Psychology of High Performance: Pushing Boundaries

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "High Performance Habits" by Brendon Burchard. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the psychology of high performance? Do high performers think differently from an average person?

The psychology of high performance is complex. It entails everything from how high performers think when they are at the top of their game to what makes them fall from grace.

Read more to learn about the psychology of high performance.

The Psychology of High Performance

Clarity: High performers have clarity, or the ability to identify who they are and what they want. Clarity isn’t something that emerges on its own. It requires reflection and experimentation to search for the values that are meaningful in the context of one’s life.

Purpose: While high performers can tackle almost any task thrown their way, they understand that not every challenge is worth the effort. They spend their time investing in purposeful things and avoid the trials that don’t hold any meaning for them.

Drive: High-performing people know what drives them, are obsessed with their field of interest, feel a sense of duty to others, and hold themselves to deadlines.

Courage: High performers courageously step into the unknown and take action—even if they don’t know the ultimate outcome.

What Causes High Performers to Fail?

When high performers fall from grace, it’s unexpected because of the high-level at which they’re accustomed to performing. To sustain your success, be aware of the three traps that often cause high performers to fail: feeling superior, being unsatisfied, and neglecting important things.

Trap #1: Feeling Superior

When you become a high performer, it’s easy to feel superior without realizing it. Because you’re at the top of your game, you may subconsciously look down on people who haven’t achieved as much as you have. People who feel superior believe:

  • They’re better than the people around them.
  • They deserve admiration.
  • People just don’t “understand them.”
  • They don’t need feedback.

While you may not actively show your superiority, these thoughts often lead to condescension and dismissal. People won’t want to work with you if you demean or ignore them. While your colleagues may put up with you for a while, you’ll eventually lose the support of the people around you regardless of how strong your ideas are.

Trap #2: Being Discontented

Many people believe that contentment prevents progress because it promotes “settling.” They’d rather use discontent to drive them to find “the next project” or “a better way.” However, while staying motivated is important, discontent breeds negativity.

High performers are able to stay motivated without resorting to negativity. While they accept critique and strive to improve, they find contentment in what they do by recognizing their accomplishments. Their positive attitude keeps them from becoming overwhelmed by their work and helps them build relationships with their colleagues and friends.

Trap #3: Neglecting Important Things

As a high performer, there are many areas that require your attention. Because of this, you may sometimes accidentally neglect important things because you’re too focused on a singular task or you’ve overextended yourself with too many tasks.

Psychology of High Performance: Pushing Boundaries

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Here's what you'll find in our full High Performance Habits summary :

  • The 6 habits that high performers have
  • How being a high performer is about more than one big achievement
  • The 3 traps that can foil you, even if you're a high performer

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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