Four Tips for Peak Performance When You’re Not At Your Peak

Traveling to Asia from the U.S. twice this past month, I had incredible jet lag.

As my eyes popped open at 5:00 a.m. and my energy levels started dragging around 3:00 in the afternoon, I had to remind myself that peak performance is not just about rising to the occasion for the adrenalin-fueled moments of glory in front of an audience. It’s also about putting forth your best effort at those times when no-one’s watching and conditions are less than ideal.

Here are some ways to get there:

  • Plan and prepare. A well-known football coach once said he prepared his team to be ready at halftime for any eventuality: whether they were winning or losing, it was rainy or sunny, etc. Visualize the various scenarios of your day to imagine what clothes/equipment/supplies you’ll need, and create checklists to automate your preparation. Thanks to the Internet, I was able to preview the week’s weather, check in to my flight, map out my meetings in relation to my hotel and even locate the ATM machine at Narita Airport in advance.
  • Stay flexible. As Dr. Graeme Edwards says, “It’s not the plan that is important, it’s the planning.” Simply by having gone through the process of anticipating various contingencies, you’ll be quicker to react and adapt to unexpected situations.
  • Factor in the human element. Recognize that it’s natural to feel irritable and hyper-sensitive when you’re operating in an unfamiliar environment, feeling under the weather, suffering indigestion or deprived of quality sleep. I’ve found that, it’s not the actual irritability itself but the resistance to feeling irritable that creates discomfort. By taking a step back and observing my inner grouch like a parent watching their child – my, someone’s grumpy today! – I was less likely to take it out on innocent victims and perpetuate the irritation cycle.
  • Feel the gratitude. Still, listening to the inner grouch go on and on gets tiresome after awhile. One morning, I realized how ridiculous this attitude was under the circumstances – it was a beautiful, crisp fall day and I was on an all-expense paid trip to Japan! – and made a conscious effort to shift my focus to the positive. In my case, there was plenty: I had a Zen like room with a spectacular view of Tokyo from the 33rd floor, was eating my favorite foods every day, and had three free days to visit friends and favorite haunts.

At the end of my stay – a week of often feeling, despite my general excitement, out of sorts and off kilter – I realized, yet again, that peak performance is less about about never losing your balance and more about the ability to continuously regroup, recover and make the best of circumstances.

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