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The Sports Psychology Peak-Performance Model In Business

The New Corporate Ethic


Bill Cole, MS, MA
The Mental Game Coach™
Silicon Valley, California


Corporations today are committed to helping organizations empower their people with high-performance work styles. People who are identified as peak performers, even in high stress environments have mastered the skills top achievers in all disciplines possess. We share the secrets of renewing oneself in a high-stress world.

In a fast-paced and ever-changing workplace, we are all concerned about stress, burnout and how to achieve peak levels of performance on an ongoing basis. We propose the Sports Metaphor to help your people move away from burnout, stress and chaos toward peak performance.

Part of the answer to reversing declining levels of performance lies in empowering individuals at all levels of the organization to effectively combat stress and to rise above daily challenges to strive toward self-mastery, which ultimately leads to organizational wellness. All levels of the organization can then learn how to partner to create individual and organizational health.

Burnout At All Levels

Burnout may be characterized by a generalized energy depletion, a sense of isolation and poorly-functioning levels of achievement and satisfaction with life. People feel helpless and resigned to their condition. How is it possible to deal with the demands of our work, our lives and to protect ourselves from illness and distress?

Today's environment is starkly different from that of the past. Formerly, life was more stable, predictable, orderly and understandable. Change was slow and manageable and responses to challenges could be met with a limited, narrow set of coping skills and mental responses. The last two decades have brought an ultra-paced, ever-changing, confusing, complex, inter-related existence requiring rapid personal and organizational responses to the chaotic landscape.

This new, demanding, high-stress environment in which we live calls for novel, creative ways of coping and for new levels of awareness. This new environment demands that we adapt, change and develop a new set of tools for dealing with its challenges. We must become more resilient and more hardy to withstand the daily tests that come our way. Rather than admitting defeat or running from life's stressors, the peak performer reorganizes in response to intense pressure and rapid change. In this way, humans operating at peak plan better, have a vision of new behavioral alternatives and reframe stressful situations by turning them into opportunities for peak performance. Peak humans become self-determining by expanding their stress management/peak performance tool kit, which involves increasing awareness abilities, taking responsibility for decisions, taking wise risks, changing maladaptive patterns of thought and behavior and dealing with life's demands in a powerful, effective manner.

Peak Performers Reinvent Themselves

Classic management practices and organizational systems have neglected the needs and skills of each person to ward off excess, unyielding stressors and have actually contributed to the increase of burnout in the workplace. A core value of the corporate athlete is to be continually renewing, to be continually reinventing oneself. and to learn how to self-manage and rise to consistent levels of peak performance in their work and in the rest of their lives. Just as traditional external management of resources and people is important in organizational life, the internal climate is vital in the creation and maintenance of the corporate athlete.

Corporations need training programs designed to allow individuals to respond creatively and with a renewed sense of enthusiasm to the pressures and demands of work and life. In this sense, such programs move beyond traditional stress management courses where stress is merely reduced, to a new paradigm whereby stress is embraced and utilized as an energizing force to catapult the peak performer to higher and higher levels of achievement. The result? The creation of a finely-honed corporate athlete.

The peak performer learns about and utilizes three critical areas of functioning in a high-stress environment. First, self-awareness is the foundation of all change. The peak performer examines current practices around stress control and begins to actively reflect on their efficacy. Next, self-renewal is the conscious, ongoing efforts to rejuvenate and regenerate oneself, a necessary factor in combating regular, potent stressors. Finally, the peak performer formulates strategies and tactics for dealing with the demands of work and life. This self-management is the key differentiator that makes peak performers stand out from individuals who give in to life's challenges. The corporate athlete is in charge of his or her destiny.

Who Are Peak Performers?

Pioneering medical researchers. Award-winning musicians. Heroic military pilots. Creative artists. Championship athletes. These are the images that come to mind when we hear someone describe peak performers. These people hold the highest ideals of commitment, dedication, singleness of purpose, and high energy we envision top performers possessing. If one end of the performance continuum is the residence of the burned-out or stress-impaired individual, then the uppermost reaches of human functioning is the dwelling place of the peak performer.

Do these special achievers have unique skills that enable them to rise to the top of their arenas? Certainly, peak performance will not occur without special talents, but much of what these superstars utilize to propel them to the top is available to any person desiring to become a peak performer in their chosen field. The mental technology exists which turns stressful environments into super-charged performance laboratories. These skills are readily learned and can then be used to raise personal and organizational performance standards.

Are peak performers always so obvious in an organization? Is the superstar in the workplace so easily identified? We think anyone can be a peak performer with the right combination of mental technology, training and skills tool kit. The main credo of the peak performer is to continually increase performance, and to do so across all disciplines. As the peak performer-in-training gradually increases performance outcomes, they overreach themselves by producing high-quality, creative work.

Research On Peak Performance

How is it that some people are able to draw forth higher levels of ability from themselves while others around them are struggling to avoid boredom and burnout?

For around thirty years psychology has been studying the more healthy individual, in contrast to the previous 100 years when only the sick and unwell were being studied. Recently, through the combined research efforts of such diverse disciplines as sport psychology, studying championship athletes and coaches, military and astronaut pilot training, elite special forces military training and extensive studies of top achievers in business, music and the arts, we have begun to learn from these most healthy individuals exactly what makes them want to achieve and most importantly, how they achieve.

We have now risen above the study of the unwell, beyond the next generation of human achievement, those who handle stress well, to the ultimate level of human functioning, the individual who on-demand, delivers consistent levels of peak performance.

Characteristics Of Peak Performers

There is more to peak performance technology than merely avoiding burnout and handling stress to maintain homeostasis. Having excellent coping skills and dealing with a complex environment by having well-developed self-management skills is admirable, but peak performers move well beyond this skill set. The individual who consistently manages stress and stays well moves closer to being a peak performer.

Are peak performers really just lonely, eccentric, driven, workaholic over-achievers? Actually, the research indicates that peak performers are not maladjusted, are not isolated, are not social misfits. Indeed, they are healthy, well-balanced, satisfied, genuine and fulfilled people. They do not achieve at the expense of others around them. Rather, they enhance the organization by acting as role models for higher levels of performance. They are living examples of well-being, self-esteem, creativity, and the fulfillment of human potential.

The characteristics--we call them the five fundamental peak performance proficiencies--of peak performers, cut across all performance arenas. Whether it be attitude, motivation, preparation, concentration, the ability to enter the flow state, coachability, being a team player, leadership, or the ability to relax under pressure, the peak performer possesses common elements under any conditions, whether they be physical, creative, personal or organizational. These fundamental proficiencies are: awareness of the self in all domains, behaviorally, affectively, somatically, inter-personally and cognitively, control of effort; where the performer learns to master energy and muscle tension levels, visualization; for mental practice and feedback purposes, cognitive skills; for strategic planning, motivation and attitude control, and self-programming; for preparation before any situation the peak performer encounters.

These five fundamental peak performance proficiencies are master skills all top achievers have in their performance toolkits. The individual performing at peak has learned and mastered them and knows how to apply them in particular situations and has developed an ability to creatively adapt them in new and unusual situations. These fundamental proficiencies are access skills to the internal climate necessary for peak performance. They allow the performer to consistently be engaged at peak.

The Flow State

The peak performer is able to access a special mental and emotional interior climate conducive to top levels of performance. It is different from our ordinary daily reality and quite different from the relaxation state. It is a state of flow, where the performer enjoys an effortless, focused, relaxed, automatic, confident existence. There is little anxiety, energy seems to be abundant, there is an optimistic outlook, mental focus is sharp and intense, the individual feels in control, physical relaxation is evident and there is a feeling of calm and quiet inside the performer. This flow state, coined by the psychologist Czikszentmihalyi, has been studied extensively and is now becoming the model of choice in facilitating peak performances from "ordinary individuals".

Capturing this flow state is a prerequisite for peak performance. This special internal climate is also known as the zone of optimal functioning (ZOF), and the ideal performance state (IPS). The performer focuses on the process and becomes so engaged in the moment that all sense of time can be lost. The IPS is often likened to a sense of play, of being absorbed completely in the task at hand, in becoming one with one's work at that moment. Time seems to slow down, or cease to exist altogether, or at least that the performer has plenty of time to execute what needs to be done. The individual performs at or near capacity, with deep involvement and with full enjoyment. And although flow can occur in any endeavor, it is most likely to be brought forth when the task is right at the individual's limit of capabilities. The flow state is enhanced when one is pushing one's limits, but not so much that anxiety is created. Conversely, boredom sets in when a task is too far below one's abilities.

The flow state finds the peak performer staying in the here and now, in the moment, not living in the past or looking ahead to the future. The individual is deeply absorbed in the current task and is less focused on the outcome of that task.

Adapted from an article in The Mental Game Journal.

To learn about sports psychology coaching services offered by Bill Cole, MS, MA, the Mental Game Coach™, visit www.SportsPsychologyCoaching.com.

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Copyright © 2005-2008 Bill Cole, MS, MA. All rights reserved.


Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on sports psychology, peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps sports teams and individuals achieve more success. He is also the Founder and President of the International Mental Game Coaching Association, an organization dedicated to advancing the research, development, professionalism and growth of mental game coaching worldwide. He is a multiple Hall-Of-Fame honoree as an athlete, coach and school alumnus, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published author of books and articles, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league pro sports and big-time college athletics.


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Peak Performance In The Workplace


Bill Cole, MS, MA
Sports Psychology Coaching

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