Five Essential Skills for Achieving Optimal Performance

Whenever you are performing before an audience, here are 5 essential skills you need to achieve optimal performance.

      1. Superb energy management. Doing all the steps it takes to perform outstandingly well has a cumulative effect on draining your overall energy level. Therefore, you need to say “No” to any activities that might undermine your performance in the long run.  Ask yourself, “do I have really have the energy it would take to accomplish X in Y amount of time?” Consistency is key. Adjust your timeline accordingly, mainly to keep from over-extending yourself to the point of exhaustion. If there isn’t enough time, consider postponing the event or settle for less than optimal outcome. Energy management comes down to balancing your workload to allow for maximal sustained effort that is consistent over time. This includes allowing sufficient breaks to avoid suffering from burnout and setting realistic expectations about the time and effort required to achieve the outcome you desire.
      2. Keeping calm under pressure. This has to do with your own internal dialogue and things you say to yourself whenever you are in the spotlight. You need to be mindful of the negative things you say to yourself. “I don’t feel ready for this,” doesn’t mean you aren’t ready. This is known as emotional reasoning–the feeling is real but the truth is you are better prepared than you think. “I’m going to blow this,” is one example of self-fulfilling prophesy we make to deal with uncertainty of the situation. The primary job of the brain is to do whatever it takes to reduce uncertainty. One way to resolve the uncertainty the brain is to predict failure will happen. It the prediction of poor outcome undermines your performance, but it helps to reduce uncertainty in a maladaptive manner. Remind yourself of your past successes. If things aren’t going well as planned, it’s not the end of the world. If others don’t like your performance, they can leave! “I must do outstandingly well” is another common though that needs to challenged. The truth is failure and making mistakes is part of learning–if you aren’t failing, then you aren’t trying! If you thinking, “I must do well, I have to do outstandingly well”, remind yourself that this is your own personal preference. It is not as if someone is holding a gun to your head! Go with the flow and see what happens. Depending on the outcome, adjust, correct, and move on.
      3. Keeping things in perspective. This is hard, especially when you are trying to come across as the “expert” in your field. To put things into humble perspective, look at the image to the right and try this thought experiment: 1) recognize your place on this tiny planet, winding itself around an average star, within an average solar system, located in the outskirts of our galaxy, and there are billions of galaxies! 2) remind yourself that we all live on a tiny blue ball that has spun around the sun for billions of years, where all of recorded events have happened throughout human history; 3) with this in mind, in the grand scheme of things, think about just how insignificant the world is and how little knowledge we hold! You’re never going to know all there is to know and no expert is omnipotent in their field. Also, become very mindful of those times when you feel like an imposter–it actually means that you are are really an expert at what you do! The more you know about something, the more aware you become about things you don’t fully understand. As a result, you are more likely to be insecure about your own knowledge level. Meantime, however, people who are unaware feel totally secure in what they say and do. That’s because they don’t know what they don’t know! Ignorance is bliss in that regard! This is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.
      4. Knowing your capacities. That deep-seated inner belief in your capacities comes from many sources: your parents, teachers, coaches, etc. have told you that you are good at what you do. You also hear from the people around you. Hopefully, you don’t have toxic people in your life saying otherwise, when it’s simply not true. If so, you need to stay away from those people. Much of the believe comes simply from the act of doing the performance on a regular basis. Through repeated engagements, you come to believe in your ability to perform successfully. Other sources are through watching others doing the same things that you admire. The brain experiences their performance vicariously, meaning that learning their skill occurs just from observing them. Finally, mental practice is important. Your brain can represent the situation quite well. If you notice your palms getting sweaty, what ever you are doing, it’s working!
      5. Practice, practice, practice. Performance relies on repetition. Whether you are delivering a keynote speech or solo performing on stage, you need to rehearse your routine over and over. The more times the better because it will become automatic at a certain point. Rehearsal is essential to retaining what you’ve learned. It is also critical because the thinking part of the brain often shuts down under stress–that built-in mechanism evolved for our survival, but it is problematic whenever you are under pressure to perform well. Also, research has shown that high-level performance worsens whenever you think about it. If you think intensely about walking, you may easily trip over yourself. Successful performance happens seeming naturally. You’re able to get “into the zone” or enter a “flow state” of being. That’s when performance feels effortless.

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