BOOK REVIEW: How to get into the excellence habit

High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way, by Brendon Burchard

BURCHARD is a High Performance coach, and acknowledged as one of the best and most popular in the world (he reminds the reader, a tad too often).

His contribution is in concert with that of Aristotle’s view that “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

High performance is succeeding beyond standard norms, consistently over the long term. High performers are, nevertheless, less stressed, healthier and happier than their peers. And high performers’ work has nothing directly to do with traditional rewards.

Many high achievers too often feel confused and unfocused, and that they are not making the impact or progress they once did. Having achieved, many feel that they are plateauing at best, or failing at worst, and this despite putting in punishing effort, at great personal expense.

High performers’ secret is their habits, and Burchard presents a bucket full of good ideas from which you will no doubt find many that are very helpful in propelling or reinvigorating your success.

The accepted norm seems to be “Pretend you’re not working hard, so your friends are impressed with your leisurely posts and photos at breakfasts, but yes, work hard. Don’t wait for instruction, because there are no rules. Try to keep your head on, because it’s a madhouse here. Ask questions, but don’t expect anyone to know the answers... You’ll never figure anything out—just keep adapting, because tomorrow everything changes again.”

The Zeitgeist has clearly changed the rules of success, which is far more a function of personal effectiveness than ever before.

The right habits for your context, professional and social, can dramatically increase your results, as well as the overall quality of your life. Identifying what is right for you is a very personal activity.

Burchard presents a six-part, high performance programme, divided into two-parts: personal and social.

The ‘personal habits’ comprise clarity as to what you want to achieve; having the energy to achieve this; and raising the intensity to make this happen.

The ‘social habits’ comprise influencing others to advance your productivity; impacting others positively to be more productive; and appreciating that success is on the other side of the struggle - never before.

Clarity is key

It starts with clarity. Just consider what was clearly most important to you at 20 and each decade thereafter to see the need for an annual review as a first step. Clarity requires answering three deceptively simple questions: Who am I? What do I value, and what are my strengths and weaknesses? (This should be done very slowly, very thoughtfully, and in writing.)

Once this is clear, you can formulate your goals and your plans. “Studies show that having a specific plan attached to your goals… can more than double the likelihood of achieving a challenging goal,” Burchard claims.

But there is an important difference between “know thyself” and “imagine thyself”. High performers are more focused on imagining a positive version of themselves in the future, that they pursue with vigour.

To perform at a very high level also requires a very clear idea of the skill sets that you need to develop now, to succeed in the future in your primary field of interest. This field should be an area in which you can become excellent, and contribute to others.

It is almost a tautology that life success (in whatever way you measure it) comes from adding value to the lives of others – whether it is making their cars go faster, educating them or their children, or enabling them to increase their wealth.

The second high performance habit is generating energy. Sleeping well, (yes, the 20th century aspiration of sleeping as little as you can is counterproductive), eating well and exercising daily.

A habit I have not seen mentioned before is enhancing energy by managing transitions. We move from one activity to another without a break in our focus or feelings. Burchard describes this as “release tension, set intention.” 

After finishing one meeting, for example, pause and simply instruct yourself to ‘release’ from it. Repeat the word until you are released from its mindset and feelings. Then focus on the mindset and feeling you intend for the next one. To convince yourself of the value, try this before you enter your home this evening. Release from your work demands and efforts, and intend to be the type of partner, mom or dad you really wish to be. Only then open the front door.

The third high performance habit is to “Raise Necessity”. Necessity differs from the weaker version – desire. Necessity demands action. Necessity doesn’t permit you to wish or hope to succeed, it consistently forces you to work hard, stay disciplined, and push yourself.

For something to be chosen by you as your ‘necessity’, it must be congruent with your ideal self: it must be something you see as your ‘duty’, and it must be something you know is urgently required.

To build this ‘necessity’ to white heat, remind yourself of who needs you to succeed at this. Tell others because social pressure works! And spend a lot of time with people who challenge and inspire you.

Courage means resisting fear

The sixth high performance habit is to “Demonstrate Courage”. Mark Twain described courage as “resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” Only experience reduces fear and stress.

All situations requiring courage involve risk, fear and a good reason to act. There are many types of courage, some not recognised by others, such as reassigning your brother because he is not pulling his weight in your business.

“If your future best self - a version of you ten years older, who is even stronger, more capable, and more successful than you imagined yourself to be - showed up on your doorstep today and looked at your current circumstances, what courageous action would that future self advise you to take right away to change your life?” Burchard asks.

To be a high performer does require hard work, discipline, often boring routines, courage and coping with continual frustrations.

A colleague once told me that he doesn’t go to church every Sunday to learn something new, but to be reminded of things he already knows. So too with a large part of this book, but that doesn’t detract from its value in any way. And there are some strong techniques I haven’t come across before.

Readability:   Light -+--- Serious
Insights:        High --+--- Low
Practical:        High +---- Low
  • Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Executive Update. Views expressed are his own.

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