your best). His research identified four stages of the flow cycle:

  • Struggle
  • Release
  • Flow
  • Recovery

In the recovery phase, you typically have fewer feel-good neurochemicals left in your system. Physical, mental & emotional fatigue arises. The solution? Simply practice active recovery & positive psychology basics to allow yourself to replenish. Emotional awareness & self-regulation are essential, so you can cope with the lows that follow the highs.

This creative flow cycle is an integral model for peak performance & overall wellbeing. So it is wise not just to chase performance but also to accept and surrender to the other 3 phases of the flow cycle. The more you prioritise challenge, release & recovery, the higher probability you'll perform well.

I hope this article has helped you understand how performance and well-being go hand in hand. If you’re interested in these principles and looking for a community to support you in implementing them, consider joining Strengthwise’s Q&A sessions.

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