I pulled on my helmet and gloves and gripped the wheel. Only two months before, I had left the racetrack annoyed after a mediocre day.
This time – things were different.
Driving cars at the limit has long been a passion of mine. It provides me an opportunity to feel inspired, alive and challenged. It’s a time in which I feel I am getting to the core of who I am as a person. It is also a perfect chance to discover fundamental rules relating to high personal performance.
On this particular day, I joined some friends at the Pacific Raceway in Seattle, Washington to give our cars a workout on the track. The reality is that these days are easy for the cars and a real challenge for the drivers! Unlike the last time I was there, I was absolutely flying – effortlessly. I was locked in “flow” and it felt like I was floating around the track and could do no wrong. My car was doing things I did not think it was capable of – dancing through the corners faster than I ever had before and passing technically faster cars with ease. I left feeling amazing and wanting more.
Hours later, as the adrenaline wore off and I realized what I’d been doing, I asked myself, HOW was that possible? The car always had this capability, but somehow I was able to pull it all together on that day.
I have found this amazing place of peak performance a number of times since, in some obvious and some less obvious places.
What I notice is that in those moments, not only am I able to do things much better than normally, but I also feel spectacular at the same time.
High-productivity states are moments in time where everything feels easy and enjoyable. Hours drip away. You simply forget everything that’s going on in your life. You become consumed with what is in front of you. Fear is absent. You feel lost in whatever you’re doing. All of your attention is used up on the task at hand. Everything appears simple.
What’s more is that when you’re in these states, you’re the “best” version of yourself. You will have instant clarity and focus. You reach further and higher than normal. You push yourself and meet the challenge head on.
You feel brilliant.
Here’s the thing – you’re only going to experience this state when doing the right things. For me, it’s cars and coaching. Working with high performance machines and high performance people pushes me towards the same state. Not only am I at my best when I’m driving or coaching, but the feeling LASTS for hours afterward and it spills over into the other areas of my life.
Many leaders and CEOs will be familiar with this state and what it feels like. It is, quite simply, when you do your best stuff. Decisions made are more likely to be accurate. You see the problems your company is facing more clearly. Solutions are there and for a few days afterward, maybe you’ve noticed that life seems a lot better.
But there is a problem. It’s that most people find themselves there by ACCIDENT. Instead of crafting a life of productivity around doing work in optimal states and being brilliant as often as possible, many people drift from task to task. They occasionally drop into states where they are at their best, but it’s rare.
Flow Versus Touch and Go
One of the big problems that every leader faces is getting “caught up.” They are constantly fighting fires, simply trying to keep up with the onslaught of responsibilities that keep coming their way.
Occasionally, they drop into a high-productivity state and work effectively. But the moments are rare and they’re fleeting. Chances are, this sounds familiar.
The challenge we face is harnessing the power of these moments by moving away from accidental brilliance and towards intentional. How do we do that? By creating purposefully productive states through the awesome power of habits and triggers.
Triggers can be almost anything. It can be finishing a run, sitting down at a certain coffee shop, having a discussion with a trusted advisor or coach, or even as simple as opening a certain program on your computer. But unless a leader builds a structure around those triggers, they will always be touch and go and “core” states will remain elusive.
Turning Triggers into Rituals
Coaching is a huge trigger for me. Sitting down in front of a driven person who’s staring at a huge challenge that they’re just stuck on. It drops me into that peak state almost instantaneously. As my clients and I settle into our discussions, I notice time dropping away and my passion for helping them rising. It’s exhilarating and it’s one of the reasons I love what I do.
Another trigger is, and this might sound odd, is getting on an airplane. Some people watch movies or read while flying – I write and think. I brainstorm. I solve problems that my clients are facing. Whenever I sit down in one of those seats, I know that however long the flight is, it will be a period of productivity for me. These days, it’s a guarantee. I COUNT on that time being productive and insightful.
The key for me is the simple act of writing – I put pen to paper and instantly I feel more creative, alive and get insights that surprise me.
Once you’re properly able to identify what is a useful and productive period of time for you; once you know what “getting to the core” really feels like – only then can you start to work on recreating it for yourself.
You do that by figuring out your triggers. As I mentioned, one of my triggers is sitting down on a plane. Another one of my triggers is pulling on a helmet and gloves when I’m about to race. For you, it could be anything. Here’s a list of some of the ones I’ve come across:
- Horse riding
- Martial arts
- Going on holiday
- Coffee shops
- Public speaking
- Feedback from someone that you respect.
- Playing a musical instrument
- Meditation / Yoga
- Fixing mechanical problems
- Doing a puzzle
I would love to hear about the ones that work for you.
Now the tough part – you need to start making time for the trigger to take place, and for the period of time afterwards. That’s how you’re going to start harnessing the power of your “accidental” brilliance. And when you do this, you’re going to be at your best far more often.
When we maximize the amount of time we spend in this state, we both improve and enjoy our lives more. This extends to far more than your career. What would your family life look like if you made a habit out of being brilliant with your son, your daughter or your partner? What if every morning when you woke up, you were able to place yourself in this state?
Structure your life around these moments. I’ve attempted to do so for years and have reaped the benefits as a husband, as a father and as a coach. I want the same for you.
Have a great week.