John Eliot, PhD, is one of the world’s leading authorities on peak performance. He’s also more than willing to challenge conventional wisdom on the subject. Too often, he argues, the focus is put on minimizing stress, when in many cases, learning how to thrive in the face of pressure is a far more effective and rewarding strategy.
Eliot, a professor of management and psychology and a private consultant to top-level executives, athletes, artists and corporations, offers his own alternate stress-modulating philosophies in his book Overachievement: The New Model for Exceptional Performance (Portfolio Trade, 2006). Here is some of the book’s most essential, innovative advice.
Love Your Butterflies
Relaxation techniques have their place, Eliot acknowledges, particularly when tension or overwork becomes debilitating. Central to Eliot’s philosophy, however, is the idea that, in order to succeed, we must learn to embrace and exploit the anxiety inherent in life’s biggest moments. “Great performers welcome pressure,” he writes. “Instead of trying to control or erase pressure, they use it as a kind of energy bar.”
In the heat of a nerve-wracking moment, our bodies naturally take energy away from nonessential activities and channel it to those things that the body perceives as absolutely vital. “The physical symptoms of fight-or-flight are what the human body has learned over thousands of years to operate more efficiently and at the highest level,” Eliot says.
“I cannot enhance anybody’s performance without getting them not only to live with the butterflies that come with high-pressure jobs, but to embrace that kind of physical response.” This level of resilience, says Eliot, is an important prerequisite to becoming an exceptional performer.