High Stakes Performance: What it is and (more importantly) what it isn’t

jetBy: Lorie Hood

“A High Stakes Performer is someone upon whose ability to consistently perform at their potential rests the win or loss of something of great importance.”  ~ Lorie Hood

Merriam Webster defines “stakes” as “something you could win or lose as in a contest” and “high” in the context of “high stakes” as “of great relative importance.”

Performance is defined as, “the execution of an action, the fulfillment of a claim, promise, or request and the ability to perform.”

Given the above, a simple definition of a “High Stakes Performer” is: Someone upon whose ability to perform rests the win or loss of something of great importance.

I first conceptualized the term “High Stakes Performer” (HSP) well over a decade ago as a researcher working with profoundly intelligent individuals. I had worked through the research on intelligence and creativity, motivation and eminence, nature and nurture, under achievement and perfectionism. I had, by about midway through my doctoral training, successfully raised two profoundly intelligent children and been identified as profoundly intelligent myself. I had figured out that high intelligence did not equal high performance. It did not equal success or happiness either. What I had not figured out (nor had anyone else) was what made some people able to perform at high levels while others were not? More specifically, why were some individuals with more than enough intelligence, opportunity, education, support, and other things that we as researchers believed were predictive of “success” winding up wildly unsuccessful, while many we were identifying as “high risk” were succeeding in terms of fulfillment, performance, happiness and, well, life!

Part of the answer came when I defined “success” differently however, much of it came in realizing what HSP was not.

It took almost another decade of research on trauma, posttraumatic growth and resilience and well over 1,000 interviews and case studies to come to my current understanding of what High Stakes Performance is and, more importantly, what it is not.

  • High Stakes Performance is not simply being a top producer. While HSP’s are high producers, high producers are not necessarily HSP’s.
  • High Stakes Performance is not simply being a top performer. There must be a high stakes component to the equation. For example, an attorney working a death penalty case.
  • High Stakes Performance is not simply working in a performance position where you earn a high income. Yes, many HSP’s are top income earners however, income is not what drives them.
  • High Stakes Performance is not being a rainmaker and, in fact, many of them resist being “reduced” to being “only” a rainmaker.
  • High Stakes Performers are multipotentialities. They have likely struggled with multipotentiality as a child and even into adulthood however, they have learned how to use it to serve their choices. It does not debilitate them.
  • High Stakes Performance is not simply having a lot of power however, they are some of the most powerful people you will meet, they seek a different kind of power. HSP’s seek a power that comes from the personal satisfaction of putting their abilities to good use.
  • High Stakes Performers rarely drink, use drugs or engage in other numbing behaviors.
  • High Stakes Performers tend to be very intuitive and use a balance of intuition and pragmatism. They consult from a place of heart and mind.
  • High Stakes Performance is not (and this is a biggie) being able to white knuckle it, apply all your assets, skills and abilities and then be crumble and be unable to perform for the next several weeks to months. True HSP’s do not burn out because they have trained to access, at will, any of their abilities at any given time. They have also honed their ability to”turn off” skills and parts of themselves to which they do not need access. This highly trained ability to only access what is needed in the moment conserves mental, physical, psychological, emotional and other forms of energy.
  • High Stakes Performance is not easily won. There are very few true HSP’s out there and those who are the real deal have worked at self- mastery on multiple levels for a very long time. When you meet them, you will know them. They somehow ride the edge between the mundane and overwhelm. They can be calm and smooth yet accomplish amazing things in less time than most of us. They are neither ego driven nor self-effacing. They hold their place in the universe without apology. They feel powerful yet safe to be around. True High Stakes Performers can teach us all how to handle the high stakes situations and events in our own lives.




Stop Choking in High-Stakes Situations


Why do otherwise high performers underperform when the stakes are raised?

  1. Because you take conscious control which undermines your practice.

The reason practice leads to competency is because it outsources skills from your conscious mind to your subconscious mind so you can perform those skills automatically.

We take for granted many of the skills controlled by our subconscious. Think of something you’re good at and break it down to the individual skills involved. For example, driving, which is automatic for most people, requires many skills. You need mechanical coordination to work the pedals and steering wheel, visual perception to stay in the lane and avoid accidents, and symbol recognition to read road signs and the various gauges on your dashboard. Let’s not forget the processing power to make quick decisions based on all of that information.

Despite having to use these skills simultaneously while driving, we no longer need to pay conscious attention to them. This extra brain power frees us to listen to audiobooks, carry a conversation, and even eat and drink while still smoothly driving to our destination.

For any skill, the more your subconscious takes over, the better you’ll be (granted you practice the skill properly).

All top performers outsource many of their skills to their subconscious. That’s why it looks effortless, because it is.

So what does this have to do with underperformance?

You underperform when you take conscious control of skills that have already been outsourced to the subconscious.

What you can do differently: Trust yourself and the time you’ve put in to practice. For situations where you’re executing a rehearsed skill, you are better off letting your subconscious stay in control. Of course, if you’ve been practicing bad habits, you will automatically perform in a less optimal way whether or not you consciously take control. To practice properly, get strong coaches that will give you specific feedback during your practice sessions.

2. Because you leave the present moment.

Think back to your best performances. What was going through your mind? You probably can’t remember thinking about anything. You were just in the moment — doing, not thinking.

Throughout our lives, we collect experiences and file them away for future use. Before high-stakes situations, our brain searches for and reviews similar experiences. It then projects the outcomes of those past experiences as the outcome for our upcoming situation. So if we’ve underperformed before when the stakes were high, we’re more likely to underperform again.

In addition to our own experiences, seeing others perform poorly can influence us as well. If your mind is filled with examples of people being nervous and freezing up during a speech, what do you think will happen right before your turn to speak?

When you flashback to the past to predict your future, you usually don’t take into account all of the training and practice that has occurred since that experience. A key idea to keep in mind is that your past experience is obsolete.

What you can do differently: Mentally rehearse successful outcomes. All memories are reconstructions, and your brain cannot tell which memories really happened and which ones were made up. Collect positive experiences to create a positive future. This will bring confidence as opposed to anxiety and self-doubt.

To focus on the now, pay attention to the input from your five senses. If you’re in a meeting, notice your breathing, the sounds in the room and the faces of your teammates. When your mind is occupied with the now, it won’t slip into the past or the future.

3. You phrase your thoughts in the negative.

The most common phrase people tell themselves when they have to perform in a high stakes situation is:

Don’t mess up.

Whether they’re thinking this or saying it out loud, it usually leads to one result:

Messing up.

When you tell yourself not to do something, you cannot help but to imagine doing it. Some people take it one step further and start “catastrophizing.” They imagine how performing poorly in this one presentation will destroy their careers. When your entire career is in jeopardy, it’s hard to stay relaxed and perform at your best.

What you can do differently: Focus on what you want to happen. If you are giving a big talk, tell yourself to “be engaging” as opposed to “don’t be boring.”

Deep down, we all want to do well. That is natural and normal. That is also why we put in the long hours. When the stakes are high, don’t try to rise to the occasion. Do what you’ve practiced to do and let it happen. If you’ve trained hard enough, you’ll do well. If you don’t get the results you want, train harder next time. Results are in the past and cannot be changed in the present.

Learn and move on.

To perform well in any situation:

  • Trust your skills and all of the time you spent practicing.
  • Visualize vividly the result you want before your performance.
  • Focus on your five senses to stay in the present in the moment.
  • Let go of the results and just do.




Source: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/top-3-reasons-why-you-choke-under-pressure.html

(Adapted from original article – Three Reasons Why You Choke Under Pressure)



How ‘Mad Men’ Taught Us about Trauma, Shame & Healing 

Don Draper, a character on the TV series “Mad Men,” was a survivor of childhood trauma. But when we first met Don, we met a man who had it all. He was at the pinnacle of his career, happily married to his gorgeous wife, Betty, and father of two adorable children. His haughty, arrogant and aloof facade was easily mistaken for genuine confidence. We soon found out, however, that Don was a man with flaws. An alcoholic, a womanizer and an adulterer, he lied about things, not the least of which was his fake identity. These flaws, or what a therapist would consider symptoms, were an indication that Don was unwell. Symptoms are often brilliant clues that let an individual know they have underlying yet blocked emotions, often from the past, that need attention and release. Don’s symptoms — drinking, womanizing and cheating — served two main self-protective purposes: To prevent contact with painful emotions from the past, which push up for expression. To prevent contact with unmet longings

Source: How ‘Mad Men’ Taught Us about Trauma, Shame & Healing | World of Psychology