Saturday, January 12, 2008

Positive Thinking vs. Positive Action

While positive thinking is a good guideline, it's not a mantra to use while you're performing your task. When you're performing, the key is to stay focused on the task and take positive action. In Overachievement: The New Model for Exceptional Performance, John Eliot, Ph.D. writes about how great performers use positive action over positive thinking to produce great results.

Exceptional Thinkers Act
Eliot writes:

"Negative thinking is extremely powerful. If you believe a catastrophe is one step around the corner, then it will be hard to be genuinely committed or confident. 'Think positively' is generally good advice, but it also can be an obstacle to exceptional thinking. Positive thinking tends to be goal-oriented. It also tends to put performers in the Training Mindset, analyzing their stream of consciousness. Exceptional thinkers learn to trust their consciousness. They teach themselves the power of positive action. They don't stop to think about how great the act is going to be. Instead, they act."

The Best Result Possible for That Given Moment
Eliot writes:

"This is a big difference. A great surgeon is not carving away at your innards thinking to himself: 'I'm a great surgeon, I'm doing a great operation, yes I am.' Such self-talk would strike a surgeon as not just silly but potentially very dangerous. Surgeons do not even think, "First I do X, then I do Y, and what is it that comes after that? Right, I do Z.' Good surgeons go to work, cut by cut, stitch by stitch, trusting their training and experience. During surgery, they no more think about what they're doing -- positively or negatively -- than a good salesman in the middle of a deal thinks about the steps in the company sales manual or a great pianist on stage is thinking about what note comes next. Nor are they thinking about the perfect result; they are just doing what they're good at and enjoying it, and they know if that's all they do, the best result possible for that given moment will be there."

Confidence is in Gear
Eliot writes:
"They do not have to contemplate the importance of being confident because genuinely confident surgeons, salesmen, and musicians arrive with their confidence already in gear. They perform based on their philosophies, not a set of instructions. They no more have to remind themselves to be confident or committed than truly religious people have to jot down 'keep the faith' on their to-do list. Being faithful is just who they are."

Think Exceptionally
Eliot writes:

"A philosophy of performance is not a mantra that you repeat over and over to yourself as you perform. It's a guideline to help you keep thinking exceptionally regardless of the factors pushing you to revert to your old habits or socializing you to think like the masses."
Key Take Aways
I like the distinction between thinking about performing and actually performing. Here's my take aways:
  • Don't second guess yourself. Great performers don't analyze their stream of conscious. Instead, their fully engaged in their performance.
  • Don't allow negative thinking. Negative thinking holds you back.
  • Trust your abilities. Don't doubt yourself. Great performers trust their abilities.
  • Be in the moment. Great performers aren't stuck in the past, or distracted by the future.

I think the real key here is that great performers don't mix practice with performance. They lose themselves in the moment. They act with competence, commit with confidence, and fully embrace the task at hand.