Welcome to the Peak Human Performance Guide. This material is suitable for newcomers to the study of the psychology of human performance and all those who wish to improve their performance in work or sport. In fact, consuming this material and weaving it into your thoughts and behaviour will likely improve your life on the whole because the principles you will learn in this guide are fundamental to healthy and successful living. This course is an introduction to the basic mental concepts every performer, no matter what the domain of work or level of expertise, needs to understand and practice in order to produce consistently superior performance under pressure. This material will provide the foundation for personal choices and future success in your work and sport.
In part one of the guide, we explore the relationship between mind and body, moving on in part two to the nature of attention and perception and their role in peak performance. Part three addresses the concept of mindset and explores optimism, pessimism, resilience and mental toughness. We look at goal-setting and its positive and negative aspects in part four, the impact of good and bad stress on performance in part five, and how to make decisions under pressure in part six. In the final two parts of the guide, we explore how to become an expert performer. Part seven looks at purposeful and deliberate practice, and part eight offers proven strategies for the improvement of performance in work and sports. Each chapter includes a reading list, references to research papers and books for further exploration of the topics discussed, and a notes section at the end. For direct assistance or coaching on the implementation of these concepts, book a free 15 min consultation.
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- Part 1: Introduction to Peak Human Performance
- Part 2: The Brain And Nervous System
- Part 3: The Role of Perception & Attention
- Part 4: Developing A Peak Performance Mindset
- Part 5: Goal Setting For Peak Performance
- Part 6: Effects of Stress on Performance
- Part 7: Decision Making in Performance
- Part 8: Deliberate Practice in Performance
- Part 9: Strategies For Peak Performance
- Part 10: Conclusion & Wrap-up
Let's begin with a story. One afternoon when I was about 13 years old, I was training with the school football team. We were playing a short game into the goals at the railway side of the playing field, and I was togged out corner-forward. The ball came to me, and I turned and snatched a shot at the goals – it went wide. The coach pointed at me and shouted; “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?”. He was the coach by name only, and his certainty about my ability became mine. It impacted my self-concept in the game for the duration of my playing career. And despite good performances, team selection and leadership roles, it was always there firmly rooted in my idea of myself.
I hadn't realised the relevance of the experience until I finished playing the game. I was sitting my undergrad in psychology at the time when an old school friend told me the coach had died. Good riddance, I thought. He was a brute who had little concern for the children he taught, regularly beating on the weakest of us. As I thought about the old bastard, the incident in the field came back to mind. I realised the impact he had on my thought about myself as a player and my success in the game. Like many kids who play the game, I had talent, but the coach's words became my active belief about my ability and dramatically affected my sense of belonging and ability to perform. Now well beyond my playing days, I realise in a very concrete sense the vital role our minds, thoughts, beliefs and ideas about ourselves have on our life experiences. Because although this is an example within a sporting context, it's not just about sport.
Why We Fail
Past life experience dramatically 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, despite commitment, dedication, will to win, training, superior nutrition, lofty goals, professional surroundings and so on, we can fail. Failure is an essential part of the process, but our relationship with it matters. Often these repressed experiences, unconscious habitual tendencies and behaviours that perpetuate our lack of success despite our best efforts. All other things being equal, the mental game must first be won before the physical. The psychology of performance is, perhaps, the missing link in all real-world achievement in sport, work, business, the arts and all domains and levels of performance.
What Makes An Elite Performer
It's tempting to assume there are simple solutions to complex problems. We like to think, for example, that the harder we work blinkers on, head down, the better chance we have of success. But as any experienced performer will tell you, no amount of action in the wrong direction will get you where you want to go. Training harder and longer or allowing work to impose on family time is never the answer. Others like to suggest that performance psychology provides a magic bullet, but that would also be a mistake. The aspects that make you who you are and what make a team what it is are as unique as the contours of your fingerprints.
Every person and every group is different, and there is a dynamic, not a stagnant, set of attributes particular to every individual or group in a given situation. But there are patterns to peak performance that appear to apply to most individuals and groups of people under most conditions. The performer's job, therefore, is to become informed about these patterns and discover how attributes unique to them merge and blend with those of others and their environment to produce peak performance. If predicting success was easy, if there was a cut-and-paste formula for success, then everyone who applied it would win. But there's not, and they don't – so be wary of shortcuts and promises that seem too good to be true.
In Pursuit of Success
In the pursuit of excellence and elite performance, there are no shortcuts, there are no loopholes, tricks, backdoors or wrangles that work. More accurately, the more you try to outsmart the incomprehensibly complex system, the more it will work against you. There is no way to hack success. You cannot “make” it happen. Instead, you must allow it to happen, and you allow it by removing interference and getting in deep for lengthy periods on a consistent basis. Get in so deep that these things conducive to success become that thing you do. If there is a secret to success, then this is it.
In the pursuit of peak performance in work and sport, there are many moving parts. What I hope to offer you with this guide are some, of the most important concepts for understanding and improving your performance results. In forming an understanding of how the human organism operates and performs successfully in its environment, we can perhaps be better prepared, and indeed programmed, for higher-level success in work and sport, business and career, music, art, and anywhere human beings choose to perform.
What Is Performance Psychology?
Performance psychology is a subdivision of psychology that examines mental and emotional factors influencing peak human performance. It is the practical application of psychological principles in domains such as sport, business and creative pursuits. Principles of performance psychology are employed to assist professionals and amateurs alike to produce superior results, often under pressure of competition, role or spectator expectation.
We can observe performance in all walks of life and in all domains of work and play. We use the word performance as a catch-all term to describe the behaviour of individuals or groups of individuals, such as businesses, business units or sporting teams. The focus of this guide is human performance in general, and the principles and strategies offered can be applied in all walks of life. You can apply what you learn here to achieve specific goals such as a sales target, obtaining a promotion, or winning a sports competition. Or simply being a better parent or partner.
Performance can be examined from many perspectives. In this Guide, we will take a psychological perspective. However, given that human beings are psycho-physical, bio-electrical organisms, including physiological aspects, are unavoidable. We will also include references to neuropsychological aspects of performance and refer you to books and research that take those perspectives further.
The study of human performance from a psychological perspective has validity across all domains, including sport, business, education, science, military, and many more. Through empirical research, it has become apparent that common to performance in all of these domains are the same psychological components. Perception, memory, emotion, cognition and so on. The following chapters may refer mainly to business and sport, however, the material can be applied broadly.
What You'll Learn
The aspects of performance that we will cover in the Peak Human Performance Course are the discrete psychological components of that thing you do – your work or sport. They relate to creativity, memory, attention, perception, imagination, and emotion and apply to all domains of human performance.
You will learn about the brain and how it interacts with the body. You will learn about psychological pressure, methods of coping with stress and the neurobiology of anxiety. We will cover how elite performers make decisions that aid success, what deliberate practice is and how you can use its principles to become an elite performer, and how you can create performance habits and strategies that will help you reach your work or sporting goals.
As mentioned earlier, the strategies we will present here are not a magic bullet for success in your work or sport. Rather, they are ways by which you can get in the zone, get on autopilot and stay there for longer. This is really what we are talking about. In this state of mind, which Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow. Here, we can perfect the skills and reach what Maslow called Peak Experience. It is in peak experience that we can realise the success we crave.
Applying What You Learn
The following chapters will introduce you to the concepts of human performance psychology. Apply the principles where you can and read broadly on the subject, but be sure to go to the source. I have distilled the guide content from coursework, core academic texts, research papers and books, and reproduced it for you here in ways you can easily digest. Download the PDFs, share them with your coaches, teammates, and colleagues, and come back weekly for new content on the psychology of performance.
Many thanks for being here.
A word of caution: The Peak Human Performance Guide does not constitute advice or treatment for psychological ailment or mental illness. Instead, this guide attempts to report as accurately as possible what is already known in the scientific literature about the psychology of human performance. Editors are expensive, and errors may exist, so always refer to the quoted source material for clarity and full details. Where you might be suffering the effect of psychological and emotional challenges, always seek professional help. Get in touch with me here for consultation or referral.