The three biggest obstacles to peak performance

By: Jim Murphy

The three things that limit performance, in ever sport, in every aspect of life, and at all levels is this: lack of belief, lack of focus, and lack of freedom. 

Whether you’re a concert pianist, and professional video game player, or a PGA Tour golfer, these are the 3 things that limit performance the most. 

On the flipside, the three crucial characteristics to master any performance are:

  1. Belief
  2. Focus
  3. Freedom

Just like the acronym best friends forever, BFF stands for something memorable as well: the three vital aspects of high performance. Belief separates the best from the rest; focus is your ability to have heightened awareness in the present moment; and freedom is your ability to be bold and take risks, holding nothing back. 

To play with freedom means to play your sport or instrument or role like you did when you were a kid on the playground, with no concern for people’s opinions or how you compared—playing with unconditional love, not loving it if you did well or may get some award.

The word compete comes from the Latin competere, which means “to seek together; strive in common; coincide.” True competition means two (or more) rivals are playing the game they love together. Great performers love competition in and of itself—it’s an opportunity to feel alive.

Genuine competition isn’t an event to see if you can beat your opponent or to see who is better, but an event in which people who love the same thing get to experience how well they can push each other to develop self-mastery by learning and growing in love (freedom), wisdom (belief) and courage (focus). 

Consider the Olympic Creed: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part. Just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” We might add this: “…to learn and grow to be your true self, to fill your heart with love, wisdom and courage in order to live an extraordinary life.”

To live among the daring rather than the gray twilight requires a different mindset and way of living. Those who do so are unique in three primary ways: 

  1. They know who they are (created for glory).
  2. They think, talk and act differently from everyone else.
    1. They have strict boundaries around their routines, around who they associate with, what they talk about, and what they focus on.
    2. They continually re-orient their hearts away from surface-level rewards and the shiny things the world says are prestigious, instead preferring to build something that lasts: a powerful inner world.
  3. They crave greatness—and the glory they were created for. Rather than conforming to the world and its version of success, they surrender their very lives, sacrificing temporary pleasures, acceptance and comfort. When the rest of the world is sipping hot cocoa next to a warm fire, they’re out facing their fears in a way the world says is crazy. 

When you realize that every material possession and award you obtain on earth is but a faint glimmer of a life filled with love, wisdom and courage, you’ll crave that fullness of life first and foremost, and let everything else be added to you (your success and accolades will all be by-products). This pursuit doesn’t take away from time spent working on your craft—in fact, it may increase it. It provides a deep inner strength to go directly for what you’re ultimately after.

An extraordinary life doesn’t necessarily mean you break world records or that you need to be a professional athlete. Your extraordinary destiny may be as a makeup artist or a monk (or both). You can be a janitor or an Olympic champion. Whatever your role or status, your life can be filled with deep meaningful relationships and great experiences. We can all pursue and live with zoe—absolute fullness of life.

a moment to think about when you performed your very best under pressure. What was your mind like? Was it clear? How was your heart? Did you have freedom? How was your body? Was it strong?

The question is, how can you repeat that more often? How can you get to that point where pressure situations make you feel fully alive, caught up in the moment, heart, mind and body, unattached to your results? 

Or, as McMains said, how can you consistently get into that flow state? By now, we know there are three main things that get in the way (of the flow of resonance):

  1. Overanalysis (a cluttered mind). 
  2. Self-consciousness (concern for what people may think if you perform poorly or choke).
  3. Constant judging of circumstances and results (a mind that jumps to the past and future, judging circumstances and outcomes and reacting emotionally).

These three obstacles create a lack of belief, focus, and freedom. So how do we overcome them? First, let’s look at some key characteristics of the flow of resonance:

  1. A clear mind
  2. An unburdened heart
    1. freedom from how your performance might affect your worth in other people’s eyes, or your own.
  3. Non-judgmental awareness
    1. When you’re unattached to the results of your performance, you can see opportunities for greatness with clear eyes.

So how can we develop an inner life that has a clear mind, an unburdened heart, and non-judgmental awareness on more of a regular basis?

There is one thing that lies at the root of the solution, as mentioned by Jaromir Jagr, one of the greatest hockey players of all time. It’s fearless and present, and is the most powerful, positive energy in the universe. It’s love, the unconditional kind. Love does things not for what you can get out of it, but for what others can get and who they can become from it. It’s a selfless journey—the most powerful one. 

When you get to the place where the journey itself is the reward, then you can have resonance. Then you can do amazing things.

Note: this article was adapted from Chapter 4: The Daring and The Twilight: Three Pillars of Extraordinary Performance, from the book Inner Excellence.

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