The Mindset of a High Performer

There is a high performer and there is a workaholic. The distinguishing factor of a high performer is how they feel on the inside about who they are in relationship to their work. There is a big difference in being productive and being busy. Often times we feel good about our work because we are busy, but what we don’t stop to think about is, are we really doing the right things…the productive things.

The difference between a high performer and a workaholic is very subtle. They both work very hard, but a high performer works hard in healthy and sustainable ways that leaves them fulfilled and happy. Whereas a workaholic works hard in unhealthy and unsustainable ways that leaves them feeling unhappy.

There are four key factors that I think influence the mindset of a high performer.

Key Factor 1:
High performers are results driven. The main thing that matters to a high performer is results. They really understand that business has ups-and-downs, and it comes in waves. They are always strategizing in the valley so they can capitalize during the peaks. They also understand the difference between driving results and being busy.

A workaholic believes that the busier they are, the more work they are accomplishing, and they never really know when enough is enough.  Whereas a high performer knows when it’s enough. They seek more in the areas that matter, and they know when it is enough in the areas that don’t matter so much.  This comes from having a clear definition of success.

I had a leader ask me one time, why can I get so much stuff done the day before I leave for vacation? We have all experienced that before, right? We just go into driver mode. Here’s why, it’s called Parkinson’s law. This law suggests that work expands to fill space and time. For example, if I give you 60 minutes to complete a task that really takes 30 minutes, you will likely take the full 60 minutes. Work expands to fill our days when we don’t put boundaries on it. The secret to Parkinson’s law is to shorten the amount of time and space that you give yourself to complete certain tasks. I used this technique not really knowing it was called Parkinson’s law, and this technique allowed me to graduate from college in 3 years instead of 4.

A high performer is always mindful and they always make sure they enjoy the journey as much as they enjoy the outcome.

Key Factor 2:
High performers have a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe that their basic qualities like intelligence or talent are simply fixed traits. They believe that talent alone creates success. Whereas people with a growth mindset believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work; brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great achievement. The best ones with the growth oriented mindset are obsessed with learning, growing and improving.

In Dr. Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, she says a belief that your qualities are carved in stone, like a fixed mindset, leads to a host of thoughts and actions, and the belief that your qualities can be cultivated, like a growth mindset, leads to a host of different thoughts and actions taking you down an entirely different road. A fixed mindset individual will sometimes not put forth effort in an area he or she does not have confidence. They believe if they were smarter or more talented, they would not need to try that hard. Therefore, they have a tendency to avoid challenges and give up easily. They tend to think, I am either good at it or I’m not. But a growth mindset individual will put fort effort in the areas where they are weak because they know that is the secret sauce that makes them talented. They embrace challenges and they persist in the face of setbacks. They believe they can learn anything they want to and, therefore, they want to challenge themselves. Remember, we always say there are two choices – to grow or decline.

Key Factor 3:
Your thinking is controlling your environment and not the other way around. Don’t believe everything you think. To recap, we think about 60,000 thoughts per day and 90% of those thoughts are the same thoughts we had yesterday. For the average person, 80% of these habitual thoughts are negative. This means that on the average day, most people are thinking about 45,000 negative thoughts per day. Maybe this is why Tony Robbins said one time that a happy person is more difficult to find than a billionaire in the world today.

I have been reading a new book, Happy For No Reason, written by Carol Kline with Marci Shimoff, and I have just loved reading this book. They say less than 30% of people report being deeply happy. Although our lifestyles are getting better than ever, we are unhappier than ever. It seems that the more gadgets and goods we gather, the worse we feel. In this book they state this, “Our brains are Velcro for negativity and Teflon for positivity. Our negative experiences stick to us like Velcro and we have a hard time letting go of them, while our positive experiences fly right off of us like Teflon.”

Researchers have found that it takes numerous positive experiences to overcome a single negative one. According to the latest research, the neocortex in the brain is where happiness lives. Studies have shown that happy people have a high level of activity in this area. When it comes to happiness, you can’t fool the brain. Psychologists say that the brainwave activity of a happy person is very different than the brainwave activity of someone who is unhappy.

What does that mean? It means we have to learn how to win the head game. We have to learn how to make our thinking control our environment and not the other way around. A high performer does this by becoming more mindful of their thoughts. One way to become more mindful of your thoughts is to always question your thoughts.

Byron Katie developed what she calls “The Work”. She recommends always asking four questions.

1 – Is it true?

2 – Can you absolutely know that it is true?

3 – How do you react when you believe that thought?

4 – Who would you be without that thought?

The next time you have a negative or unproductive thought enter your mind, start by asking yourself those four questions. That alone will help you become more mindful of your thoughts.

Key Factor 4:
High performers are proactive and intentional versus reactive. Every week we get 168 hours of time to invest. The goal is not to fill these 168 hours with busy activity; it is quite the opposite. By proactively planning, it allows you to think about where you want to put your highest priorities and how to spend each day so you can determine if you are doing the right activities leading to growth. You learn to tell the difference between what is truly important and everything else. Remember, it’s not about getting everything done, it’s about getting the right things done.

That’s why I love one of the other books I am reading right now called Essentialism. Essentialism is more than a time management strategy, it is a discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential and then eliminating everything that is not so that we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter. This is not about saying no more; this is really about pausing constantly to ask, am I investing in the right activities. This requires us to be constantly in an intentional and proactive thought and not just reacting to everything that comes at us. By being selective and thinking proactively about what is essential, we get to reclaim control of our choices about where to spend our precious time and energy.

Too often a week flies by and we cannot recall what we did or what we accomplished. If you are using The Achievement Planner, and you are planning your days and your months proactively, it is going to be a mirror; it will reflect back to you with total honesty about how effective you are truly being with your time. From there, you can make new choices that move you towards growth.

The goal of developing the mindset of a high performer, is to help you to experience more joy in your personal and professional life while improving your results; truly knowing the difference between being busy and being productive. Remember, the big distinguishing factor of a high performer is how they feel on the inside about who they are in relationship to their work.

We often think that stress is the result of internal deadlines, too much work or perhaps our family’s over-packed schedules. And while these certainly can add to a pressure cooker atmosphere, that is not really the greatest cause. The root of the problem with stress more than anything else, is the tremendous internal pressure and anxiety that we create for ourselves. We hold ourselves to these unrealistic expectations and then we judge ourselves when we aren’t perfect. Perfectionism is an unworthy pursuit, but transformation is a worthy pursuit. We all have the capacity to learn, to change and to grow. Mindfulness is an effective tool to help with transformation. Mindfulness is about paying attention in the present moment.

This isn’t easy because naturally our minds wander. The latest research from Harvard shows that our minds wander 47% of the time. I was shocked when I read that. That means that for almost half our life, our mind is wandering somewhere else. We have to train the mind on how to be in the present moment, because the only power we really have is in the moment of now.

You have heard us say several times, what you focus on grows. We also know, what you practice grows stronger. We know this by the scientific study of the brain’s neuroplasticity. Our brain physically changes with repeated practice. With repeated practice, we can shape and sculpt the brain.

They did a study of London taxi drivers. They found that the visual spatial mapping part of the brain is larger than the average person. This is because they are navigating the 25,000 streets of London all day long. Whereas the brain of a meditator, for example, the areas of learning, compassion and attention grow larger. This is in response to spaced repetitious learning; what we practice grows stronger.

The question becomes, what do you want to grow and what do you want to practice. If you want to have the mindset of a high performer, then you have to start practicing the habits and behaviors of a high performer, and you have to become mindful of those habits and behaviors. We practice mindfulness all the time, on a moment by moment basis; it’s not just in meditation. Mindfulness is not just about paying attention, it is about how we pay attention. We have this believe sometimes that if we beat ourselves up, we will improve. Shame does not work. Scientists have proven that when we feel shame, the centers of our brain for growth shut down. Shame literally robs the brain of the energy it needs to do the work around changing.

What is the alternative? The alternative is paying attention with kindness. Change and transformation is possible for us all, but you first have to make the choice that you want to change. There is so much power in a choice. When you do this, be sure to try to do this with yourself with kind attention.

-Jenni Byrd Grier


Jenni Byrd Grier, President of David Byrd Consulting, is an accomplished International speaker with more than 15 years of corporate management and leadership experience as well as an MBA in International Business. Jenni is a life-changing Next Level Achievement™ Coach who will help you create a vision, live life with intentionality, set goals and make them happen.  You can find more information on personalized coaching with Jenni here.

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