The performance formula that underpins all success and failure

Jan 15, 2021

“Our performance is driven by our behaviors. Our behaviors are driven by our emotions, which are driven by our thinking. So, our thinking is at the core of our performance. Yet we all have a lot of thoughts going on that are not supporting the performance we want”. David Rock

The difficulty with performing at our best, is that we all know what we should do, even how to do it, but we all get in our own way. 

Self-defeating thoughts and behaviors -driven by self-doubt- are the probably the number one reason you don’t achieve the results you want. 

W. Timothy Gallwey, in his famous book, The Inner Game of Tennis, came up with a useful formula for understanding and improving performance:

Performance = Potential – Interference

(p = P – I)

In other words, your performance in every area of your life is the sum of your potential minus interference from your fears, anxieties and self-doubt; our inner world. 

It follows, therefore, that it is not enough to focus on uncovering your potential unless we also focus on what is getting in the way; what is holding you back 

Few people in our life, except perhaps our mums, are as critical of us as we are with ourselves. We hold ourselves to impossibly high standards, which is great if it spurs you on to do and give your very best, not so great if it leads to self-flagellation and frustration.

Interference from your inner critic is especially harmful when it occurs not in retrospect of the event but while we are in the moment, creating a destructive cocktail of anxiety, self-consciousness, fear and dread that can seriously hamper our performance. 

And I’m not just talking about work presentations or public speaking, an overactive inner critic can ruin even a first date. 

If, on one hand, our inner critic can spur us on to constantly improve, upgrade our skills and knowledge and give our best, on the other hand, that insidious voice inside our head telling us we aren’t good enough can seriously hold us back. Business failures, missing out on promotions, poor appraisals and even passing up the perfect opportunity can all be the result of self-doubt and self-criticism. 

That’s why silencing our inner critic can be one of the hardest things to do, but also one of the most important.

I clearly remember the day I very nearly passed up a golden opportunity. I had just got back from a holiday when my friend sent me a job offer at the business school where she was working. It was a dream job for me: to write a book on commission for the business school, AND they would pay for my professional coach training and leadership training. My job at the time was likely to be axed due to company changes and I had been wanting to retrain as a professional coach for a long time, plus I love writing, so this was a wonderful and timely opportunity for me.  

Just one small catch though; they were looking for a University professor, somebody with a proven track record in writing and a portfolio of published articles and papers. That was definitely not me, as my inner critic rudely pointed out to me. 

My track record consisted solely of winning first prize in a creative writing competition in a foreign language competition at the University of Portsmouth and several unfinished books. 

Even just reading the job offer was making me feel anxious. The voice in my head was going crazy, pointing out all the ways I might let them down, fail to deliver, not be good enough and thoroughly embarrass myself in the process. 

Then something happened; I told my inner critic to please shut up for just a second and let me think. I took advantage of that moment of silence to contact my friend and ask her to organize an interview for that same day, before I had a chance to change my mind. 

And guess what? I actually got the job and had the most amazing, incredible and eye-opening year. 

That one decision, that one split second when I firmly told my voice of self-doubt to zip it, changed my life for the better. 

I learnt so much that year it blew my mind, and had a wonderful sense of rising to a challenge and achievement. The best part, however, was the wonderful friendships I made along the way and the career path that one opportunity took me on. 

A life changing experience and career change that allowed me to discover my true passion in life: coaching people and helping them grow and truly thrive by transforming their energy and uncovering their true potential. 

A life changing experience that all came from one split-second decision: telling my inner critic to zip it and choosing to take action despite my fear. 

I believe we can all benefit from learning to stand up to our inner critic. We live in an underacknowledged society where everyone is competing against everyone else and we are so quick to judge our own and other people’s failings. 

Why not practice instead looking for what you are and the people around you are doing well and giving yourself regular positive feedback and acknowledgment. 

Over time, this might just be the antidote to an overactive inner critic. 

One thing is for sure, the more we acknowledge ourselves and others for a job well done, the more we hardwire the habit of focusing on the positive and the more we positively impact our performance. 

Practice giving yourself and other people positive feedback every day, little verbal pats on the back and high-fives. Your brain needs acknowledgment and thrives on it, rewarding you with a lovely shot of dopamine and increased motivation. Studies show that being told “well done, you did a great job -I’m proud of you!” is more satisfying and can increase dopamine more than a financial reward. 

As a mother, I use this with my kids: I brought them up using the theory of “catch them when they’re good.” Rather than punishing bad behaviour, I chose instead to reward the good and reinforce in this way the behaviour I wanted. 

So, create the habit of acknowledging rather than judging or criticizing and you will combat the interference to your potential from the root cause: your self-defeating thoughts and your self-doubt. 

And that is how you unleash your full potential.