I was about 13 years old, I think, on the junior team training after school. We were playing a short game into the goals at the railway side of the field and I was in corner-forward. The ball came to me, and I turned and took a shot—wide. The coach looked at me and screamed; “Maguire! you can't shoot. You can't shoot Maguire! You're not accurate enough. In future, pass it to someone else. Do you understand?”. I believed the old bastard—for the next 20 years of my playing career, I believed him.
The relevance of the experience escaped me until recently, as I realised the impact that incident had on my progress in the game. Apparently, I had some ability despite what that coach thought, and it was enough to be awarded a place on the county panel a year or so later. But his words would ultimately become my active belief about myself, affect my sense of belonging, and limit my ability to perform.
On pondering the incident as an adult, I began to realise in a very practical sense, the vital role our minds, thoughts, beliefs and ideas about ourselves have on our life experience. Because although this is an example with a sporting context, it's not just about sport. The common denominator in all life experience is oneself and its often ungraspable complexity.
Why Do We Fail?
Past life experience influences our self-concept and the version of ourselves we present to the world. It is why; I have come to understand, that on any given day we may fail. It comes despite commitment, dedication, will to win, training, superior nutrition, professional surroundings and so on. Granted, failure is an essential part of the process. But often unknowingly to us, it is the momentum of these repressed experiences, unconscious habitual tendencies and behaviours that perpetuate our lack of success.
All other things being equal, I believe it is the mental game that must first be won. The psychology of performance is, perhaps, the missing link in all real-world achievement. Be it sport, work, business, the arts or any other domain where human beings perform, our personal and collective psychology matters–a lot.
What Makes An Elite Performer
It's tempting to assign the tag “magic bullet” to the field of performance psychology, but that would be shortsighted. The aspects that make you who you are and what make a team what it is, are as unique and detailed as the contours of your fingerprints. Every person and every group is different, and there are a dynamic, not a stagnant, set of attributes particular to every individual or group in a given condition. The performer's job, therefore, is to discover how these unique attributes work together. If predicting success was easy, if there were some winning formula that you could apply, then everyone would apply it and win. But there is not – so be careful of promises that seem too good to be true.
In the pursuit of excellence and of elite performance, there are no shortcuts, there are no loopholes, tricks, backdoors or wrangles that work. More accurately, the more we try to outsmart the incomprehensibly complex system, the more it will work against us. In other words, there is no way to hack success. You cannot “make” it happen. Instead, it's about creating the conditions where we allow it to happen. We've got to go in deep for lengthy periods. Get in so deep that these things conducive to success become that thing we do. If there is a secret to success, then this is it.
In the pursuit of success, there are many moving parts. What I hope to offer you with this new material is a different perspective, an edge. In forming an understanding of how the human organism operates and performs in its environment, maybe we can be better prepared, and produce improved results. Notwithstanding this, the ultimate goal of the content here, is to convince you of the merit in engagement in daily work for its own sake. It is to convince you to work under your own command for the inherent enjoyment of the task and not under the command or agenda of others.
Becoming The Performatist
The Performatist perfects the art of living. They are the one who makes a dent in their own particular corner of the world. Whether that dent is small or large is irrelevant. What is important is that we become the active agent in command of our own work and life experience. This is not a neo-liberal capitalist position insisting you must become the quintessential entrepreneur, take on the world and conquer it. In fact, in this philosophy, objective gain and worldly recognition are secondary or even tertiary. The Performatist is rather someone who is self-determined, self-directed, but humanistic and in tune with the impact of their actions on others. To The Performatist, there is nothing to gain except inherent enjoyment of the work, and no one to conquer except themselves.
The new material I'm writing is an exploration and an investigation of that. The term Performatist comes from Performatism, the idea proposed by philosopher John L. Austin in his book titled “How To Do Things With Words”. Austin said that there was a difference between language that describes the world (constative language), and language that does something in the world (performative language). Teaching, for example, is a performative act. Therefore, the thrust of the content on The Performatist is to promote a state of being whereby each of us becomes the active agent in our own lives.
Rather than being pushed around and dictated to by other people's ideas, agendas, wants and needs, we instead operate under our own command. By applying the principles underlying the psychology of human performance, we learn to perform to our own personally written script. To be The Performatist is to nurture a state of mind that takes responsibility for personal conditions without self-criticism. It is free of fear and anxiety for the future or lament for the past. The Performatist is wholly autonomous, directs their own work and is motivated by the intrinsics of what they do. Extrinsic outcomes are superfluous. They do not seek acceptance, applause or reinforcement from others, although they can appreciate it when it comes. The Performatist is self-determined and immerses themselves in daily work for its own sake, for curiosity, engagement and, dare I say, for the love of it.
I'm still finding the words to explain this overarching concept, and every time I hit publish, I refine it a little more. The Performatist, at least for now, seems to capture the essence of this ever-evolving idea.
The psychology of human performance provides a framework whereby I can communicate these things, and recently, I've been creating more and more content from this perspective. A large chunk of this content is contained in the forthcoming Optimal Human Performance Course and will be later released as a paperback and ebook.
Here are the first two lessons (which need some editing).
The Artist's Manifesto was the start. The Performatist and the associated content is its evolution. It's the growth of the idea of “freedom to engage in work we choose”. But it's not only that, because choosing is not enough. We can be forced into a choice that we wouldn't otherwise take, so choice is only real when it's educated and informed. It's when we feel like we are being drawn rather than being pushed by the needs of some Other.
So I've made it my business to bring you this content–literally!
The Performatist represents a new era in my work, and a new career. It is the embodiment of this philosophy, one that has grown from The Artist's Manifesto and will continue to grow as I bring you new material weekly.
I've made space to take on clients too, and I relish the prospect. So if you are seeking clarity and direction in your work or sport, find out about performance coaching and get in touch with me here.