Becoming Our Best: A Checklist For Peak Performance And Peak Mindset

If there is one thing I’ve learned from very successful portfolio managers and traders, it’s that peak performance is a process, not an outcome. Every mountain climbed is the result of a successful ascent: one step at a time. But how can we ensure that we are truly engaged in a peak performance process? Some years ago, I offered a quick “checkup from the neck up” as a way of assessing our positive psychology. Based upon a survey of the most successful participants I’ve experienced in financial markets, here is a different checkup: one of lifestyle practices associated with peak mindset and peak performance. Together, they form a brief checklist that can guide your ascent, whether at work or in your personal life.

1) How much variety are you experiencing each day? – This has been a particular challenge for those of us working from home with fewer outlets due to the pandemic. A consistent finding in positive psychology research is that we feel best, maintain our best physical health, and are most productive when we are doing enjoyable things and when we’re actively engaged in meaningful pursuits. The opposite of happiness and meaningfulness is boredom. Yes, we need routine to live life efficiently, but when life itself becomes routine, we can no longer stay energized. If we are to be at our peak, we need fresh sources of stimulation on a regular basis. Those I see performing at their peaks are finding unique and creative ways of staying highly engaged from day to day. Going on hikes in safe ways with friends and loved ones; joining online book clubs with community members; tackling fun projects at home with children and spouses; and expanding professional networks and conversations are all ways of maximizing daily life experience.

2) How much challenge are you experiencing each day? – The idea here is that we can add value and meaning to activities by making them challenging and structuring our challenges as daily ascents. Many people I work with find value in working out and staying in shape each day, but what if we take that a step further and add measurable outcome goals? For instance, we can track our heart rate and running speed and incline on a treadmill. That allows us to assess our cardiac efficiency and map our progress over time. Similarly, we can utilize apps and wearable devices to track everything from our stress levels to our cognitive focus and sleep quality, creating meaningful lifestyle goals. Several teams I am working with have set well-defined challenges for the new year, requiring each team member to learn new skills and share those with teammates on new projects. Sharing challenges with others creates new relationship experiences. It also generates a level of accountability that makes it more likely that we’ll stick to our discipline and reach our objectives. The key is taking what is currently routine and turning it into something that transforms us.

3) How much collaboration are you experiencing each day? – The great evolution that I have observed in the world of finance has been a move away from solo money management toward management in teams. Indeed, we’re seeing an increasing number of teams within teams, allowing for greater velocity of idea generation and enhanced diversification in risk-taking. The rule within these peak performing teams is that everyone makes everyone else better. Each member develops areas of specialization, experience, and expertise that can be shared with others in an expanded search for ideas. Such collaboration brings many psychological benefits, keeping team members creatively engaged even when opportunity sets are limited. This principle can extend across all life areas, as we expand our horizons by collaborating with others in virtual and live communities. One religious group I recently encountered is actively creating small group learning experiences, where members of the community share areas of passion, interest, and knowledge with one another. Several couples I know have pursued new interests together, including gourmet cooking and learning new languages. The best collaborations also bring variety and challenge, creating fresh experiences of enjoyment and fulfillment.

Notice that these three items involve doing new things and doing old things in new ways. Peak performance requires peak mindset and neither can be achieved through routine means. What we pursue and how we pursue it determine the psychological benefits of our activities. What if, every single day, we commit ourselves to time spent in new ways, in challenging ways, in collaborative ways? What if we make life itself a source of innovation? Greatness begins by living each day greatly, and that requires a mindful commitment to not just ascend, but transcend.

Written by: Brett Steenbarger
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