peak performance? beware.

Gymast grimaces during peak performance

Are you in pursuit of peak performance?  If so, we offer a word of caution.  Unless you’re a gymnast preparing for international competition or a golfer preparing for a major tournament, you may be on an unsustainable path to destruction.  Here’s why.

“Peak performance”?

Peak performance is an buzzword getting bantered about as ideal for both athletes and working professionals alike.  In fact, I often referenced “peak performance” when I first began working to help business people achieve more of their potential.

That’s when I met former Canadian national gymnast and sports psychologist, Kristy Wanner.  Insensitive to the specificity of this concept, I referred to peak performance as an ideal performance state, a feeling of physical, mental, and emotional flow.

Kristy took exception.  She cautioned that peak performance is really exactly what the name implies, a peak.  It is a moment in time when you perform to your full potential.  Then she warned that peak performance is usually completely inappropriate, perhaps even disastrous, in the work place.  How can this be?

Warning for corporate athletes

Consider the consequences.  If you were truly to achieve your peak performance state, presumably after months of preparation, you could only sustain it for a matter of minutes.  In the wake of your peak performance, you would mentally, emotionally, and perhaps even physically collapse.

Kristy shared that some gymnasts cannot even get out of bed the day following a peak performance experience.  They are wiped out.  Is that what you want at work?

While the gymnast doesn’t have to perform at that level again the next day, or even the next week, working stiffs like you and me had best think again.  Tomorrow is “game time”…so is the next day and the one after that.

In fact, the workplace is one of the most demanding of all performance environments.  It’s why psychologist Jim Loehr and Jack Groppel coined the phrase, “the corporate athlete”, over a decade ago.  Most leaders in the workplace are training harder and performing far more often than any professional athlete would even consider, ultimately with destructive consequences.

The accumulated stress of overtraining and continual performance can break down the body, contribute to chronic disease, and dissolve important relationships both at work and at home.

An alternative…

If you work five or more days a week, forget peak performance.  Instead, consider “optimal performance” or “sustainable high performance”.  These models are far more suited to our world and its crazy demands.

We’ll talk about tips for achieving these performance states in our next post.