This week I spent a day outside my comfort zone, as the subject of a photo shoot to update the photography on my website. In truth it was actually only two hours, but as someone who barely tolerates the annual family Christmas photo, it seemed like an eternity and I literally felt it for days leading up to the big event. I was buzzing with some combination of adrenaline and cortisol and it was hard to settle into my normal daily routine. When the time finally came, I did my best to channel my inner Kardashian, and I think we got some great shots (time will tell!), but I can promise you it took all the energy I had and the patience of two gifted photographers and one amazing friend to make it happen.
As luck would have it, on my drive to the location where we’d be shooting, I listened to a podcast that gave me a new framework for processing the full body response I was experiencing in anticipation of this event. It asserted that what I might normally call fear or nerves could more productively be described as my body preparing itself for peak performance. How’s that for a reframe??
By resisting the urge to suppress the feeling, and instead simply honoring it as a normal and predictable set of sensations gearing me up to go do my thing, I didn’t have to fight with it, so I could channel all of that extra energy into my performance. I found this reframe to be incredibly helpful. It allowed me to stop feeling like I was getting it wrong (C’mon, this is supposed to be fun, not scary! What’s wrong with you?) and gave me a way to define the value this heightened state could bring.
You may not have a photo shoot in your future, but I’ll bet you have a day coming up that calls for peak performance. This day won’t be like every other ordinary day, and your body knows it. That’s exactly why it takes over.
To deliver peak performance, you need all of you. All of your brain power and physical energy must be harnessed in one direction toward a singular objective, not scattered across a mile-long to do list. No, on a peak performance day, you don’t need to be productive. You need to be focused.
When your body is taking over to help you perform (as evidenced by those butterflies in your stomach, quickened heart rate, sweaty palms, tapping toes, buzzing brain), you can’t do much else.You won’t do brilliant creative work or robust financial analysis. You might be able to check some small tasks off your to do list but that’s about it. Instead of getting a lot of things done, you get ready to do one thing well. You gear up. You get in the zone. You breathe.
Days when I have a speaking engagement are peak performance days for me. I learned a long time ago not to tackle big projects on those days because while I may only be on stage for an hour, my brain is on stage for most of the day. I’m gearing up mentally and physically, rehearsing phrases, envisioning the audience. If I try to act like it’s a normal day, I’m kidding myself, and my work on stage suffers. But if I honor a speaking engagement for the peak performance moment it is, I can give it the attention it deserves and channel all my energy into producing something truly memorable for my audience.
Big milestone days for my children or my family are peak performance days for me, too. Christmas. First Communion. Graduation. The First Day of School. They command my attention so that I won’t let them slide by unnoticed. I like the idea of viewing this as protective rather than unproductive.
So the next time you’re feeling distracted as you stare at an unfinished to do list, check in with your body. Is it gearing up for a peak performance moment and asking you to get focused on that one big thing? If it is, pay attention as though your performance depends on it, because you’ll find it actually does.
Questions: Where does your life require peak performance? Have you noticed that your body commands your full attention in these instances? How does that feel similar to fear or nerves? What happens if you honor this feeling instead of suppressing it?