Often times we’re blind to relatively obvious performance faults and destructive habits. We focus on popular goals and targets because they’re easy to comprehend and orient around. But we rarely make a concerted effort to deeply understand why that isn’t enough to affect real change.
And perhaps, more importantly, we fail to eliminate those behaviors that counteract personal peak performance.
As a manner of dissecting complex problems and identifying obvious faults - stupid mistakes that derail good intentions - inversion thinking can be a sledgehammer of insight. A common filter applied by Charlie Munger, right hand man to Warren Buffet, inversion thinking allows you to bypass obvious mistakes by inquiring how you might intentionally design failure.
In his world, you might ask how best to blow up your investment portfolio. In mine, how might we design a truly poor performer. What we wind up with is a fantastic list of things to avoid, if we want to achieve the antithesis - personal peak performance.
I can’t tell you the number of times over my career a client has told me they’ve been eating well, following their prescription, chicken salad for dinner, for example, and just happened to neglect the chocolate bar they had, until I specifically asked.
Or drinking beer during the detox phase of a program.
Or coffee during a 3 day water fast.
It isn’t enough to orient around and pursue beneficial things. One must also stop doing stupid things that negate and derail one’s progress. Fortunately for us, these are often easier to identify than creating a fool proof plan based on singular outcomes. And, ironically enough, adhering to them often gets you 85% plus of the way without the need for well-laid plans.
The two together, however, a well-laid plan and constructive habits accompanied by the absence of stupid mistakes is what gets someone from good to great. And what you’ll notice in all high performers, is these are not just ideas, they’re active practices, and largely automated.
So, let’s hit my top 18 list of peak performance faults and design the worst performer we can imagine to see if we cannot derive a few critical insights for success in the mind-body domain, and beyond.
-Don’t Set Goals
-Don’t Spend Time With People More Capable Than You
-‘Disappear’ and Commit to the Grind
-Don’t Put Yourself First
-Don’t Learn From Mistakes
-Take Offense from Objective Feedback
-Wait for Motivation Before Initiating Meaningful Changes
-Be Rigid in the Way You Approach Life
-Stop When You’re Tired
-Embrace Passive Entertainment
-Let the Urgent Override the Important
-Keep Researching and Postpone Taking Action
-Expect the World to Accept You as You Are
-Speak More Than You Listen
-Don’t Take a Step Unless You Can Take 1,000
*A Portrait of a Peak Performance in the Negative
Peak Performance Fault #1: Don’t Set Goals
“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” - Napoleon Hill
In an age where ‘manifesting’ is considered gospel, there are still some things better sorted the classical way - pen, paper, blood, sweat, and tears. Vision boards and tossing fate up to the heavens may work for a select few, but ANYTHING works for a select few, and that’s the problem. Most pop proponents of manifesting today, I don’t need to name them, literally claim you can manifest wealth. They go so far as to claim winning the lottery is possible if you manifest hard enough.
Only 1 problem, the odds of winning Powerball are literally 1 in 292,201,338. I have only one question for you… what if there’s more than one person out of 292, 201, 338 people manifesting at the same time? Ok, I have two questions for you. What if neither of them wins?
In all seriousness, this isn’t a point about absolute success, it’s a probability discussion. Does the version of you that doesn’t want to feel constrained by deadlines and the pressure to achieve stand a greater or worse chance than the version of you who puts pen to paper, clearly defines targets within a set timeline, breaks that plan down into weekly, and then daily actionable steps, and then tracks deliverables over time?
This one is so obvious it’s painful for me to give it a top slot, but it is that important. Back at Enso Temple in Shanghai, 1 out of 10 people through the door would say something like, “I want to lose about 20 lbs, but I’m in no rush. It can happen over the coming year.”
To which I’d reply, “You’re gonna have to find another coach.”
When the pressure to change is beneath the threshold necessary to move the needle, change doesn’t happen at all. It doesn't matter how long you commit, it matters how acute the stressor. This is a biological principle of adaptation that applies equally well to upward mobility in life.
Peak Performance Fault #2: Don’t Spend Time With People More Capable Than You
“You're the average of the five people spend the most time with.”- Jim Rohn.
This may very well be the most common of common knowledges, yet the least implemented. And for good reason. It’s not easy to tell your friends to fuck off and go find new ones. Fortunately, that may not be necessary. But it should be a point of awareness if one’s externalities are not shifting, despite effort to do so.
Environment matters. I delve further into this one below. But it’s important to look at this from two angles.
The first is whether you’re around (friends or otherwise) the types of people who assist your life pursuits. That might look like supportive friends (including those who hold you to your word, despite it being confronting and uncomfortable), on the low end, to those with the connections, resources, or knowledge to assist on the high end, and everything in between.
The second angle, and this one is harder to qualify, is the opportunity cost of spending time with those who are working hard to stay in the same place.
Those things are not allocated toward your dreams in the those moments. So its important to ask just how many moments those are. If it’s one night a month, it may be a worthy trade off. If two nights a week, there may be need for reflection. Only you can assess those tradeoffs. But they must be assessed if you’re not standing in the place you want to be.
Without doing anything dire to current relations, a great start is to look up, and connect with just one person who has something you don’t, and who may be willing to provide insight for a cost, for exchange, or just to share the love. Give a little to get a little.
Before you start making excuses why that's tough, we live in an era where the device you're using to read this can source those options for you in mere seconds. Twenty years ago it may have taken days to weeks, letters, bothering friends and family, and relentless networking.
Today? Get on LinkedIn, or name your social media preference, and connect. Consider an offer before an ask.
Peak Performance Fault #3: Don’t Read
We could place on near equal footing: Don’t watch intentional long-form YouTube content from leaders in their fields.
This can be seen as a sub-fault of that above. Our personal networks are limited to our personal networks, at least as of today. But we have access to the greatest minds on any possible topic through books and video. Like no time in history, we truly have no excuse for ignorance or unfamiliarity as it relates to our personal objectives in life.
And regarding health and fitness goals? These problems are sorted, people. They're low hanging fruit. While I don't think many approaches can compete with Weightlessness in terms of integrative and targeted mind-body training, I'm admittedly biased.
Here's the blanket truth - most things work well enough for most people. While you're busy seeking out what's 'best for you', other people are making great strides on 'good enough for now.' As humans, we're more similar than we are different. And most of those similarities exist as scattered breadcrumbs in all effective modalities. They're the things that make those methods work.
Most big changes are made by optimizing the basics - those things common to all people, and addressed by most modalities.
Read, implement, and observe correlations (if not causalities). Even if something isn't the ideal fit, you'll know soon enough, and in the meantime you'll gain stronger filters for information vs noise in that domain.
Peak Performance Fault #4: ‘Disappear’ and Commit to the Grind
I feel this is gaining cult like popularity of late. I also feel it’s an application of the second fault above.
“I dare you to disappear for a year…,” a David Goggins' gem, is so right in spirit, and so wrong in application that it baffles me. Clearly, a willingness to remove distractions, prioritize yourself and your ambitions, and grind out the work, is an awesome starting point for personal or professional upgrades. Where this misleads is in the insinuation that you can (or should) do it alone.
There’s no gold star on your forehead for suffering in isolation. There may be times where that is needed (I can imagine times where isolation is embraced to surface personal attachments, fears, and biases meant to be overcome, or when absolute clarity exists around actions that must be taken... for a time), but they’re few, when taking into account to the benefits of ‘market’ feedback and mentorship one could access by seeking community or support.
I say this as much as a personal reminder as a lesson, because I’ve always had that loner tendency, and can see clearly where it’s been a compromise for faster progress or greater impact.
Three points I’d like to leave you with on this one:
- Within any process, practice, or craft - swift, objective feedback is the hallmark of rapid progress. Mentors who point out false assumptions or strategic errors can save years of grinding away in isolation… in minutes.
- Exposure to feedback on ideas is perhaps the prime filter for discarding nonsense or doubling down on gold. You don’t know what you don’t know, and not knowing it in isolation is the smart man’s path to delusional self-help.
- What of those people you leave behind? Why should they care about you when you resurface? There are already growing disconnects with social media, even to the point where people don’t acknowledge responses or outreaches at all, let alone in timely manners. Making concerted efforts to stay connected, the courtesy of prompt replies and closing loops (even if to say you need space), is more important now than ever. We don’t get to drop the courtesy, ‘do me,’ and expect the world to care about the new and improved version of us.
Peak Performance Fault #5: Don’t Put Yourself First
The first thing they teach life guards is to be wary of thrashing drowning victims. The risk is that they’ll leach onto you and climb, thereby pushing you beneath the surface. This person, if they cannot get themselves under control, must be knocked unconscious before saved, otherwise you’ll have two dead people instead of one.
Put your air mask on first.
In the event of airplane decompression and the airbags are released, they tell you to put your air bag on first before you help your child. YOUR CHILD. That’s how serious this is. Again, the risk being, if you pass out in the process of helping another, then you’ve got two people without a mask.
If you don’t put yourself first, how can you be of use to anybody?
It’s a window of self-centered self care that opens the door to a life of adding value to others. Even the greatest non-violent activists (if not altruists) of our day - Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, were exceedingly devout and disciplined individuals. Hours were spent in study, introspection, self care, daily. They were warriors for a cause.
Very few causes need people that can’t show up for themselves. Because when times are hard, they won’t show up for others either. And whether or not that’s obvious or vocalized, people have an innate sense of who they can count on in a real pinch. The bigger the cause or pinch, the greater the need for self-centered development on the part of the savior.
Performance Fault #6: Don’t Learn From Mistakes
Take negative feedback as an absolute character judgment, decide that thing isn’t for you, and go try other stuff.
Performance Fault #7: Take Offense from Objective Feedback
This fault goes hand in hand with the one above. The world is out to get you. Take everything personally!
Peak Performance Fault #8: Avoid Discomfort
“Too often we... enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” - John F. Kennedy
There are countless angles from which to tackle the problem of discomfort. I love it that Kennedy reduced it to the bare essential - opinion (or desire) and thought (resistance).
Discomfort is the stimulus for change. Without it, we never have to face the reality that we’re not enough as we are… a delusion that modern self-help centers around. Never has there been an elite athlete, entrepreneur, innovator, author, and on and on who hasn’t struggled with the disconnect between who they are and where they want to be.
Acceptance is a great platitude for those seeking immediate balance… but balance is not in the purview of peak performers, at least not while they’re journeying. The aging athlete, the retired entrepreneur, will need to accept the game has changed. But make no mistake, their careers were molded in discomfort, uncertainty, and resistance.
Peak Performance Fault #9: Wait for Motivation Before Initiating Meaningful Changes
"Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work," - Stephen King.
Quit if you don’t see immediate results. That’s the modus operandi of cereal starters and jacks of all trades. After all, you’re a genius, this ought to be easy if it can be done at all, right?
Having overseen hundreds of transformations over the years, I can attest that motivation is a fickle thing. It ought not to be trusted. And I’m always skeptical of that individual who walks into the studio on fire for change. I see them burn out, more often than not, when the honeymoon phase is over, the excitement of change wanes, and the reality of hard work week after week sets in.
I’m much more optimistic when I see quiet reserve, if not fear. This is someone who has no delusions around the road ahead, they just need support navigating that path.
Action precedes motivation.
Motivation that precedes action dies as soon as action gets hard. But if one can demonstrate a pattern to showing up to hard things, and eventually, see the payoff in whole or in part, then motivation magically appears. It's also far more sustainable.
Nobody goes from bad to great, only from good to great. It’s the process of becoming good that generates the potential, and confidence, to achieve greatness. This is why discipline trumps motivation 9 times out of 10.
Brunch with an old friend a few days ago had this topic front and center. He knows the changes he must make, his body is beginning to show signs of decline. But he’s got no motivation to take initial steps. I asked him why he needs motivation before starting?
Action precedes motivation.
How do you remove the need for motivation as catalyst?
- Skin in the game - Put something of value - time, money, your word - on the line, and make it hurt if you abandon ship.
- Choose your environment carefully - Those with predictable success spend their time in places where people are successful at that thing. It’s much easier to achieve a goal when you’re in a place where people just do that as a matter of course, not by any grand feat, but as a standard. Get fit by accident, is what I’m saying. Don’t rely on ‘wanting’ to get fit.
- Look up - You’re the average of the 5 you spend the most time with, yes, but it’s not always easy to upgrade those 5 to a level that meets your vision. So hire them. Read their books. Listen to their podcasts. And implement.
My friend was shocked when I told him that of those in the fitness/mind-body domain who have career level dedication or results, even they don’t want to show up 60-70% of the time. And I mean that. I’ve been training for 30 years. I want to work out less than 40% of the time. It still gets done.
Why are you waiting for motivation?
Peak Performance Fault #10: Be Rigid in the Way You Approach Life
"The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists.”- A Japanese proverb
This is a tricky one. No doubt is grit (and possibly rigidity) a necessary prerequisite to accomplishment. One must be willing to power through, grind away on seemingly menial or repetitive tasks that add up to something greater, and take scrutiny and judgment from those who don’t see your vision until you’ve proved it. But one must also be willing to read the sign posts along the way.
There’s a necessary humility in staying the course. In being committed to outcome, yet flexible in approach. We don’t know what we don’t know, but it’s very easy to convince ourselves that we have it figured out.
A useful practice might be auditing your efforts. The clearer you define the effort-to-payoff ratio, the easier it is to assess the specifics of effort, and identify red flags before small problems (or failures) become big ones.
Performance Fault #11: Multi task
A study by René Marois, a psychologist at Vanderbilt University, discovered that the brain exhibits a "response selection bottleneck" when asked to perform several tasks at once. Our brains are not equipped to pay attention to two things at once. The perceived experience of that is an illusion, a beach ball of attention oscillating between multiple hands, spending little quality time in either. Repeating to oneself ‘concentrate’ is far less effective than removing alternative distractions.
…Silence your phone!
Performance Fault #12: Stop When You’re Tired
"I stop when I'm done." - Another Goggins' gem.
If you don’t know who David Goggins is at this point you’ve been living in a vacuum - one of the most enigmatic, inspirational, and dedicated humans of our era, in clear and measurable ways. I may have personal qualms with some of his training prescriptions (or lack thereof) summed up by the phrase ‘stay hard.’ But it doesn’t take away from his extraordinary achievements. How often do we stop the workout, close the laptop, or leave the conversation because we’re tired?
What does that version of us look like if the new standard for finishing is being done?
Peak Performance Fault #13: Embrace Passive Entertainment
I tried and failed to find a study I’d seen on the impact of watching horror and action films, as it relates to real world action taking, and couldn’t find it. So test this against your own experience, and/or reason.
Now we all love a good Netflix and chill, and I’m not one to say ascetics have it figured out. But something interesting happens when we charge our systems - fear, aggression, joy, humor - yet sit still. You know, that adrenaline dump when watching something terrifying. Your mind still perceives and processes that threat, your endocrine system floods your body with hormones, and your neuromuscular system… does nothing.
It’s become pop psychology at this point, that scrolling, chatting, and binge-watching create a dopamine high that leaves you feeling empty not long after. And the cycle repeats. Humans aren’t hardwired for effortless pleasure. Once upon a time our biology evolved to feel those highs after hard work and consequent payoff - the hunt, the fight, the sex.
This has led to a plethora of studies on social media (and film/tv viewing) and depression. And I want you to consider something more. Imagine what a body flooded with adrenaline, a hormone meant to empower you to fight or flee, learns from living those states without associated action.
Now imagine when those emotions - the cortisol and adrenaline associated with stress and anxiety - surface in real life, what happens then? Do you snap into action and become Bruce Willis in Die Hard? Or do you retreat, living a disempowered life?
Fault #14: Let the Urgent Override the Important
"The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent." - The "Eisenhower Principle"
Perhaps the grandest delusion of them all - “something came up.” Back in the Enso Temple years in Shanghai, when I had clients who were repeatedly tardy (which didn’t last long, due to the 100-400 squat penalty, depending on the degree of courtesy associated) or who couldn’t maintain a nutrition plan, there was no better evidence of self-deceit than the pointing to things that seemed urgent.
When I’d ask if it was a priority, I’d always hear ‘yes.’
But priorities aren’t optional. If you get a call that a loved one is in the hospital, you drop what you’re doing and you go. That’s what a priority looks like. The word prior is in the word… it comes first.
“I had a business dinner."
Could you have eaten a chicken salad beforehand, and told those drinking that you were on meds and couldn’t drink?
Knowing that traffic is a thing, could you have left 20 minutes earlier? And believe it or not, 400 squats makes people very good at figuring out traffic. Who’d have guessed?
I’m not saying people need to be this austere all the time, but it helps not to be delusional around the compromises we make. Don’t let urgent override important. It’s the embodiment of winning a battle only to lose the war.
Win the fucking war!
Performance Fault #15: Keep Researching and Postpone Taking Action
“There is a common mistake that often happens to smart people… the difference between being in motion and taking action. They sound similar, but they’re not the same.” - James Clear
This is almost always a fear of change, and sometimes a fear of failure. The grind is a dark, and often soulless place, that can feel like one is standing still executing mundane tasks. New ideas, activities, practices, provide the illusion of growth (in Clear’s terms - being in motion) without actually becoming more capable or generating anything of value.
A mantra that I try to keep front and center for myself is “create, don’t critique.” That’s not meant to be a hard line, but rather an energetic shift or focal point. You ought to be able to point at your work/creation and say ‘I did that.’ If you cannot point to anything, but can list a dozen books, podcasts, or conversations consumed, your filter may be off.
Everyone needs windows of reinvention, where productivity takes a back seat to education, but more and more we’re living in a world where that’s a false dichotomy, and one can learn by doing - playing the YouTube video live while doing house renovations, for example, rather than reading a book and days/weeks later trying to implement.
Do the thing you want to be doing! Actually do that thing. Suffer for it. If you fail, it’ll trigger the awareness and knowledge gaps necessary to revive the curious mind, and new lessons will take far faster.
Peak Performance Fault #16: Expect the World to Accept You as You Are
“Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is a little like expecting the bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.” - Dennis Wholey
No more to say on this one.
Peak Performance Fault #17: Spend More Time Speaking Than Listening
“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” - Epictetus
We might say this another way - Those who know, don’t grow. It’s a difficult thing to remain curious and open once a modicum of competence (or the belief in competence) is achieved. And in a way that makes sense, as confidence relies on that self-belief. It’s not something we want to do without. But nobody get’s from where they are today to where they want to be without change, and that generally means learning new skills (ideally from those who have done what you’re trying to do).
Performance Fault #18: Don’t Take a Step Unless You Can Take 1,000
Incremental steps are the only steps… and with every step, new potential is generated. The mind body that can handle x tomorrow might only be able to handle y today. But once y is realized, x becomes possible. A common problem among those with tremendous experience who find themselves in decline, or those who have yet to start the journey, is the perception of a gap too wide to cross, between where they’d like to be and where they see themselves today.
It’s absolutely critical to keep in mind that that gap is not an illusion, it’s real… today. But each step in the right direction unlocks the skill and potential of another step. And that step the same. And so on until the end goal is achieved.
A Portrait of a Peak Performance in the Negative
Now, my dear readers, if the above didn’t fully hit home, and ideally, provide a few points to keep center of mind - useful filters from which to assess personal prioritization and excuse making - I’m hoping the following will cinch it. I asked ChatGPT to write a portrait of a person who embodies NONE of the peak performance traits above, or rather, all of the faults.
Sometimes we relate better to narrative than abstract discussion. If you see yourself in this narrative AND you’re aiming for higher levels of performance, it may be worth a reread of the faults we’ve just concluded.
When your actions are that transparent to a robot, time to tighten things up!
“John's day began at noon. He sluggishly rolled out of bed, yawning and stretching his arms. He knew he had nothing to do that day, no meetings, no deadlines to meet, and no plan in particular. He opened his laptop and scrolled through his social media feed for hours. He checked out pictures of his friends' and acquaintances' exotic vacation trips and gourmet meals, but he didn't feel envious or motivated. Instead, he felt like he was wasting his time, but he didn't know how to spend it any better.
"Finally, John turned off his laptop and headed to the living room to watch TV. He flicked through the channels, stopping every now and then to watch an episode of some show or a movie. Hours passed by, and John realized he had not done anything productive all day. He began to feel anxious and stressed, but he didn't know how to get himself out of the rut.
"Later that day, John received an email from his boss, asking for an update on a project he was working on. John felt overwhelmed and underprepared. He had not done any work on the project for days, and he knew he was behind schedule. He began to panic, feeling the weight of the deadline looming over him. Instead of buckling down and getting to work, John turned off his laptop and decided to take a nap.
"When John woke up a few hours later, he felt guilty for wasting so much time. He knew he needed to get back to work, but he didn't know how to motivate himself. He lacked the self-discipline and focus needed to complete the project, and he felt overwhelmed and stressed.
"John spent the rest of the day procrastinating, scrolling through social media and watching TV. He didn't accomplish anything meaningful, and he went to bed that night feeling unfulfilled and unhappy. John knew he needed to make a change if he ever wanted to feel fulfilled and successful in his life.”
Be Weightless Tribe,
Weightlessness | Mind Body Peak Performance Coaching