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Holistic Inputs to Performance + The Illusion of Control

December 6, 2017


Interesting Thought: Holistic Inputs Into Performance

Much of the thinking on lasting peak performance centers around physical and cognitive ability: how hard, and for how long, one can push their body and mind. While these are important attributes, they aren’t the entire story. I’ve noticed—in myself and in my one-on-one coaching, research, reporting, and reading—that when everything is clicking for someone in their respective craft, everything tends to be clicking for them period.
Regardless of your pursuit—from sport, to sales, to science—to reach and maintain true peak performance, you need to be thriving in the following areas. Yes, you can sacrifice in some of these areas for a short period of time and be okay, but if your goal is long term progression, you need harmony. 
Physical: A sound body that has the energy and specific fitness needed for the task at hand, cultivated by appropriate stress and rest.
Cognitive: A sound mind that has the energy and specific fitness needed for the task at hand, also cultivated by appropriate stress and rest.
Emotional: An optimistic yet grounded attitude; a feeling of fullness and readiness; a willingness to accept whatever happens next with an open mind and open heart.
A sense of belonging and an enthusiasm for both giving and receiving help.
Spiritual: A strong sense of purpose; a “why” that makes what you do meaningful, and powers how you do it.
This kind of holistic framework undergirding performance may be more complex than those that are traditionally discussed, but that’s the very point: because we are complex. When you think about how to improve yourself or those you coach, manage, or teach, I’d encourage you to think broadly. Every person, and every great performance he or she puts together, contains multitudes.


Coaching Corner: Planning = The Illusion of Control

When I first started coaching, I was all about the plan. I'd spend hours going over the smallest details of the training schedule, obsessing over whether the athlete should have 10 miles or 8 miles on the schedule for the day. The entire process would take days, or in some cases weeks, to complete. In coach-speak, the periodization plan took precedence over all else.

Existing in a mindspace where planning dictated success was a great place to be. If I simply planned well enough, the results would take care of themselves, as long as the plan was executed. As you might expect, my dream of control over the outcomes was shattered the first time one of my athletes performed poorly, despite nailing his plan to perfection. Thus began the long journey towards figuring out the balance between having a plan and the adaptability to change it.

In their book The
Neo Generalist, authors Richard Martin and Kenneth Mikkelson make the case that plans are so attractive because they give us the illusion of control. Whenever we create a training or business plan, we envision it as a map; a guide to show us the way. Internally, we make the assumption that our plan functions like a real-life map, pointing the direction to a fixed location that will not change. The logic goes that if we simply follow the plan, we will arrive at our destination. Thus, a false sense of control ensues.

Martin and Mikkelson's argument isn't to forfeit planning for haphazard wandering. Instead, they believe that there are two ways to find your course: as way-keepers or way-finders. Way-keepers use a plan in the traditional map sense, plotting and sticking to a route. Way-finders, on the other hand, take in the details that they know and follow a compass, using landmarks as they go to alter or adjust their course. In other words, they know the general direction they need to head, just not the precise course. This gives them the flexibility to pave their own path and respond to the unknowns that they encounter.

Planning is in my nature and it is a requirement of being successful in any endeavor. Although it's hard for me to do, today, I intentionally keep my planning to a minimum. My precise detailed training designs have given way to plans that are a flexible routes, allowing me to shift and alter course as I see fit. I've shifted from mapping out what we are going to do, to what I am aiming to accomplish. Gone are the days of obsessing over the exact workout to give on the second Tuesday of October. In its place are way markers, where I write in what adaptation the athlete needs at this point in the year.

In whatever endeavor you pursue, balancing the act of planning versus flexible way-finding is necessary. Planning makes us feel better, like we have control of the outcome if we simply map it out fully. Yet that feeling is often an illusion.


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