Even the Best Are Really Bad at Part of Their Job.



 What does it take to be the best in your endeavor? An extreme work ethic and dedication? Ability to handle pressure? Grit? Determination? Internal Motivation? Resilience? A growth mindset? Strength? Intelligence?

These are just a few characteristics that great performers have or, even, that research shows are correlated with performance levels. And if you read enough books on performance, you could likely list off another dozen factors.

But what’s often missing from the conversation on getting the most out of yourself is nuance. That yes, all of these characteristics are related to performance, but they are not all required. No one has it all. Humans are amazingly adept at compensating for their weaknesses.

With a collection of world-class athletes at my disposal, I’ve taken to surveying runners on whatever the latest “it” psychological scale was. From grit to stress to motivation; over the years I’ve sent out validated questionnaires to see where Olympians and American Record Holders stood.

And to be fair, many scored pretty dang high. But, no one was high on every single factor. Every single one was average or below at something. And many were downright “poor” in a so-called important factor for performance. We are talking about Olympians who participate in some of the hardest endurance races there are finishing in the BOTTOM 20% of the Grit Scale. A scale that measures perseverance and passion. This research started me down my journey to understand toughness, which culminated in Do Hard Things.

Or individuals who are finalists at World Championships scoring so low at the Stress Mindset questionnaire (meaning that they see stress as incredibly debilitating) that if you didn’t know who they were; you’d assume that this person must have an anxiety attack at any inkling of stress. Yet, here they were lining up to packed stadiums…and performing!

The point is, that no one is great at everything. We all have our weakness. Even the best in the world. So if you score poorly on motivation, or self-control, or toughness. Don’t despair. Some athletes you are watching on TV compete for a gold medal likely did too. They found ways to compensate for their particular weakness.

People figure out how to get performance through a variety of means. Just like two individuals who run five minutes for a mile get there different levels of speed and endurance, we can get to the same performance level despite lacking in the latest trendy psychological factor.

Next time someone proclaims some characteristic or skill as the deciding one for performance, remember that performance is complex. It’s not about checking off every parameter on the list, but taking advantage of what you have and figuring your way through what you are lacking.

— Steve

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