It’s been well-proven that high performers share many common positive traits. Favorable factors relating to discipline, resilience, focus, vision, thirst for knowledge and numerous of other characteristics fueling the fire of their success. On the flip side, like-minded dynamos also make plenty of the same choices and assumptions that are covertly impeding their advancement. This amid flawed thinking and behavior patterns that, at surface level, might seem minor or entirely inconsequential but are actually working against the grain of one’s goals and ambitions. The good news is that many are controllable choices—however unwittingly or purposely they have been made in the past.
Indeed, some definitions characterize self-sabotage as “a pattern of thoughts and behaviors you engage in, often without even knowing it, which creates obstacles to achieving your goals.” It’s key to proactively work to identify and rectify obstructive behaviors and malignant mindsets. This can be done by intentionally making productive replacement “do this instead of that” choices, which can be a powerful catalyst—one that kicks open new doors of opportunity.
According to lauded empowerment speaker and award-winning “Exponential Living” author Sheri Riley—a high-performance life coach for the likes of the NBA Coaches Association, Universal Music Group and several other notable organizations and individual athletes, entertainers and C-Suite executives—there are numerous specific, easily rectifiable choices that high achievers are making that often result in needless opportunity loss. Here are her top six.
1. Don’t spend 100% of your time on 10% of who you are.
Focusing all your energy on fostering professional growth with no intention around personal development is a mistake far too many make. While it’s understandable to do this early in your career, over time things get complicated. Over the months and years, life of high performers becomes more layered and complex, which can make a singular focus on one’s work life a catalyst for other areas of life to fall apart. Instead, endeavor to develop and grow more holistically to include other facets of your existence. Remain mindful that “you cannot fire a cannon from a canoe.” Sustaining high performance also requires personal growth—the kind that influences what type of teammate, parent, friend and spouse you are. The kind that also fosters the ability to handle non-work distractions, promote financial stability and be truly “present” when spending time with your friends and loved ones.
2. Leading with entitlement vs. accountability
Entitlement is often created from an environment where things come easily or quickly to someone. It can fuel the belief that the person on the winning end doesn’t just deserve—but is overtly due—their windfalls. Experts at the International Coach Academy agree that, rather than focusing energy on substantiating your “rightful rewards,” try leading with humility by taking accountability for your decisions and actions—namely those that may not have fared as well. They further underscore that doing so can serve as a “power tool” helping high performers build trust in relationships. Holding yourself accountable inherently makes you more vulnerable and, thus, more relatable and even approachable. By not presenting yourself as entitled and by owning and taking responsibility for all of your actions—and results related thereto—your character can grow and you’ll make better personal and professional decisions.
Success will surely open doors for you, both personally and professionally. When undertaken poorly, your ego, how you treat people and how you operate along that path is likely to burn bridges and close all too many of those doors. Instead of entitlement, arrogance or egotism around your wins, a gratitude mindset allows you to appreciate and demonstrate thankfulness for all you have accomplished while prompting others to equally laud your greatness and achievements.
3. Primarily communicating through technology
There is no denying the ample benefits that technology has provided us relative to communication. Even so, it’s not without its downsides. With email or text the chances of miscommunicating increases substantially and the sense of real human connection diminishes. On top of that, your phone or computer can be an omnipresent distraction. You might be on a call with a colleague or business partner, but that doesn’t stop you from answering a text or scrolling through Instagram in the midst of the conversation. Humans have become very adept at multitasking with technology but, with that, can come a decreased attention span and a lack of being fully present in the moment. It’s one of the reasons high achievers often experience needless opportunity loss. When you meet someone for a conversation face to face, you can show full engagement, without distractions or the type of miscommunication that can happen in text and email chains. Emphasis and inflections are lost, and even capitalizations or punctuation can be misinterpreted. In-person interactions also prevent others from delaying their response or “forgetting” to get back to you. With face-to-face dialogue, everything can happen in real time, in a free flowing conversation that allows you to deliver your words as enthused, persuasive or engaged as you’d intended.
4. Considering yourself irreplaceable
It’s not hard to understand why certain high-performers develop a highly motivated drive to be in the top 0.1% of their field. They live through a career filled with high praises and supporters, which often fuels their ego and drive to overachieve. However, this can easily lead to erroneous thinking that their talents are irreplaceable. The hard truth is that, while a high performer’s talent may appear to be invaluable, everyone is eventually replaceable. Repercussions of this mindset run the gamut: from to being unable to perceive and aptly react to real-life dynamics happening around you to being completely blindsided when you are replaced or, worse, outright laid off or broken up with. High performers would do well to appreciate that, however great they may be, focusing on personal development better prepares you to make the best decision once a role or opportunity changes. This is whether that is one’s own decision to retire or move on, or is driven by the organization due to extraneous factors like financials, politics, relationships and more that can threaten one’s standing. The key is to be as intentional about cultivating internal humility as you are in your external drive to achieve and be recognized. Doing so can sustainably substantiate your presence.
5. Failing to regularly stop and self-assess
High performers often fail to recognize when their skill sets are beginning to wane or when competition is threatening or surpassing them. Many times they will blame a loss or bad performance on a “bad day.” Doing so is a double edge sword. While this mentality can be helpful in demonstrating resilience, it can also prove detrimental when danger signs, risks and threats in and outside of one’s profession are disregarded. Take the time for intentional and deep self-reflection, as continual self-assessment is the only way to optimize every area of life.
What becomes tragic for many high performers is when they assume their high performance in one area automatically translates into anything else they decide to do. Being a great athlete doesn’t portend that you will be a great real estate investor. Being a great actor doesn’t mean you’ll thrive as a director. Being a great CEO doesn’t mean you’ll make a great husband or wife. Each area of life requires great self-examination to grow and improve. Otherwise, dangerous habits on each front will continue. If unchecked over a period of time, the result can be calamitous.
6. Assuming more work/life “balance” will alleviate the angst
Work/Life balance is a myth. Instead, strive for full life integration. Being intentional about how you allocate your time must include all aspects of what you deem important in life. What do you value? If you say, “I value my family more than work,” yet your calendar is filled with work meetings and not time with your family, is that truly what you value? We must commit to make what we assert as most important, to actually manifest as most important through your choices and behaviors. If you still feel unduly stressed or anxious despite achieving more work/life balance, try broadening your definition of success—especially in your personal, non-work life. The most successful people are reportedly those who achieve full life integration. One report suggests this can be facilitated by pursuing different avenues in life that foster a sense of satisfaction beyond career goals, like hobbies, passions or talents. In truth, this can alleviate some of the stress and compulsions one feels to over-perform and proffer a sense of success in multiple domains of one’s life.
“Too many success-driven people willingly and needlessly endure a lifetime of internal emptiness,” asserts Riley, a personal development growth authority revered for helping professionals—and companies at large like The Coca-Cola Company, JP Morgan Chase, Converse, the NBA, select NFL teams and more—identify and overcome obstacles through her Exponential Living programs.
“A favorite technique of many busy high achievers is to rationalize our misery,” she says. “We acknowledge that we are stressed out, unhappy, and unfulfilled, but we tell ourselves this comes with the territory of being successful and the tireless pursuit of more; that it’s the ‘price we have to pay.’ However, the truth is that this angst is the result of non-productive choices that are keeping us on the ‘hamster wheel’ and stagnating our growth potential.”
Apparently, another favorite device of high achievers is distraction. “We keep our minds and lives so full of to-do lists that we don’t take time to think deeply about our own actions, activities and views. We work almost nonstop and then, in the little time off we take, we fill our hours with noisy, flashy, consumable entertainment rather than taking time for self-assessment—the kind that can help us discover new ways to continue ‘polishing the jewel’ that is ourselves.”
It seems that some of a high achiever’s spare time would be better served by reflecting and re-evaluating whether their past and present choices—whether thought patters or actualized “ways of doing things” are best serving them. As a result of such concerted self-analysis regarding choices big and small, high achievers can ultimately determine if there’s any room for improvement. Inevitably, the conclusion will be—and should be—“yes.”