Mindset and the 5 pillars of performance

I’m sure you know that to sustain high performance over time, you need to consider movement, recovery, nutrition, sleep and mindset. These are often referred to as the five pillars of performance, but that makes them sound somewhat independent of each other, like silos. And they are really not. Instead, they are intricately related, with mindset at the centre – the captain of the team.

Mindset governs how you tackle each of the others. You decide when to move, when to recover, what to eat, when to go to bed, and how you respond to the world. You decide why you are training, what you are training for and whether to be consistent in doing so.

Performance is a team effort, and when we see mindset as the captain of the team then it makes more sense. A good captain knows the team well: she knows what each member needs, she knows what role each team member plays, and she then ensures that each team member is getting what they need to play their role well. The captain is also responsible ensuring that he knows, and gets, what he needs to play his role well.

Mindset is a vast topic. In this post, I’d like to tackle one part of mindset – consistency. We cannot make progress without consistency. Just think about kung fu. The idea of consistent performance is fundamental to a discipline like kung fu – in fact it is in the name: kung fu means “hard work over time”.

Consistent effort over time is difficult, and by effort I mean consistently making the best decision in the moment, every time. Choosing to get out of bed and train. Choosing to stay in bed and rest. Choosing to do the training sessions you dislike in order to perform well in the sport you enjoy. Choosing to eat well. Choosing to go to bed and not staying up to watch another episode of your favourite show. But choosing is hard work.

Our brains are not wired to make effective choices all the time. Each choice requires that our brains use precious and limited mental energy. The more choices we make the more tired our brains become – what we call cognitive fatigue. The brain is part of the body – it requires massive amounts of glucose to function – and when our brains are tired we make poor choices.

Our brains are wired to automate as many choices as possible to free up our minds to think bigger thoughts. We are wired to habituate. The secret to being consistent is then to create habits. Habits remove the need to think or make difficult decisions: instead of thinking should I do planks this morning I just get out of bed and do my planks.
Dig deeper into habits and you’ll find many, many good books on the topic and perhaps I’ll dig deeper in another post but for now here are a couple of pro tips from BJ Fogg (author of Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything):

  • Build on existing behaviours: Rather than trying to start a new behaviour from scratch, add a new habit to something you are already doing habitually, and build from there.
  • Set the bar lower than the height you think you can jump: The more daunting you make the new habit, the more challenging it becomes to start and keep it up. If you keep knocking the high bar you won’t want to keep trying but if you set the bar lower and make it over, you’ll keep on trying.

So, if you think about it, how consistent is your team captain? Would establishing new habits, building on existing behaviours, make a difference in your performance?

Over the next few posts, I’ll look at how mindset works together with each of the other dimensions of high performance. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing from you!