Yesterday, I watched the last 30 minutes or so of the Olympic men’s marathon. Beyond the runners amazing physical endurance, what was so obvious was their commitment to development. Their ability to perform at such an elite level is supported by their rigorous attention to training and continuous improvement. The world of an elite athlete revolves around the work they do to achieve and sustain high levels of performance. But this isn’t true of just elite athletes. Anyone, including you and me, that wants to sustain high performance in their personal or professional lives, has to be committed to organizing their lives around the practices and disciplines that make it possible.
Whatever your pursuit, here are 4 behavioral practices that high-performing people organize their life around.
Eat Clean — You may not eat like a marathoner or Olympic swimmer, but what you put in your mouth, matters. Your brain and body need consistent doses of clean food and good nutrients. You can’t perform at high levels when your regularly recovering from the affects of fatty and over processed foods, too much alcohol or soda, and/or the roller coaster of sugar crashes. Eating mostly veggies, some fruit and less meat is a place to begin. Also, a general rule about food is this: The more colorful your plate, the better (and I’m not talking about adding ketchup to your fries).
Sleep and Take Breaks — It’s hard to overestimate the importance of getting enough sleep and taking breaks during the day. Neuroscience has an ever-growing mound of evidence that skimping on sleep or avoiding strategic breaks (during the day) can dramatically decrease our brain’s ability to thrive. Seven to eight hours of sleep (at least) is what is required for our bodies to recover and restore from the day’s work. We need a short break about every 90 minutes or so during the work day. Beyond that, a strategic break in the middle of the day (a nap is best, and i”m not kidding) helps to remove toxins that build up in the brain as we work. It may feel counter-intuitive, but strategic stops increase effectiveness.
Learn Continuously — Recently I spoke with a master car technician who has been servicing cars for over forty years. What struck me was his drive, after forty years, to continue to learn about his craft. Not only did he regularly interact with other master technicians and car dealers, but he read voluminous amounts of material and invested in training and tools. All of this increased both his confidence and competence in his ability. It showed. Elite performers, in any endeavor, create reading and study schedules, personal and professional development opportunities, and spend time with other elite performers. All this (and more) is done to maximize strengths, minimize vulnerabilities and find big and small breakthroughs that increase excellence.
Practice and Experiment — High performers have a set of habits that enable them to thrive. Just like an athlete has a training regimen, high performers of any stripe have routines they hold to religiously. Some of these routines are tied to the first three elements of eating, rest and learning. But there are others such as, reflection and solitude, the development of personal and professional relationships, and strategic engagement of mentors and coaches. Along with habits of practice, elite performers are willing to experiment with new ideas, innovations and techniques that could increase performance. Not all experimentations become part of the habits of practice—some are jettisoned while others “stick.” The critical issue is that high-performers experiment in order to remain fresh and novel in their approach to their work.
The question for each of us today is: Which of the four behaviors above do we most need to change, right now, in order to enhance our performance? Of course after we identify it, the sooner we integrate it into our days, the better. By the way, quickly integrating smart and strategic behaviors is another principle high performers know is critical to success.