THE BLOG
02/29/2016 09:02 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Understanding Is More Important Than Motivation When It Comes to Performance

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It is surprising what isn't needed for peak performance. Motivation, positive thinking, a good emotional state are not required to perform our best. This is clearly illustrated when the professional athletes I work with tell me they have played some of their best games when they were injured, sick, or in a bad mood. This also applies to performance in general. It is easy for us to get caught up investing energy into trying to manage and improve variables that have nothing to do with results.

Managing our thinking so we stay positive is often thought to be worthy of devoting energy to. It does create a more pleasant feeling state when we have positive thoughts, but negative thoughts passing through our awareness don't have any power in and of themselves. It is only when we identify with them and focus on them that we bring these thoughts to life so they look real. However, trying to stop ourselves from having negative thoughts or trying to reduce them when they are present, only gives them more power. It strengthens their illusion and drains the precious resource of energy that we have available to us on a task that is as easy as trying to catch smoke with our hands. There is nothing there to hold on to, and we can waste a lot of energy trying.

Motivation is also a non-issue for performance. An athlete I was working with shared that she feels very unmotivated in the mornings. She wanted to find a way to feel better so she didn't skip out of practice so often. I asked her if she ever had trouble motivating herself to step on the field when it was her turn to play. Her answer was an emphatic -- never. This was a non-issue, and she was incredulous that I would even ask.

I then asked her wasn't she sometimes tired before a game? Didn't she sometimes not feel well before a game? Wasn't she ever emotionally upset before a game? Didn't she ever feel lazy before a game? Weren't there times when she felt insecurity and self-doubt before a game? The answers were yes to all. So I asked her why these kind of thoughts and feelings would stop her from getting up in the morning, but not stop her from playing in the game?

She had never compared the two experiences previously. She thought they were completely unrelated. When she looked a little closer, she saw the circumstances were similar. The difference was, in the mornings her thoughts looked real to her. She believed she was lazy, unmotivated, tired, and insecure. She would worry about this and added fuel to her thinking through her concern. She didn't see these were simply thoughts she was having. It looked to her like she was experiencing the truth.

Whereas, before a game, she might have these same thoughts, but she she didn't have time to focus on them. She was able to dismiss them because she was focused on playing and didn't give the thoughts or feelings the time of day. This allowed her to play well independent of her feeling and thinking state. She didn't take her negative thoughts seriously before or during a game. She simply focused on playing. It didn't require effort on her part to do this. She didn't require a psychological process to dismiss the thoughts. It was simply common sense. As a result, she excelled in her performance in games.

From our conversation, she saw the same is true off the field as well as on the field. She recognized she has the same capacity to not focus on negative, insecure thoughts any day, not just on game days. Her understanding shifted so she could see that her experiences of laziness and lack of motivation come from thinking no matter what time of day she has them. She could see whatever here experience is, it always comes from thought.

Being able to recognize this and see that thought is fluid, transitory, and variable allowed her to relax. She recognized that her moment to moment thinking does not define who she is. This gave her a tremendous sense of freedom. She saw she didn't have to wake up in a good mood, full of energy, or feeling positive, in order to do what she wanted. She could still accomplish her daily goals no matter how she feels when she wakes up. Nothing was wrong with her. Being able to see her experience as coming from thought allowed her to not respect her negative thinking so she didn't feel so weighed down in the mornings.

This athlete did not use a technique to help her overcome her negative thoughts. A technique would have required effort and energy which was the last thing she had available to her based on her experience. Instead, she increased her level of understanding of her psychological functioning, and from the vantage point of this understanding, she was able to see the transitory, illusory nature of thought. This allowed her to relate to her thinking differently. She took it less seriously, and as a result her experience and behavior changed.

This is available to all of us. When we see clearly that our moment to moment experience comes from thought, whether we know we are thinking or not, we are better able to accept our experience, not get overwhelmed by it, or feel the need to change it. This frees up our energy to focus on the results we want to create.

Most of the obstacles we think we need to overcome to improve our performance don't exist. The main obstacle we all come up against is wasting energy trying to manage or change our experience.

Peak performance is simply about getting the job done without worrying about the background chatter of your ego.