improving

By Brad Stulberg

Improving your performance isn’t easy.

“Principles are fundamental truths that serve as the foundations for behavior that gets you what you want out of life,” writes investor Ray Dalio in his bestselling book, Principles. Dalio focuses on skills like decision-making, investing, and managing organizations.

While reading through it, I became inspired to put together my own list of principles that I’ve devised after interviewing and coaching elite performers in sports, business, and beyond. Like Dalio’s, these principles are a foundation for a better you.

1. Stress + Rest = Growth

Whether you want to grow your body or mind or get better at a specific skill, you need to push to the outer limits of your current ability, and then follow that hard work with appropriate recovery and reflection. Decades of researching exercise science show that this is how you get stronger and faster, and the latest cognitive science shows that this is also how you get smarter and more creative.

2. Focus on the process, not results

The best athletes and entrepreneurs aren’t focused on being the best; they’re focused on constant self-improvement. When you stop stressing about external outcomes — like whether you win or lose, attain a certain promotion, or achieve some other form of validation — a huge burden is lifted off your shoulders and you can focus your energy on the things you can control.

As a result, you almost always end up performing better. Research shows that concentrating on the process is best for both performance and mental health.

3. Stay humble

Humility is the key to growth. If you don’t maintain an open mind, you’ll severely limit your opportunities to learn and make progress. The best athletes trust their training programs but are also constantly looking for new ways to improve.

Same goes for the best thinkers and creatives; they tend to be confident but not arrogant, and they check their egos at the door. Knowledge is always evolving and advancing — if you want to evolve and advance with it, you need to keep an open mind.

4. Build your tribe

There’s an old saying that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Turns out that’s true. A large and growing body of behavioral science research shows that motivation (or lack thereof) is contagious. One study, “Is Poor Fitness Contagious? Evidence from Randomly Assigned Friends,” found that up to 70 percent of your fitness level may be explained by the people you train with.

Other research shows that if you work on mental tasks with people who are internally driven and love what they do, you’re more likely to end up the same way. If, on the other hand, you surround yourself with people who have a negative attitude and are focused solely on winning the rat race, you set yourself up for a less fulfilling experience.

5. Take small, consistent steps to achieve big gains

Habits build upon themselves. If you want to make any kind of significant change, you’d be wise to do so gradually and over time. In Stanford researcher BJ Fogg’s behavior model, whether someone takes action depends on both their motivation and their ability to complete a given task.

If you regularly overshoot on the ability side of the equation, you’re liable to become discouraged and quickly flame out. But if you incrementally increase the challenge, what was hard last week will seem easier today. Put differently: Small and consistent victories compound over time, leading to massive gains.

6. Be a minimalist to be a maximalist

You can’t be great at everything. Regularly reflect on what matters most to you and focus your efforts there. In the words of Mayo Clinic researcher and human performance expert Michael Joyner: “You’ve got to be a minimalist to be a maximalist; if you want to be really good at, master, and thoroughly enjoy one thing, you’ve got to say no to many others.”

7. Make the hard thing easier

Willpower is overrated. Rather than relying completely on self-control, intentionally design your environment to make the hard thing easier. For example, if you (like everyone) are constantly distracted by your smartphone, don’t just turn it off — remove it altogether from where you’re trying to concentrate.

If your challenge is eating healthy, instead of relying on your willpower at 9 p.m. after a glass of wine, simply keep the brownies out of the house. This applies to everything. Don’t just think about how you’re going to accomplish your goals; think about how you’re going to designfor them.

8. Remember to experience joy

At first, this may sound crazy. Who doesn’t want to experience joy? But many Type A people are so driven to keep growing and progressing that sometimes they forget to be fully present for special moments or neglect to pause and celebrate their milestones.

Don’t fall for this trap — it’s an especially dangerous one. “Moments of joy don’t just give us happiness — they also give us strength,” says Adam Grant, author of Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. When things aren’t going well, we can fall back on happy memories to give us the resilience to move forward.

There is nothing fancy about any of these principles, though they do work best when all are applied together. Build them into your life and they will help you do it — whatever that is — better.

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About LRPC’s Monday Morning Minute

Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC (LRPC) Monday Morning Minute is crafted to provide decision-makers with important information about the economy, investments and corporate retirement plans in a format that allows a reader to consume the information in less than 60 seconds. As an independent, objective investment adviser, LRPC has access to many sources of research and shares the best and most relevant information with its readers each week.

About Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC  

Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC (LRPC) is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based independent, objective Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) providing investment advisory, fiduciary compliance, employee education, provider management and plan design services to employer retirement plan sponsors. The firm specializes in Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) strategies for retirement plans and is a pioneer in the field. LRPC currently has contracts in place to provide consulting services on nearly a half billion dollars in plan assets. For more information, please contact Robert C. Lawton at (414) 828-4015 or bob@lawtonrpc.com or visit the firm’s website at https://www.lawtonrpc.com. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Wisconsin Registered Investment Adviser.

Important Disclosures

This information was developed as a general guide to educate plan sponsors and is not intended as authoritative guidance, tax, legal or investment advice. Each plan has unique requirements and you should consult your attorney or tax adviser for guidance on your specific situation. In no way does Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC assure that, by using the information provided, a plan sponsor will be in compliance with ERISA regulations. Investors should carefully consider investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses. The statements in this publication are the opinions and beliefs of the commentator expressed when the commentary was made and are not intended to represent that person’s opinions and beliefs at any other time. The commentary does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC and should not be construed as recommendations or investment advice. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC offers no tax, legal or accounting advice and any advice contained herein is not specific to any individual, entity or retirement plan, but rather general in nature and, therefore, should not be relied upon for specific investment situations. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Wisconsin Registered Investment Adviser and accepts clients outside of Wisconsin based upon applicable state registration regulations and the “de minimus” exception.