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Success Strategies

ARE YOU WINNING?

SUCCESS CHALLENGES SPECIFIC TO HIGH ACHIEVERS

1. High achievers have high expectations of themselves. For this reason, it may be difficult to feel successful.

2. High achievers have the capacity to win in multiple areas. This potential can make it difficult to discern and follow one’s personal pathway to success.

3. High achievers may be too attuned to others’ definitions of success instead of creating their own standards.

4. High achievers often feel the pressure to maintain the image of success that others have bestowed on them.

A CLIENT STORY – Setting Boundaries at Work

A major theme across clients is the issue of self-care and boundaries. It is impossible to maintain a high quality of life and peak performance without assertiveness and boundary-setting. The success story below is from a client who has begun governing his own life instead of allowing it to be run by others.

Eric is a typical high achiever. He is an upper level supervisor who works hard and is excellent at his job. Unfortunately, Eric's CEO has no sense of work boundaries. He believes that people should get in early, stay late, work weekends, and essentially be available whenever he is working.
The CEO's mood is mercurial. Other people have been cut from the company, and Eric is concerned about keeping the CEO happy. Additionally, Eric's high achieving personality style makes it very difficult for him to turn away from work that needs to be done.
First, we worked on why Eric, who has never had difficulty obtaining a job, feels it necessary to continue "making it work" at the company. I frequently find that people need to reduce their fear of getting fired before they are able to set boundaries. Eric began using his voice to assert the needs of his team and to stop taking on everyone else's responsibilities. In doing so, he gradually let go of the need to "prove" himself as a great employee. We developed specific strategies for handling emails and texts. Eric gradually reduced his responses in the non-work hours. He is now able to get uninterrupted sleep and to start and end his day on his own terms instead of automatically responding to the needs of others. It took guts and courage to move away from his default response mode. Go Eric!

REMEMBER TO CONSISTENTLY ASSESS YOUR STRATEGIES AND OUTCOMES.

–Dr. Tricia

REMOVE THE CEILINGS FROM YOUR PERFORMANCE

Success Strategies – Dr. Tricia’s Favorites

Do you train yourself? What rewards and consequences work for you? In what environments do you succeed? What is the pattern to your actions? What causes your reactions? The same behavioral principles that apply to dogs, cats, and rats, apply to people. Step back and assess your behavior. Systematically, change the variables until you figure out how to optimize your responses.
People frequently say “I’m not motivated,” as if the feeling of motivation is necessary to take action. “I don’t feel like it.” Who cares? Do it anyway. If you struggle with getting yourself to do things you do not feel like doing, see “Treat Yourself Like a Rat.” Ultimately, if our forward momentum is always at the mercy of our temporary state of mood, our performance will always be a slave to our perceived motivation. A trick—talk to yourself. “I know you don’t feel like doing this John, but you can do it. I know you would rather do any of the other 20 things on this list, but let’s do this one first.” When you feel like stomping your feet and having a tantrum instead of doing what is necessary, give yourself some tough love and do it anyway.
“I don’t want to rock the boat. I’ll let someone else rock it.” These words were spoken from someone who was telling me about a work frustration that caused stress and decreased her ability to perform at the highest level. The sad thing is, that this particular problem could have been effectively addressed if just one or two people were willing to call it to the attention of the group. If you can get comfortable with the discomfort of “rocking the boat,” you’ll frequently save your own sanity, save others’ hassle, and gain the respect of those around you. Additionally you’ll learn that “rocking the boat” really isn’t the end of the world; it just requires some temporary discomfort.
You can figure out pretty quickly if you have a clear vision by being in a setting where others are asking you questions about your plan. If your vision is clear, you’ll be able to field most questions with fairly articulate answers. If it’s not, you will feel (and it will sound) vague and undefined. Having a clear vision allows us to start mapping plans on how to achieve it and to be more focused and efficient with our efforts.
In addition to being fun, giving our brains a break helps to fuel insight. Specifically, the intentional engagement of our frontal lobe (where we think and problem-solve) tends to inhibit those lightbulb moments. Remember how you are able to remember something after you STOP trying to? Did you ever notice that you get some of your best ideas while on vacation? Intentionally giving yourself a break makes life more fun, but also brings your performance to a higher level. Try it!

Success Strategies – Optimal Focus

“If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well.” Okay…but how well? Should we do everything with excellence? It sounds great in theory, but this strategy conflicts with the reality of limited time, energy, and finances. When I was in my PhD program, I realized that I had no idea how to differentiate the amount of effort to get an A versus a B. I had always done everything to the absolute best of my ability and had gotten A's as a result. But what if I could learn the same amount of information, and still get an A with 75% of my capacity instead of 100% of my capacity? I systematically varied my efforts until I figured out the point at which additional efforts yielded diminishing returns. The real-life application of this is knowing the result we want and how much effort we need in order to get it. Without that knowledge, we put ceilings on our success because we inadvertently waste time and/or money on items in which additional investment will not get us closer to our goals.
You can do it better than everyone else. I get it. The problem is that the more talented you are across areas, the higher the likelihood that you will more competent than other people at many things. Choose the items that don’t need your magic touch…in order to free up your time for those that do.
Boundaries—saying no. Saying “no” is one of the most important variables of peak performance. Without this ability, there will always be ceilings on your performance. The stress of being stretched in too many directions will decrease your energy. The higher the number of balls one has to juggle, the lower the amount of attention that can be designated to the most important ones. In addition to saying “no” to obligations, try saying “no” to all of the friends, activities, or conversations that drain your energy. The other side of assertiveness is saying "yes." Speak your needs. You need to personally understand your desires and priorities first. Then speak them in the appropriate situations. Being assertive is never about being selfish or mean; it is simply respecting ourselves as much as we respect others.
Most people have heard that we are able to get more mileage out of honing our strengths than we do by remediating our weaknesses. The Mendoza line refers to the minimal performance on our weaknesses that will allow us to continue playing in the game. It is a baseball reference to an excellent outfield player with a low batting average. The batting average was just high enough to allow him to continue playing professional baseball. The friend who introduced me to this concept said that he seeks to hit the Mendoza line for his weaknesses but puts the majority of effort into honing and stretching his strengths.

Success Strategies – Social Support

I understand that it doesn’t feel good, but you need to be vulnerable in order to succeed. Sometimes being vulnerable facilitates emotional support: “you’re normal. I would have reacted that way too. It’s okay.”Sometimes it gives you important feedback: “this is a strategy that you could try to get what you want." Choose only safe people with whom to be vulnerable. You want to grow a cluster of people who think you are the best thing since sliced bread EVEN if you are a detail-oriented, control freak. You will be able to quickly explain all variables of a situation without masking or self-protecting. This quick disclosure can save you from hours of agonizing and give you the information you need to keep on moving.
Forming relationships with those older or more experienced than us accelerates our learning curve. Being around those more successful (in any area), tends to make us stretch ourselves. Forming relationships with those younger or less experienced affords access to cross-generational thought, the ability to give back by mentoring, and the recognition of where we are stuck in a rut and might need to consider something fresh. Frequently, we gravitate toward people who are similar to us because it is comfortable. This tendency is fine for close friendships, as long as we are also engaging with people who take us a little bit outside of our comfort zone.
It looks similar to delegating, but it’s different. The difficulty with delegating usually occurs from concern about finding someone who can do it as well as we can. Asking for help is the “H” word. We are strong, powerful people. We are supposed to be the helpers. How dare we infringe on others’ time? It's a horrible thing to acknowledge in public that we are not all-powerful! Yet, not asking for help robs everyone. Everyone needs to be needed. People need to feel that they are doing more than “taking up space.” And when you ask for help from someone, it reinforces to them that they have a place and a purpose in this world.

Success Strategies – Reality Checks

Most intelligent people will agree that time, finances, and energy are all finite. However, there is a tendency to act as if one or more of these are infinite. “If I just try harder, I can bypass all of the laws of the universe and make this work.” When people are able to accept that resources are finite, they make more logical choices. Working within the realm of reality allows them to set achievable goals, reach them, and in doing so, fuels continued success. It is in this area, that the acceptance of ceilings, frees a person for peak performance.
On one hand most people think they learn from their experiences. Yet, I continue to be somewhat surprised by the optimism that defies all information at hand. If your organization has placed priority on putting out fires over the last five years instead of focusing on preventing new ones, another conversation about the problem is unlikely to change it. If your colleague has shared confidential information before, he/she will do so again. If your supervisor/subordinate has repeatedly made promises that they will ______, why do you think it will actually happen this time? When we ignore the past and just hope for the best, we waste time and energy. I have a three strike rule: first occurrence (of anything negative) is a pink flag, second occurrence indicates a probable pattern, third occurrence indicates a definite pattern and necessitates a change in approach.
Assumptions are cognitive short-cuts. They can be helpful in optimizing our resources. I assume that a chair will hold me if I sit on it. Sometimes assumptions save us time; sometimes they waste our time. The biggest ceiling I see is when we make assumptions about what other people are thinking. A person may center an entire strategy based on the assumption of what another person is thinking. When it comes to people, ask. Ask your friends, your colleagues, your family. Practice asking. Secondly, don't make assumptions about new experiences. If you predict what you think will happen, you may be less likely to try something new. Trying new things is critical to both personal and professional success. Make a commitment to put a pause on your assumptions when new opportunities arise. Obtain the necessary information first, then make the decision.

Success Strategies – Personal Confidence

Most human beings try to avoid negative feelings. When we really mess things up, we emotionally go into a corner, like a small child….or pull the covers over our heads and try not to look at it. Shame is when we feel bad about ourselves as people. The problem with it, is that the emotion is so painful, that we avoid it, thus preventing problem-solving. Half of our learning is linked to being able to assess what variables caused something to go wrong so that we can correct them for future events. There is a tendency (especially with men) to say “it happened, I can’t change it, it’s in the past.” The problem with this strategy is that the negative emotion is still present and there has been no specific learning about how to prevent it from happening in the future. (Note: saying “I won’t do it again is NOT a specific strategy.”)
Being embarrassed by our flaws causes us to spend inordinate amounts of time trying to mask them or remediate them. It also makes us come across as less confident to others. Accepting weaknesses allows us to use our time more wisely, gives us a great deal of emotional freedom, and promotes a positive perspective. Within ourselves, we need to believe "I'm bad at this, but I am still a valuable person." To others, we need to be able to say "yes, I'm horrible at that"....while maintaining a confident smile."
I am the first to encourage the “fake it till you make it” approach to help people DO things even if they don’t feel confident. At the same time, a lack of confidence slows us down. Low confidence causes worry and anxiety, creating emotional drag on our performance.
It’s not that you’re jumping out of your skin or crying every day. It’s just that you feel stressed out and it’s difficult to calm your thoughts. You’re not sleeping as well. Maybe you’re just in a funk. Life is okay, but you can’t seem to muster the enthusiasm you want for the activities you usually enjoy. These symptoms dull our mental edge. We tend to be more easily distracted. Our memory isn’t as sharp. A lot of high achievers just power through it, but for peak performance, it’s better to figure out a solution so that you can keep your edge and reduce the emotional drag.

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