High Performance Habits
Chapter Excerpt: First Two Chapters!
Some background information before the excerpt….
Hopefully by now, you’ve heard I have a new book coming out. It’s called High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way. It comes out September 19th, but is available for pre-order with some AMAZING bonuses right now… you can get the deluxe audiobook, a professional performance assessment, and a four-hour LIVE training with me for free when you pre-order here now.
I always try to give you guys a sneak peek, so please enjoy the description, and a free chapter below!
This is the most important book of my career. I spent three years and almost a million dollars in conducting the research. It’s likely the largest study of high performers ever done, if one considers the number of people we surveyed, the depth of the interviews, the vast worldwide data set we have on our personal development students and clients, and the decade of my own professional insights as the world’s leading high performance coach and trainer that informed the work. It’s incredibly comprehensive. Still, it’s readable – my most personal book yet.
The vignettes, research and totally-doable practices will help you become even more extraordinary in your personal and professional life.
The chapter below is called NECESSITY, and it’s a big reason high performers excel across situations and domains. Enjoy!
ABOUT THE BOOK
Summary of High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way by Brendon Burchard
After extensive original research and a decade as the world’s highest-paid performance coach, Brendon Burchard finally reveals the most effective habits for reaching long-term success. Based on one of the largest surveys ever conducted on high performers, it turns out that just six habits move the needle the most in helping you succeed. Adopt these six habits, and you win. Neglect them, and life is a never-ending slog where plateaus, distractions and emotional turmoil are the norm.
We all want to be high performing in every area of our lives. But how? Which habits can help you achieve long-term success and vibrant well-being no matter your age, career, strengths, or personality? To become a high performer, you must seek clarity, generate energy, raise necessity, increase productivity, develop influence, and demonstrate courage. These are the personal and social habits that are proven to help you excel. This book is about the art and science of how to practice these proven habits.
If you do adopt any new habits to succeed faster, choose the habits in this book because they are statistically more powerful than almost 100 other habits. Anyone can practice these habits and, when they do, extraordinary things happen in their lives, relationships, and careers.
Whether you want to get more done, lead others better, develop skill faster, or dramatically increase your sense of joy and confidence, the habits in this book will help you achieve it. Each of the six habits is illustrated by powerful vignettes, cutting-edge science, thought-provoking exercises, and real-world daily practices you can implement right now.
HIGH PERFORMANCE HABITS is a science-backed, heart-centered plan to living a better quality of life. Best of all, you can measure your progress. A link to a professional assessment is included in the book for free.
The following excerpt is from pages 1-32 of High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard. Used with permission. (c) 2017 High Performance Research.
“Why are you so terrified to want more?”
A large oak desk separates me from Lynn. She pulls back in her chair and stares out the window for a moment. We’re on the forty-second floor, nearly eye level with the morning mist, looking out over the ocean.
Even before I ask the question, I know she won’t like it.
Lynn is one of those people you could describe as highly effective. She’s focused and gets stuff done. She exhibits strengths for critical thinking and leading others. She’s received three big promotions in five years. People admire her. They say she’s on her way, that she’s got the “it” factor.
“Terrified” is not how most would describe her. But I know.
She glances back at me and starts to reply: “Well, I wouldn’t say that I’m . . .”
I lean in and shake my head.
She catches herself and nods, smoothing her already smooth brown hair. She knows she can’t get away with a fake story right now.
“Okay,” Lynn says. “Maybe you’re right. I’m scared to go to the next level.”
I ask why.
“Because I’m barely surviving this one.”
This book is about how people become extraordinary, and why others block themselves from that possibility. It will show clearly and unmistakably why some excel, others fail, and far too many never even try.
As a high performance coach, I’ve worked with a lot of people like Lynn. Achievers fight long and hard to succeed, propelling themselves forward by grit and hustle. And then, at some point they could never have anticipated, they plateau, lose passion, or burn out. To outside observers, they may appear steady and calm as they plod ahead. But deep inside, achievers often feel that they are thrashing about, lost in a sea of priorities and opportunities. They feel unsure what to focus on or how to confidently replicate or scale their success. They’ve come far in life yet still have no standard operating principles for sustaining success. Even though they’re capable, many live in constant fear that they will fall behind or catastrophically fail to handle the demands of the next level of success.
Why the fear and hardship? And why do some people break free from this reality, keep rising higher, and enjoy the vibrant well-being and abundant long-term success that so many envy or consider out of reach?
To understand the phenomenon, this book pulls together twenty years of research, ten years of insights gained from elite-level performance coaching, and a vast data set on high performers worldwide gathered through surveys, structured interviews, and professional assessment tools. It will reveal what it takes to become not just an achiever but a high performer—someone who creates ever-increasing levels of both well-being and external success over the long term.
During the journey, I will expose many of the prevailing myths about “success,” including why grit, willpower, practice, and your “natural” strengths and talents are not enough to take you to the next level in a world that demands you add value, lead others, and manage competing priorities and complex projects. To reach high performance, you have to consider more than your individual passions and efforts, and you’ll have to go well beyond what you like, prefer, or naturally do well, because, to be frank, the world cares less about your strengths and personality than about your service and meaningful contributions to others.
By the end of this book, you will never again wonder what it really takes to succeed when starting a new project at work or pursuing a bold new dream. You will be empowered with a set of reliable habits that research has shown to work with a broad range of personalities, and in a variety of situations, to create extraordinary long-term results. You’ll feel a new sense of vital energy and confidence from knowing where to focus your energies and how to serve most effectively. You’ll understand how to keep growing after you’ve enjoyed initial success. If you’re ever thrown into a situation where you must work or compete with others at the highest levels of achievement, you’ll know exactly how to think and what to do.
This isn’t to say you will be superhuman, or need to be. You have flaws; we all do. Yet at the end of this book, you’ll say to yourself, “I finally know exactly how to be consistently at my best. I’m confident in my ability to figure things out, and fully capable of overcoming adversity on the path of success, for the rest of my life.” You will have a standard mental operating system and proven set of habits that reliably lead to long-term success across many different situations, and across multiple domains of life. In my own work as a high performance coach, I’ve seen these habits transform the effectiveness of people from all walks of life—from Fortune 50 CEOs to entertainers, from Olympians to everyday parents, from world-class experts to high school students. If you’ve ever wanted a serious field-tested and science-backed path to improving your life, you have found it, here in this book.
Armed with the information you’ll learn in the pages ahead, you will live a life in which your full potential is in play, you have a vital sense of well-being, you are capable of leading others to excellence, and you are deeply fulfilled. Assuming you bring full intention and discipline to deploying the high performance habits, you’re about to enter a very transformational period of your life and career. You’re about to become even more extraordinary.
Why This Book? Why Now?
I’ve been blessed to train millions of people worldwide on personal and professional development, and I can report that it’s a palpable feeling everywhere right now: people are tremendously uncertain about how to get ahead and which decisions are right for them, their families, and their careers. People want to scale up, but they’re wiped out. They’re working so hard, but they’re just not breaking through. They are driven but don’t always know exactly what they want. They desire to go for their dreams, yet they’re afraid they’ll be judged crazy or fail if they try.
Add to that the unrelenting tasks, the self-doubt, the unwanted obligations, the overwhelming choices and responsibilities—it’s enough to exhaust anyone. For too many, there is a sense that things will never get better and they’ll always be swimming in a churning sea of distractions and disappointments. If that sounds dire, it is. People are hopeful and ready to make a change, but lacking direction and the right habits they risk living unexciting, disconnected, unfulfilling lives.
Of course, many people are living happy, wonderful lives. But consistency is a problem. They may feel capable—even feel that they hit “peak performance” once in a while—but there’s always that steep cliff on the other side. And so people are tired of the ups and downs of peak performance. They’re wondering how to reach heightened and sustained growth and success. They don’t need just new tricks to get into better states and moods; they need real skills and methods for holistically advancing their lives and careers.
That’s not an easy order. Though everyone says they want to advance in every area of their lives, many, like Lynn, are deeply concerned that pursuing their dreams will cause collateral damage—wrecked relationships, financial ruin, social ridicule, unbearable stress. At some point, perhaps, we all worry about such things. Isn’t it true that you already know how to get stuff done, yet sometimes you limit your vision for the future because you’re already so busy, so stressed, so overextended?
It’s not that you’re incapable of performing better. You know that sometimes you crush it on one project at work, but struggle on another, similar one. You know that you can be a star in one social setting, but not in another. You know how to motivate yourself, but sometimes you hate yourself at the end of the day for having completed nothing but a three-season binge on Netflix.
Perhaps, too, you’ve noticed other people advancing more quickly than you. Maybe you’ve seen one of your peers just waltz with grace from project to project, succeeding each time no matter what gets thrown in their way. It’s as if you can put them in any context, any team, any company, any industry, and they’ll just win.
Who are these people, and what’s their secret? They are high performers, and their secret is their habits. The good news is you can become one of them, and you can leverage those same habits whatever your background, personality, weaknesses, or field of endeavor. With the right training and habits, anyone can become a high performer, and I can prove it. That’s why I wrote this book for you.
The Baseline Moved
Many of us feel a gap between our ordinary lives and the extraordinary lives we wish to have. Fifty years ago, perhaps, it was easier to navigate the world and get ahead. The baseline for success was more straightforward: “Work hard. Play by the rules. Keep your head down. Don’t ask too many questions. Follow the leader. Take time to master something that will keep you around here.”
Then, twenty years ago, the baseline began to shift. “Work hard. Break the rules. Keep your head up—optimists win. Ask questions of the experts. You are a leader. Hurry up and figure it out.”
Today, for many, the baseline feels distant, blurred, almost unknowable. Gone are the days when our work was predictable and the expectations of those around us were “fixed.” Change accelerated. Now everything feels chaotic. Your boss, lover, or customer always wants something new, now. Your work isn’t as simple or siloed as it used to be. And if it is, the odds are, a computer or a robot may soon replace you. To compound the stress, now everything is connected, so if you mess up one thing, it messes up an entire network of other things. Mistakes are no longer private affairs. They are public and global.
It’s a new world. Certainty is down, yet expectations are up. Instead of mantras about working hard, following the rules, keeping your head down or up, we have an unspoken but widely accepted norm: “Pretend you’re not working as hard, so your friends are impressed with your leisurely posts and photos at breakfast, but yes, work hard. Don’t wait for instruction, because there are no rules. Try to keep your head on, because it’s a madhouse here. Ask questions, but don’t expect anyone to know the answers. There are no leaders, because we all lead, so just find your groove for right now and add value. You’ll never figure anything out—just keep adapting, because tomorrow everything changes again.”
This isn’t just unsettling. Getting ahead amid the chaos feels like trying to run under ten feet of murky water. You can’t see where you’re going. You’re flailing about, but there’s no progress. You’re looking for help, an edge, a lifeline, anything, but you’re not finding any air or any stairs out. You had good intentions and a strong work ethic, but you don’t even know where to apply them. You have people counting on you, but you’re not sure which direction to point.
Even if you don’t feel as if you are drowning, you might sense that you are plateauing. Or maybe you have the sinking feeling that you’re about to be left behind. Sure, you’ve gotten ahead so far by sheer passion, guts, and hard work. You’ve climbed a few mountains. But the next questions are throwing you off: Where to now? How to go higher? Why are others climbing more quickly than I am? When, if ever, can I relax and set down some roots? Does it always have to feel like such a grind? Am I really living my best life?
What you need is a reliable set of practices for unleashing your greatest abilities. Study high performers and you will see that they have systems built into their days that drive their success. Systems are what separate the pro from the novice, and science from armchair philosophy. Without systems, you cannot test hypothesis, track progress, or repeatedly deliver exceptional results. In personal and professional development, these systems and procedures are, ultimately, habits. But which ones work?
What’s Not Working
When we try to deal with the difficult demands of today, what advice do we receive? The same thing we’ve been told for hundreds of years, perhaps with a few feel-good twists:
- Work hard.
- Be passionate.
- Focus on your strengths.
- Practice a lot.
- Stick to it.
- Be grateful.
No doubt, this is popular, positive, useful advice. It’s solid and it’s timeless. You can’t go wrong with this philosophy. And it certainly makes one hell of a commencement speech.
But is this advice adequate?
Do you know any hardworking people who have all these things going for them, yet they’re still not even close to the level of success and fulfillment they want in life?
Isn’t it true that there are billions of hard workers on the bottom of the pile? Don’t you know plenty of passionate people in your hometown who have plateaued? Haven’t you met plenty of people who know their strengths but still struggle with clarity, don’t have a clue what to do when a new project starts, and keep getting surpassed by people with lesser strengths?
Maybe all these people should practice more, right? Put in their ten thousand hours? But lots of practices happen and championships are still lost. Maybe it’s their attitude? Maybe they should just be more grateful and mindful? Yet there are plenty of folks gratefully persevering themselves into dead-end jobs and relationships.
My Search for a Better Way
I was one of those people. As a young man, I was the one drowning. When I was nineteen, I had become despondent and suicidal after a breakup with the first woman I ever loved. It was a very dark time. Ironically, what pulled me through the emotional wreckage at that point of my life was a car accident. My friend was driving when we flipped off the highway going about eighty-five miles per hour. We both ended up bloody and terrified but alive. The incident changed my life, giving me what I call “mortality motivation.”
I’ve written about my accident in my previous books, so I’ll just share what I learned: Life is precious beyond words, and when you get a second chance—and every morning, every decision, can be that second chance—take a moment to define who you really are and what you really want. I realized I didn’t want to take my life; I wanted to live. My heart had been broken, yes, but I still wanted to love. I felt I was given a second chance, so I wanted to make it matter, to make a difference. Live. Love. Matter. That became my mantra. That’s when I decided to change. That’s when I started looking for answers to live a more charged, connected, and contributing life.
I did the things you would expect: I read all the self-help books. I took psychology classes. I listened to the motivational audio programs. I went to the personal development seminars, and I followed the formula they all espoused: I worked hard. I was passionate. I focused on my strengths. I practiced. I stuck to it. I was grateful on the journey.
And you know what? It worked.
The advice changed my life. Over a period of years, I ended up with a good job, a good girlfriend, a good set of friends, and a decent place to live. I had much to be grateful for.
But then, even while practicing all that basic good advice, I plateaued. For six or seven years, life didn’t really advance that much for me. It was maddening. There’s something frustrating about working hard, being passionate and grateful, and still not advancing, still not feeling it. There’s also something depleting about it all: excelling sometimes but feeling exhausted too often; having grit and getting paid but not feeling rewarded; being motivated but not creating real momentum; engaging with others but not really connecting; adding value but not making a dent. That’s not a vision of the life we desire.
Slowly, I realized that I’d had some success, though I couldn’t say why. I wasn’t as disciplined as I wanted to be, I was far from world-class, and I wasn’t contributing at the level I desired, either. I wanted an exacting plan for what I needed to do every day, and in every new situation, so I could learn faster, contribute better, and, yes, also enjoy the journey more.
I realized that the problem with the old formula for success—work hard; be passionate; focus on your strengths; practice a lot; stick to it; be grateful—is that so much of it is geared toward individual results and initial success. These things get you in the game and keep you in the game. But what happens after you’ve gotten those first wins? What happens after you have earned those grades, found some passion, gotten that job or started that dream, developed some expertise, saved some money, fallen in love, built some momentum? What helps when you want to become world-class, to lead, to create lasting impact beyond yourself? How can you generate the confidence you need to reach the next level of success? How can you joyfully sustain success over the long term? How can you inspire and empower others to do the same?
Answering such questions became my personal obsession and, ultimately, my profession.
High Performance Lessons
This book is the culmination of the intervening twenty years as I have sought answers to three fundamental questions:
- Why do some individuals and teams succeed more quickly than others and sustain that success over the long term?
- Of those who pull it off, why are some miserable and others happy on their journey?
- What motivates people to reach for higher levels of success in the first place, and what kinds of habits, training, and support help them improve faster?
My work and research into these questions—what have become known as high performance studies—have led me to interview, coach, or train many of the world’s most successful and happiest people, from CEOs to celebrities, from high-level entrepreneurs to entertainers such as Oprah and Usher, from parents to professionals in dozens of industries, to more than 1,600,000 students from 195 countries around the world who have taken my online courses or video series.
The adventure has taken me into tension-filled boardrooms and Super Bowl locker rooms, onto Olympic tracks, up in private helicopters with billionaires, and to dinner tables around the world, where I’ve talked with my students, research participants, and everyday people striving to improve their lives.
This work helped me create the world’s most popular online course on high performance, the most widely read newsletter related to the topic, and the largest data set on high performers’ self-reported personal characteristics. It also led to the founding of the High Performance Institute, where a team of scholars and I conduct research on how high performers think, behave, influence others, and win. We’ve created the world’s only validated high performance assessment as well as the first professional certification program in the field: Certified High Performance Coaching™. We have now been blessed to train, coach, and measure more high performers than any other organization in the world, and I personally certify over two hundred elite-level high performance coaches per year.
The insights from all these efforts fill this book. The research not only spans twenty years of my own personal development and self-experimentation, but also includes data from coaching interventions with thousands of clients, detailed before-and-after assessments from thousands of live-workshop attendees, structured interviews with hundreds of people at the top of their fields, insights gleaned from academic literature reviews, and hundreds of thousands of codified comments from my students and from my free online training videos, which have received over 100,000,000 views.
From this vast data set and two decades of experience, I’ve found habits that have been tested and proved in both personal and professional contexts. Here’s what I’ve learned:
With the right habits, anyone can dramatically increase results and become a high performer in almost any field of endeavor.
High performance is not strongly correlated with age, education, income, race, nationality, or gender. This means that many of the excuses we use to explain why we can’t succeed are simply wrong. High performance is not achieved by a specific kind of person, but rather by a specific set of practices, which I call high performance habits. Anyone can learn them, regardless of experience, strengths, personality, or position. People who are struggling to make new progress can use this book to revitalize their lives, get ahead, and fulfill their potential. And those who are already successful can use this to get to the next level.
Not all habits are created equal.
It turns out that there are bad, good, better, and best habits for realizing your full potential in your life and career. It matters which practices in your life come first and how they are arranged to create effective habits. If there’s anything special about the work of my team of researchers, it’s that we’ve cracked the code, figuring out which habits matter most and how you can set up practices that strengthen and sustain these habits. Yes, you can start a gratitude journal and that will make you happier, but is it enough to propel you toward real progress in every area of your life? Yes, you can start a new morning routine, but will that be enough to significantly improve your overall performance and happiness? (The answer is no, by the way). So where to focus? We’ve found that six deliberate habits move the needle most in helping you reach high performance across multiple domains of your life. We’ve also learned that there are habits for tactically getting ahead, and strategic habits for enjoying life. You’ll learn both.
Achievement is not your problem—alignment is.
If you’re reading these words, then the odds are that achievement is not the issue. You already know how to set goals, make checklists, knock off to-dos. You care about excelling in your chosen field. But odds are, you’re experiencing your fair share of stress and overwhelm. You can deliver, sure, but you’ll learn something every achiever must discover: just because people want to put things on your plate because you’re good doesn’t mean you should let them. What’s achievable is not always what’s important. You have a lot of things you can do. So the central question shifts from “How do I achieve more?” to “How would I like to live?” This book is an escape plan from the soul-killing singular pursuit of external success for no other reason than achievement for achievement’s sake. It’s about realigning your thoughts and behaviors so that you can experience growth, well-being, and fulfillment as you strive.
Certainty is the enemy of growth and high performance.
Too many people want certainty amid the chaos of this world. But certainty is the fool’s dream and, thus, the charlatan’s selling point. Certainty ultimately blinds you, sets false or fixed limits, and creates “automatic” habits that become predictable bad thinking and openings for your competitors to surpass you. The person who is certain is most closed to learning, most vulnerable to dogma, and most likely to be blindsided and overtaken by innovators. You’ll learn that high performers outgrow their youthful need for certainty and replace it with curiosity and genuine self-confidence.
Technology won’t save us.
We’ve been sold this alluring vision of a world where new gadgets will make us smarter, faster, and better. But many of us are beginning to see behind the hype. Tools cannot replace wisdom. You can have all the gadgets in the world and dive deep into the “quantified self” movement, where every step, second of sleep, beat of your heart, and moment of your day is tracked, scored, gamified. But a lot of people are connected and tracking and remain alone and troubled. Too many are checking in to all the apps and stats and still losing touch with their real ambitions and soul. Amid all the excitement about technology improving our lives, it turns out that what does the job better than anything else are simple human habits of high performance.
What Is High Performance?
For our purposes in this book, high performance refers to succeeding beyond standard norms, consistently over the long term.
However success is defined in any given field of endeavor, a high performer—be it a person, team, company, or culture—simply does better for longer periods. But high performance isn’t just about never-ending improvement. Mere improvement does not always result in high performance. Lots of people are improving but not necessarily crushing it—they’re inching forward, but so is everyone else. Lots of people make progress but not real impact. High performers break the norms. They’re consistently exceeding the standard expectations and results.
High performance is also very different from mere expertise development. The quest isn’t just to learn a new skill or language, or become a chess master, a world-class pianist, or a CEO. A high performer in any field isn’t just good at a singular task or skill—she or he has learned adjacent competencies to complement a particular expertise. They are not a one-hit wonder. They have multiple skill sets that allow them to succeed over the long term and—importantly— lead others. They practice meta-habits that enable them to excel in multiple areas of their lives. A Super Bowl–winning quarterback doesn’t just know how to throw a ball. He has had to master mental toughness, nutrition, self-discipline, team leadership, strength and conditioning, contract negotiations, brand building, and so on. Someone who reaches high performance in any career must have competence in many of the areas that touch that career.
In our definition of high performance, “consistently” followed by “over the long term” may seem redundant. But the two are, in fact, different. For example, high performers don’t “end up” successful at the very last minute of a decade’s efforts. They don’t come crashing across the finish line of success. They’re steady. They regularly beat expectations. There is a consistency to their efforts that eludes their peers. That’s why, when you look at them post-success, you come to realize they are not surprise winners.
As you will learn, meeting this definition of “succeeding beyond standard norms consistently over the long term” requires habits that protect your well-being, maintain positive relationships, and ensure that you serve others as you climb. You simply can’t beat the norms if you’ve driven yourself into the ground. As it turns out, high performers’ sustained success is due in large part to their healthy approach to living. It’s not just about achievement in a profession or in just one area of interest. It’s about creating a high performance life, in which you experience an ongoing feeling of full engagement, joy, and confidence that comes from being your best self.
That’s why the high performance approach extends beyond such popular concepts as “focus on your strengths” and “just put in your ten thousand hours.” Lots of people have amazing personal strengths, but they destroy their health in their quest for success and, thus, can’t maintain high performance. Lots of people obsessively practice or put in the hours to such a degree that they destroy the relationships they need to support their continuing growth. They push away the coach who was helping them progress; they ruin a relationship, and the emotional fallout knocks them off their game; they upset their investors, and suddenly there’s no money coming in to keep growing.
I care that you succeed and have a healthy life
full of positive emotions and relationships.
High performance, as I define it and as the data confirms, is not about getting ahead at all costs. It’s about forming habits that help you both excel in and enrich the full spectrum of your life.
Organizations, too, move in and out of high performance. Today more than ever, organizations worldwide struggle to stay consistently out front. Many senior leaders are fighting disengaged or underperforming organizational cultures. They desperately want to take on bold visions and push their people harder, but they already realize that their people are burning out. That’s why executives will love this book: they’ll be thrilled to learn that their organizations can be healthy and high performing. In fact, the latter requires the former. The habits in this book work just as well for teams as for individuals.
To those individual high achievers and leaders who want to help their organizations excel: trust that you can reach the next level of success more sanely, swiftly, and confidently than last time. There is indeed a better way to live and lead, and the good news is that it’s not a mystery. The high performance habits in this book are precise, actionable, repeatable, scalable, and sustainable.
What We Know about High Performers
What do we know about the people who succeed beyond standard measures consistently over the long term?
High performers are more successful than their peers, yet they are less stressed.
The myth that we have to grin and bear more burdens and anxiety as we become more successful simply isn’t true (as long as we have the right life habits). You can live an extraordinary life that is far different from the battle that most people endure as they fight for survival or experience achievement only by bluster or burnout. This isn’t to say high performers don’t ever feel stress—they do—but they cope better, stay more resilient, and experience less severe performance dips related to fatigue, distraction, and overwhelm.
High performers love challenges and are more confident that they will achieve their goals despite adversity.
Too many people avoid any sense of hardship in their lives. They fear they can’t handle it or that they’ll be judged or rejected. But high performers are different. It’s not that they lack any self-doubt at all. It’s that they look forward to trying new things and they believe in their abilities to figure things out. They don’t shirk from challenge and that not only helps them progress in life but it inspires those around them.
High performers are healthier than their peers.
They eat better. They work out more. The top 5 percent of high performers are 40 percent more likely to exercise three times per week. Everyone wants health, but they may think they have to trade it for success. They’re wrong. In survey after survey, we find high performers to be more energized—mentally, emotionally, and physically—than their peers.
High performers are happy.
We all want to be happy. But many people are unhappy achievers. They get a lot done but don’t feel fulfilled. Not so for high performers. It turns out that every single habit of high performance we’ve discovered, even if practiced without the others, increases overall life happiness. Taken together, the six habits you’ll learn here won’t just get you to excellence, they’ll make you happier—and the data proves it. The positive emotions of engagement, joy, and confidence that define the high performer’s emotional state can be yours.
High performers are admired.
Their peers look up to them, even though the high performers are outperforming them. Why? Because to become a high performer, ego takes a backseat to service. High performers have mastered the art of influencing others in such a way that others feel respected, valued, and appreciated—and more likely to become high performers themselves.
High performers get better grades and reach higher positions of success.
High performance is statistically correlated with GPA. In one study of two hundred collegiate athletes, we found that the higher their score on the High Performance Indicator—an assessment tool for measuring high performance potential—the higher their GPA. High performers are also more likely to be CEOs and senior executives. Why? Because their habits help them lead others and climb organizational charts.
High performers work passionately regardless of traditional rewards.
High performance does not correlate with compensation. This means that what you get paid doesn’t affect your odds or your ability to perform at a high level. High performers work hard not because of money but because of something called necessity, which you will soon learn about. They are not in it for the trophies or accolades or bonuses; they’re in it for the meaning. That’s why, in surveys, high performers almost always indicate that they feel well rewarded regardless of income level. They also rarely feel their work is “thankless” or that others don’t appreciate how hard they work. It’s not because their work is unique or always their dream job. Instead, it’s that they approach their work in a more purposeful manner, which helps them feel more engaged, competent, and satisfied.
High performers are assertive (for the right reasons).
They jump into experiences and express themselves, not to “conquer” or even to compete. They are assertive because of a habit of courage in sharing new ideas, engaging in complex conversations, expressing their real thoughts and dreams, and standing up for themselves. The data also shows that they speak up for others and champion other people’s ideas more often. That is to say, they’re perfectly queued to be direct and inclusive leaders.
High performers see and serve beyond their strengths.
There’s a myth that our innate “strengths” are what we all should be focusing on. But the time for navel-gazing is long since over. We must see beyond what comes naturally to us, and develop into what we must be in order to grow, serve, and lead. High performers get that. They’re less into “finding their strengths” and more into “adaptive service”—exploring what needs fixing and growing into the person who can fix it. The question they ask is less often “Who am I and what am I good at?” and more often “What is required to be of service here, and how can I grow into that or lead others to deliver that?” High performers do not report working on their strengths any more than other people do, so that focus isn’t what gives them the edge.
High performers are uniquely productive—they’ve mastered prolific quality output.
No matter the field, they produce more quality output that matters in their field. It’s not that they get more done, per se; lots of their peers might do more tasks. It’s that high performers get more things done that are highly valued in their primary field of interest. They remember that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. That focus and effort to create only output that will be meaningful helps them excel.
High performers are adaptive servant leaders.
What separates my work on high performance from the hype around world-class experts is that I’m not seeking out lone experts or individual outliers. High performers don’t think, live, or practice in a vacuum. They’re influencing people and adding tremendous value to those around them, not just trying to win spelling bees or chess matches. They tend to be leaders who can adapt to challenging circumstances and guide others to their own successes and contributions. In this capacity, high performers can go from project to project and succeed, over and over. It’s as if you could put them in any context, any team, any company, any industry, and they would win—not because they’re geniuses or lone wolves, but because they positively influence others to rise. They don’t just develop skill; they develop people.
I’m aware that reading a list like this can make a high performer sound like an infallible wonder-worker. But that’s not it at all. The list above is a good general description of high performers, but of course, there is plenty of room for individual differences and variability. Some high performers, for example, may not be as healthy as others even though they generate more productive output. Some may be happy and healthy but are not as admired. In other words, these descriptions are not 100 percent accurate for 100 percent of individuals. But the odds are that over time, their habits detailed in this book lead to the listed benefits, and to extraordinary lives.
If any of the descriptions above don’t sound like you yet, don’t worry—high performers aren’t “born that way.” Having trained over one million people on this topic, I can share that there are no superhumans in the mix. High performers are not fundamentally different from you or anyone else because of some special talent, signature strength, genetic miracle, or fixed personality makeup. High performance isn’t a natural strength; it’s the result of a specific set of deliberate habits. You can learn these habits and reach high performance in nearly any endeavor you choose. And we can measure it and prove it.
The Habits of High Performance
If anything defines my research and training approach, it’s that certain habits give a competitive advantage, turning an average performer into a high performer. High performers have simply mastered—either on purpose or by accident through necessity—six habits that matter most in reaching and sustaining long-term success.
We call these six habits the HP6. They have to do with clarity, energy, necessity, productivity, influence, and courage. They reflect what high performers actually do continually—from goal to goal, from project to project, from team to team, from person to person. Each of the habits is learnable, improvable, and deployable across all contexts of life. You can start using these habits today, and they will make you better. We’ll cover each habit in the chapters ahead and give you practices to develop them.
Before we get into the HP6, though, let’s talk habits. As traditionally conceived, habits are created when we do something so many times that it becomes almost automatic. Do a simple action that’s easy to remember, do it repeatedly, and get rewarded for it, and you start to develop a habit that will soon become second nature. For example, after doing it a few times, it’s easy to tie your shoes, drive a car, type on a keyboard. You can now do those things without much thought. You’ve done them so many times, they became automatic routines.
This book is not about that sort of habit. I’m not interested in teaching you simplistic routine behaviors that can be done with little or no conscious thought. I want you fully aware as you fight big battles, strive for the mountaintops, and lead others. That’s because the habits that really matter in improving performance are not unconscious. They don’t necessarily become automatic or easier with time, because the world gets more complex as you seek greater success. Thus, you need to be mindful of your footing as you climb higher.
This means that the high performance habits you’ll learn in this book are deliberate habits. These must be consciously chosen, willed into existence, and continually revisited to strengthen your character and increase your odds of success.
Deliberate habits usually won’t come easily. You have to practice them with real mental focus, especially in changing environments. Every time you feel stuck, every time you start a new project, every time you measure your progress, every time you try to lead others, you must deliberately think about the high performance habits. You’ll have to use them as a checklist, just as a pilot uses a preflight checklist before every takeoff.
I believe this is a good thing, too. I don’t want my clients getting ahead unconsciously, reactively, or compulsively. I want them to know what they do to win, and do it with full intention and purpose. That way, they are captains of their own fate, not slaves to their impulses. I want you in charge, conscious, and clear about what you’re doing, so you can see your performance get better and better—and so you can help others get better, too.
It’s going to take a lot of work to deploy the high performance habits you’re about to learn, but don’t shy from the effort.
When you knock on the door of opportunity,
do not be surprised that it is Work who answers.
Some will say I could have given easier habits and I would probably sell more books. But in improving your life, ease is not the point; growth is the point. And the data is clear that these six habits will make a significant difference for you even though they do require consistent attention and effort. If our aim is high performance, then you and I will have to work to implement and develop these habits in every context of our lives—for the rest of our lives.
Just as athletes never quit training, high performers never stop consciously conditioning and strengthening their habits.
Real success—holistic, long-term success—doesn’t come from doing what’s natural, certain, convenient, or automatic. Often, the journey to greatness begins the moment our preferences for comfort and certainty are overruled by a greater purpose that requires challenge and contribution.
The skills and strengths you have now are probably insufficient to get you to the next level of success, so it’s absurd to think you won’t have to work on your weaknesses, develop new strengths, try new habits, stretch beyond what you think your limits or gifts are. That’s why I’m not here to sell you the easy solution of just focusing on what is already easy for you.
Just so we’re clear: there’s a lot of work ahead.
Beyond habits, what else holds most people back? I’ve found that many people simply feel undeserving or unready to rise to the next level. They question their value or await some external validation—promotion, certification, award—before they can start playing a bigger game. This is wrong, of course. You deserve extraordinary success just as much as anyone. And you don’t need anyone’s permission to start living life on your own terms. You just need a plan. And I promise you it’s in this book.
Sometimes, people haven’t sought greater success in their lives because they’re surrounded by people who say, “Why can’t you just be happy with what you have?” Those who say this don’t understand high performers. You can be wildly happy with what you have, and still strive to grow and contribute. So don’t ever let anyone discourage you from your ambition for a better life. Don’t minimize yourself or your dreams for any reason. It’s okay that you want more. Don’t fear your new ambitions. Just understand how to reach for them with more focus, elegance, and satisfaction than you did last time. Just follow the path outlined in this book.
The next chapter will reveal six high performance habits, the HP6, and give you more detail about how they were discerned. Knowing the science behind these findings will help you understand the nuance and power of this approach. Then we’ll jump right into each of the six habits. Each habit has its own chapter, which will teach you three new practices to help you establish the overall habit. Finally, I’ll warn you about the traps that can cause you to plateau or fail, and I’ll leave you with the number one thing needed to maintain your progress.
As your guide, I will inspire new thinking, challenge you along the way, help you become more mindful of what really matters. If, at times, I seem overzealous, forgive me. I’ve just spent a decade coaching extraordinary people, and I know the incredible results that await you. Unlike a podcaster or academic, I’m only compensated for getting measurable results, and I’ve done it for individuals and teams from all walks of life and all over the world. I’ve seen what’s possible for you, and it enlivens my entire soul as I write this sentence. My tremendous passion for sharing these ideas comes from seeing my students and the data prove these methods over and over again. So yes, you’ll have to forgive my exuberance at times. I truly geek out about this work. But if you’ll allow me to do that, you might also allow me to ask the tough questions and suggest actions that may seem tedious or make you a little uncomfortable. If I were sitting next to you, I’d ask permission to push you and challenge you and demand that you give your all. Since you chose this book, I have no doubt that you’re ready for the journey.
I should also share what you won’t find in the pages ahead. I’ve worked hard to keep this book as practical as possible, favoring strategies that you can apply to improve your life over stories about people you don’t know and academic details that you probably don’t care about. I don’t pretend that this book is a complete work of human psychology or achievement science; it is an attempt to filter twenty years of insights into a practical road map for you. In a work of such scope, there will inevitably be generalizations and open questions, and I’ve done my best to call them out.
Narrowing this book to practical habits was difficult. The first draft was 1,498 pages, and I had to make some hard choices on what to cut. To make the decisions, I followed the advice I shared earlier which so many high performers have taught me:
to succeed, always remember that the main thing is
to keep the main thing the main thing.
In this book, the “main thing” is to teach you the habits that will make you extraordinary. It is to help you understand the habits conceptually and also be able to practice them confidently.
So I cut some entertaining, thought-provoking material—profiles of historical figures or contemporary leaders, fascinating stories about lab experiments—because those things were better suited for my blog or podcast than for this book. I made this choice so the book would be more of a user manual than a collection of case studies or academic notes. I will share vignettes about working with high performers, as well as a lot of our broad research findings, but for the most part, I’ll focus on what you should actually do to reach the next level of success. If you would like even more human stories or case studies, check out my blog or podcast via Brendon.com. If you want a more academic approach and a deeper look into our methodology, visit HighPerformanceInstitute.com.
Here, I’ll focus on making this book useful and timeless so that no matter how many often you return to it throughout your life, the instruction will still be relevant and exacting. Because our students always ask how these topics apply to me as a public figure, I will share some personal examples. But even those are ultimately illustrations of what I’ve learned from high performers. Since what matters most in improving your performance are six specific habits, I won’t spend time telling you about some high performers’ diets, childhoods, favorite books, morning routines, or favorite apps—all those things are highly variable, and we haven’t found any of those things to be strongly correlated with high performance. So I’ll leave those types of lifestyle discussions to podcasters and journalists who ask fascinating people fascinating questions. This book is different because it’s about performance not personality or intrigue. It’s not a book of profiles; it’s a book of proven practices.1 Here, it’s about you. It’s about how to think, and the habits that you need to begin deliberately implementing in your life. Now, let’s get to work.
What to Do Right Now
You’re busy, I know. You have lots to do today. Perhaps I’ve piqued your curiosity, and you truly are committed to improving your life right now. But I also know there’s a risk that your interest won’t translate to immediate action. So I have two suggestions you can do right now, to break through today.
Don’t worry, it’s free and it takes just five to seven minutes to complete. You have five to seven minutes. You’ll get scores across the six categories that correlate with high performance. You’ll learn where you’re not doing well and where you are. This assessment will help you predict whether, on your current trajectory, you are likely to achieve any long-term goals or dreams. Once you take your assessment and receive your scores, you’ll get course recommendations and other free resources. You’re welcome to share that link or your results with your peers or team. Feel free to compare how you score with others, but be sure to come back to this book and learn how to get better.
- Read the next two chapters today.
Yes, today. Now. It won’t take long. If you’ll just jump in and commit to reading the next two chapters, you will learn the factors that make the statistical difference in helping you succeed over the long term, no matter what you do. You’ll come away with measurable ways to improve, and you’ll never again wonder what matters most in achieving lasting success.
High performance can be yours. An extraordinary life awaits. Just turn the page.
An e-mail that changed my life:
I am an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. This tells you absolutely nothing about me or my ability to succeed. Not now. Not over the next few years.
My top two strengths on the StrengthsFinder are “Developer” and “Achiever.” This also tells you absolutely nothing about my ability to get things done or attain any specific outcomes.
On the Kolbe, I score highest as a Quick Start. This means nothing because over time I’ve had to deal with real life and improve at the other modes I suck at like Fact Finder, Follow Thru, and Implementor.
I prefer blue over green.
I’m more like a lion than a chimp.
I’m gritty but too often lazy. I identify more with a circle than a square. I eat mostly a Mediterranean diet but like hamburgers. I like being around people, for a while, but often I long to escape into solitude with a pot of tea and a thick book. I shop weekly at Whole Foods, but many of my lunchtimes are spent at a cheap Mexican place.
Nothing about any of this can tell you anything, at all, about my capabilities, my odds of success, or my future performance.
So please, man, stop trying to bucket me into a “type” or assume that my “strengths” or background give me any edge whatsoever. Labeling people sucks, regardless of how it’s done. I hear you that these assessments are for exploring and learning about myself, not labeling me or directing me per se.
But look, we know my supposed “strengths” and they’re still not helping me get ahead. My natural tendencies don’t do the job. As a leader, I have to be honest—sometimes it’s just not about who I am, what I prefer, or what I’m naturally good at. It’s about me rising to serve a mission, not the mission bowing down to match my limited strengths.
I know you like to ask about my background, too. You know I’m from the Midwest but now live in California. My mom raised me and my sister by herself. She was a hair stylist in the mornings and a hostess at a buffet at night. Dad quit on her and us when I was 14. I got average grades. I was only bullied once or twice. I loved to play golf in college. In about a five-year period after college, I went through two pretty bad relationships. I was fired once. But I found some good friends, too, and I gradually acquired confidence. I sort of stumbled into the work I do now, but it’s great.
This background, too, tells you nothing about my potential. It gives no definitive clues or path to get ahead today.
So, I’m just being honest, Brendon. I know you like personality assessments and to ask about my background. But if everyone has a past and a story, then certainly a person’s past or story is not what gives them an edge.
I guess I am saying that I can do the navel-gazing just fine on my own. I hired you to tell me what to do to get to the next level.
I need to know what to do, Brendon. What practices work regardless of personality?
Don’t say who high performers are. Tell me what they do at a granular level, across projects, that can be replicated. That level of detail. That’s the gold.
Find it for me, and you have a client for life.
Otherwise, it’s time to part ways.
I received this e-mail from Tom, a coaching client, early in my career. To say the least, it took me by surprise. Tom was a kind person and a successful executive. He was collaborative and always willing to try new things.1 An e-mail like this, putting our working relationship on notice unless I found “the gold,” was unusual from him. The follow-up conversation I had with him was even more direct. He was exasperated.
Tom wanted results. But I wasn’t sure how we could get them.
This was almost a decade ago. Back then, when I was just a run-of-the-mill “life coach,” it was common to do four things to figure out how to help someone improve their performance.
It often began with asking the client questions about what he or she wanted, and what “limiting beliefs” got in the way. You also interviewed them about the past, trying to spot any events that might be influencing current behaviors.
Second, you used assessment tools to help determine personality styles, patterns, and preferences. The goal was to help people better understand themselves and any behaviors that might help them succeed. Popular tools included Myers-Briggs, the Clifton StrengthsFinder, the Kolbe ATM Index, and the DiSCâ Test. Often, the life coach would hire experts or consultants certified in these tools, to help administer them.
Third, the coach would sift through performance reviews from work and talk to the people around the client, using 360-degree assessments to figure out how others perceived them and what others wanted from them. You’d talk to the people they lived and worked with.
Fourth, you’d evaluate their actual output. You’d look at their past results to see what stood out, what processes helped them create good work, how they most loved to make an impact.
So in this tradition, I did all these things. Because Tom liked tangible data and reports, we spent a lot of time taking and then discussing the assessments. We worked with several high-level consultants who were experts in the various tools. We had binders full of information.
Then, over a span of two years, despite knowing my client’s traits, talents, scores, and background, I watched him continually fail.
I felt terrible. I couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t achieving the results he wanted. That was about the time he sent the e-mail.