Peak Performance: Achieve Your Best with Emotional Intelligence

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Picture yourself with the keys to unlock peak performance in yourself and others. What would that look like? How would that feel? What would become possible in your life?

Discussions about peak performance have become integral to self-improvement, productivity, well-being, and the pursuit of excellence. However, many of these efforts fall flat because they omit a key element: the emotional landscape of peak performance.

When we leverage Emotional Intelligence to fuel peak performance, we create sustained and powerful results. C-suite executives, Wall Street traders, startup founders, and so many others are increasingly unlocking this valuable pathway with huge benefits.

Peak Performance in the Workplace

What is peak performance in the workplace? Peak performance for leaders and executives is about operating at our best, cognitively, emotionally, and energetically, on a sustained basis.   

Academic research has often focused on “peak experience” and “flow states,” in which individuals become so absorbed by a task that it becomes effortless and even rapturous. In the context of sports psychology, or creative fields like music and dance, these experiences are sometimes also referred to as peak performance. However, in organizations and workplaces, peak performance simply refers to sustained, high performance.

What does this sustained, high performance look like? How do we deconstruct it into its underlying elements? How do we incorporate it into our daily lives? When I speak to executives about what being at peak performance means to them, they talk about being focused, feeling calm when faced with chaos and crisis, pursuing goals effectively, feeling good, and operating at a high level of cognition on an ongoing basis.

Importantly, implicit within peak performance is the concept of sustainability, which helps us show up at our best on an ongoing basis. This means that peak performance habits can only succeed if they equally balance rest, renewal, self-care, and well-being at the foundational level, to allow for long-term sustainability.

Emotional Intelligence and Peak Performance

Daniel Goleman has said that Emotional Intelligence (EI), a different way of being smart, is key to high performance at all levels. Tapping into our EI abilities enables us to leverage innate strengths and operate at peak performance in the world today.

Four capabilities in particular—self-awareness, emotional balance, achievement orientation, and adaptability—bolster resilience, strengthen focus, develop goal orientation, self-motivation, and self-care, and enhance our ability to navigate change. Collectively, these competencies will help you build the foundation of peak performance.

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Four Habits to Develop Peak Performance with EI

How do we strengthen these capabilities? Here are four habits you can work into your life, starting today, to develop your capacity for peak performance.

  1. Incorporate a Daily Mindfulness Practice

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction programs, defines mindfulness as “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”

Mindfulness practices help build both the self-awareness and emotional balance capabilities. This includes greater awareness of your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, greater ability to manage these, strengthen attention, and build resilience (the ability to bounce back from stress quickly).

These abilities, in turn, equip leaders and executives to recognize and manage triggers and stress reactions, show grace under fire, remain strategic and focused under pressure or amidst distractions, and communicate effectively with teams and stakeholders

There are a multitude of mindfulness practices you can choose from, ranging from breath awareness, to body scans, to loving-kindness, to observing-thought practices; each has both common and bespoke benefits.

Consider starting with a daily practice that feels right and do-able for you. Build that practice into a daily habit. You can try various practices to see what fits and evolve your practice over time.

  1. Try to “Notice-Pause-Reframe-Engage”

Build a habit of noticing when you are triggered, pausing instead of reacting, and then engaging and responding once you reframe your narrative to better serve the situation. This habit leverages both the self-awareness and emotional balance competencies and helps you navigate chaotic situations in a cool, controlled manner and show up as your best self.

For example, let’s say you hear about a big mistake that someone on the team made, and you sense the onset of sharp, reactive anger. Notice that your anger has been activated and pause in that moment before you react. Now, explore what is going on and how you can reframe and re-engage in a way that serves the situation. To respond with more emotional balance, it helps to consider the following questions:

  • What is the opportunity in this situation?
  • How does showing up in anger serve me in the moment?
  • What is my bigger goal?
  • How can I show up at my best level in service of that goal?

One way to build greater emotional balance is a “trigger journal.” Here are a few prompts to help you get to a better outcome:

  1. When you become upset, notice the thoughts and emotions that come up.
  2. What was the outcome of getting upset?
  3. Could you imagine an alternate outcome that would have been more optimal?
  4. Next time you get upset, what will be your cue for a different response?

When you repeatedly do the exploration work via your journal and apply what you’ve learned, you build the habit of noticing, pausing, reframing, and engaging.

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  1. Set Goals that Push Your Comfort Zone

The drive, motivation, and persistence to achieve goals and stay in forward momentum are essential to peak performance in the workplace.

Effective goal setting is one simple habit to adopt. To optimize your goal setting habit, when you set goals, consider asking

  • Is this challenging enough?
  • Am I feeling a little uncomfortable?
  • Am I taking strategic risks?

Once you have set the goal, break it down into simple steps to keep you in motion.

  1. Train Your Brain for Change

Adaptability helps you operate effectively amidst change, see the opportunity in things, and operate at your best in all scenarios. Daniel Goleman defines adaptability as “flexibility in handling change, juggling multiple demands, and navigating new situations with innovative ideas and approaches.”

Daniel Goleman has suggested three steps to build adaptability that resonate with me—listen inside (tap into your emotional self-awareness), look outside (pay attention to a diverse points of view and ideas), and step outside (step away from your comfort zone and embrace new experiences, opinions, and environments). Incorporating these habits into your daily regimen (Did I look listen inside, look outside, and step outside today?) will strengthen your adaptability.

Bonus Tip: Self Care

You cannot pour from an empty cup. Peak performance is not possible without building habits of rest, renewal, and self-care into your life. In addition to the mindfulness practice above, consider other habits that offer time for renewal, such as social connection, cognitive down time, fun experiences, and adequate sleep and exercise.

These four habits and the bonus tip will help you develop self-awareness, emotional balance, achievement orientation, and adaptability. They will strengthen your resilience, focus, goal achievement, flexibility, and sense of well-being. I invite you to try these and make peak performance in the workplace your new reality.

“Peak performance is not possible without building habits of rest, renewal, and self-care into your life.”

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