Are You Too Focused on Your Performance?

“Leading a meeting, negotiating a deal, doing an interview — you need to think of these as performances,” I used to tell clients. I said that to focus them on preparation and practice rather than doing things on the fly and wondering why they didn’t go well.

But then I realized, wait, we already feel like everything in life is a performance. We get grades in school and performance reviews at work. We win awards, earn bonuses, receive praise, all because of our performance. And we constantly wonder, “How am I doing?”

The thing is, when we view life as a performance, we become overly focused on results, on being judged, on getting it “right.”

And we end up missing the point: as human beings, we didn’t come here to get gold stars for our performance, we came for the whole, amazing gamut of potential life experience.

When we’re focused on the experience, we’re accepting it all: the mistakes and failures along with the nods of approval. Like the great cellist Pablo Casals said when he was asked by the sound engineer to re-record a section where the intonation had been off, “But that’s the way I played it!”

And then success becomes less about the never-ending quest for external validation that is conditional on our performance, and more about the degree to which we’re able to embrace the experience.

So how do you shift from performance mode to experience mode?

I like the suggestion from Peter Bregman in his Harvard Business Review post who says: “Several times a day I’ll complete this sentence: ‘This is what it feels like to…’ This is what it feels like to receive praise. This is what it feels like to be stuck writing a proposal. This is what it feels like to present to the CEO. This is what it feels like to be embarrassed. This is what it feels like to be appreciated.”

And just as with the narrating technique I proposed here, dropping into the feeling — instead of resisting it — draws us into the experience of the moment and our life becomes richer for it.