Satisfaction is not the cause of great work, it is the result. As humans, we are a feely bunch, and these feelings although sometimes confusing are generally well guided. It’s our interpretation of them that gets logically confusing.
As feelings go, you have undoubtedly felt yourself vibrating before. Not in the literal sense, but that high energy, high alignment, energetic momentum sense. Satisfied, happy. This vibration usually accompanies time spent doing our best work, proud, meaningful types of things. Helping, serving, creating, and contributing types of things.
Sadly though, if you have felt the vibration, you have felt the opposite. The magnetic overwhelm of negative energy too. This ominous, oppressive, heavy feeling almost always is 100% correlated to times when you feel out of alignment. Not living toward your values, your best version of yourself. You might very well be busy, but the work loses that satisfaction, you lose that energy, and it all feels like it’s falling apart. You have lost sight of the future.
These feelings are what are commonly referred to as internal forces, and humans have a lot of internal forces. These are the urges, and feelings that help keep us who we are, and most importantly drive us to be the best we can be. A uniquely human condition. These forces exist inside our limbic brain, and are often hard to put into words, but are beyond powerful to experience. Blame your neocortex for that, but words aren’t important. Alignment is, and alignment means chasing that dragon, following the feels, and the experiences that create it.
Of all the internal forces we have, however, two of those are the most vital in high performance and success. These are Identity, as in your personal standard you hold for yourself, and Obsession as in your pursuit of what’s important. To you, these are uniquely yours to feel but are shared with all high performers.
In a long-term study of over 40k high performers, these two attributes were the most cited and recorded. But it wasn’t simply that these performers claimed these two internal forces, it’s that they all were far more likely to regularly check in with themselves in regards to these two things.
High performers unsurprisingly have high standards for themselves. They set these standards purely in the pursuit of personal excellence. Rarely, do they set these standards for any other reason. This is a key conversation and process. High performers set high standards not to be seen as excellent, but because they see themselves as excellent. Excellence is their identity, not necessarily their reputation.
High performers, armed with their identity put more effort into their activities than others do, simply because they care more about their personal excellence than most. All humans have an identity, the differentiator appears to be that achievers consider their outward identity, while high achievers consider their inward identity. Thus, you can imagine which yields higher returns. With this identity of excellence, setting and creating large goals is much more realistic for high performers. Achievers tend to set goals based on perception or popularity and possibility. High Achievers seem to consider possibility very little and instead expect more of themselves.
This identity and capability go even further than just setting goals. The most notable behavior attribute of the high performers was their frequency of checking in with themself, several times a day. Self-monitoring would seem like a normal thing, but the research clearly shows that high performers not only set high standards, they check in on them, several times a day. Whereas the underperformers were far less self-aware and ultimately oblivious to their own identity and impact, as well as behavior.
What does this really mean? It’s not that there’s some arrogant disposition between the two, in fact, it appears the opposite. Generally, the higher performers care little about how they are perceived, and more about what they achieve. Where the adverse is true for the general performers. This is a vital distinction as it affords high performers the ability to set, and pursue obsessive and lofty goals, where underperformers would set more basic goals or none at all simply out of consideration for how they would be perceived.
The internal force of obsession is a truly unconscious driving force to success as it’s not even considered they are obsessive at all. They simply expect excellence of themselves, and because they check in regularly, this obsessive force to drive them forward is not a choice, but simply who they are. Achieving unconsciously, but pursuing relentlessly. We have all experienced obsession in some form in our life, an unrelenting fascination and pursuit of something that intrigues and excites us. For the high performers this didn’t end as a child with a toy, they carry this identity into the rest of their lives, checking in regularly and trying to improve regularly at whatever they set their identity to.
So now that you know the internal behavioral forces of the successful few, what does that mean for you? The good news is, it’s not a possession. It’s not an attribute or behavior that some are just “born with”. It’s not eye color or skin tone. This capability is inside every single human being. The only key to unlocking it? Checking-in.
Self-awareness has almost become cliche these days, and it’s a truly overarching construct or concept. However, for this conversation, self-awareness is purely just awareness of self. For most, its consideration is awareness of self-in-social. This is not the same. If you are to unlock the performance within yourself, the first step that appears by the research is to stop considering other people, and instead only consider yourself.
This is obviously way harder than it sounds. But it doesn’t have to be, like anything just takes creating. Energy is not possessed, it is created, and identity and self-awareness are too. Creating a habit of checking in with yourself is the only thing you have to do. However, what you are checking in on, the identity, the personal standard of excellence, and the obsession are what will take work.
First and foremost you must know your values. I get it, cliche. You have heard it before. But if you do not know what you are proud of, and why? You will be for nothing. There are lots of creative ways to determine your values, but for now, and ease of getting started, start with simply identifying who you’d like to be in every familiar situation, family, friends, work, etc., and check in regularly for how you can better improve each time.
Set big goals for yourself. The research is clear. The people who set goals, and self-monitor their progress are 2.5x more likely to succeed. This is not groundbreaking. There is a nuance here though, the bigger the goal the more likely they were to succeed. Why? Because larger goals take larger resources, more energy, more attention, and more identity. By setting larger goals, people measure more regularly. Small goals while more attainable, are just not as exciting, scary, or resource intensive. Set goals, define measurables, check in regularly, achieve.
Be obsessive. No greater word has gotten such a bad rep. Obsession is always vilified. “He’s so obsessed,” said dismissively. To be obsessed is to be highly emotionally engaged. This to onlookers is not understandable. To be passionate, we all agree, is a good thing. It’s understandable.
When you are passionate about what you do, people understand. When you are obsessed they think you are crazy. That’s the difference.
Passion then is the floor, the base level, the expectation. All humans should, could and at least can understand passion. This is the basis from where we all start, the even playing field. But if you can stay emotionally engaged in something, even after the ebb and flow of interest. That is obsession and that’s the mark of excellence.
We are conditioned to believe that bold, and instant action is somehow reckless, and irresponsible. To be relentless is tantamount to being a nuisance. But, let me be frank a certain degree of insanity is necessary. To be willing to do what the masses won’t is the only way to achieve what the masses won’t. To create anything meaningful, innovative, or remarkable will require remarkable effort, not base-level effort.
Obsession is paramount to identity. The madness that drives our obsession leaves us as the only person who can understand us. It’s this self-awareness of that obsession, and the understanding behind it that allows us, forces us, to check in with it regularly. Because no one chooses to be obsessed with something, to be thought crazy, without determining that they will succeed. Otherwise, it would all be for nothing.
To be a high performer you have to be internally driven. Those drivers are demanding excellence of yourself, for yourself, as well as the willingness to be obsessed. To create and maintain these forces you must willing to check in and hold yourself accountable. It’s this part that scares most off. Most of us are unwilling to check in because we do not want to hold ourselves emotionally accountable. It’s easier to let it be someone or something else’s fault. When working with our clients, it’s creating this space and permission for them to chase obsession and self-awareness that we are able to curate the most success. Having a coach is an easy way to transfer the accountability when the ebbs and flows happen. A coach keeps you on track, but you determine the trajectory.
Set big goals, measure them, be obsessed, check in regularly, repeat.