Does High Performance Take Effort?

Red squirrel looking alert with a nut in its mouth

Let’s just clear up this question straight away. High performance does not take effort. High performance is your natural state. It’s what you’ve learnt that’s taken you away from it, and therefore more learning doesn’t take you back there.

“You’re doing your best but instead of a V-8 engine, you’ve got a squirrel on a wheel chasing a peanut” Michael Neill

We all began life in acquisition mode — what can I get, learn or achieve in order to be successful in this world?

Michael points to this in Chapter 7 when he describes the experience of a 6-month-old and how it learns about the world, and learns that adding walking and talking into its repertoire seems like a really good idea so I can get where I want to go more quickly and I can communicate with others.

At that age there’s nothing in the way of the natural learning and high-performance process — it happens effortlessly. Practice happens because it just makes sense rather than being a drag or suggesting I’m in capable of picking this up quickly. ‘Failures’ occur as useful information to adjust technique rather than being seen as sources of shame.

Then the idea of self begins to be constructed in the mind along with associated ideas of what is counted as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in this home or school environment — what will keep me getting cuddles and food, what will get me laughed at or told off?

And so between the ages of two and late teens an idea of self grows, and the natural acquisitions of learning and achievement feel increasingly weightier and clunkier — psychologically at least — because you’ve been learning that they matter more and say more about your worth and value (they don’t inherently hold any power to say these things).

But nothing has actually changed about your natural ‘learn, practice, fail, adjust’ abilities — other than an idea in the mind. Which is why Jamie Smart talks about this work as subtractive psychology and why Michael shares this equation:

Performance = Capacity minus Interference

The interference is what makes it feel like high performance is an effort.

Anyone who’s gone near mindset work will know this, and yet most approaches try to actively remove the interference. Like taking a digger to the sandbank (see the video from Chapter 5).

Trouble is, doing this maintains the idea that the sand is real and true and needs ‘real’ action to be dealt with.

When really, truly, the sand is made of thought that constantly changes, comes and goes, invisible, intangible, un-nail-down-able — constantly being deposited and eroded. And, the more effortful, resistant attention we put on it — saying that it’s wrong, shouldn’t be here, needs to be got rid of — the more ‘real’ it seems and the more interference it creates.

In the absence of this effortful, resistant attention; interference naturally disappears, and performance naturally, automatically rises. Without effort. Michael uses the brilliant metaphor of plugging back into the mains. We don’t need to wait for the action of ‘plugging in’ to take effect on an electrical item. It’s instantaneous. And the same with us.

Look for it for yourself

Notice the natural ebb and flow between caught-up-in-thought and easeful, effortless action. Sometimes you might even spot that the latter isn’t always absent of sandbank thoughts, the thoughts just aren’t being given credence or being resisted — and therefore they aren’t creating interference.

Now you switch from believing high performance can be acquired and learnt, to seeing high performance is automatically available in the absence of interference, and unravelling interference is natural.

With love, Helen

It’s week 6 of the Brilliance Book Group where we’re reading Michael Neill ‘s “The Space Within”. Follow along with the blogs here which align with the chapter(s) we’re reading that week.

If you’d like to make it easier, sign up to my newsletter here to get these posts and other quotes, questions and resources relevant to the chapter direct to your inbox.

And if you want to join the next Brilliance Book Group, we’re reading Rhonda Byrne’s The Greatest Secret. Book your place here.

I coach and guide smart, passionate, curious people who care about improving the lives of those around them. Often coaches and leaders, they’ve worked hard all their lives to be the ‘best’ them and it doesn’t seem to have delivered the happiness, security or freedom they expected. Now they’re wondering what else is available. I guide you back, prior to stories, to remember the real you because that’s what you, me and the whole world really wants! Find out more here.

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