July 8, 2020

High performance habits and what I learned about becoming a high performer

I first learned about Brendon Burchard from an ad somewhere – I can’t remember where I saw the ad but I found his website and purchased a few books from his through his website. I didn’t think very much of it and his first few books such as the Motivation Manifesto or The Charge did not speak to me. Now, he has a new book out and Brendon is absolutely killing it – creating great video content, launching online courses, publishing best selling books and his latest book on High Performance Habits is a study on how extraordinary people became extraordinary – what are the habits and more specific tactics that they used to become high performers. While the year isn’t over, I can say that this book has really made me think differently about how I should be approaching my life and work and is at least in the top five of the books that I have read this year (and maybe even in my life).

As Brendon said, it all started when he got an e-mail from a coaching client. I won’t repeat what the client said but he had a long e-mail about the different personality tests he has taken, the results he got from the tests, his background, his history, his career experiences, etc. but what the client really wanted was not these results or what Myers-Briggs personality he was, he wanted to know what he could do in order to get the results he wanted. At the time, Brendon did not have a great answer so he went about studying high performers to identify the specific habits that these people did that gave them the advantage and edge over those that were not high performers. What is it that high performers do that regular people do not do? How do they approach their work? How is it that these high performers are more successful, in higher paying jobs and work less than those that are not high performers? Brendon set about to answer these questions and found that the following six habits were key to their success:

  1. Seek clarity
  2. Generate energy
  3. Raise necessity
  4. Increase productivity
  5. Develop influence
  6. Demonstrate courage

In each of the habits, he breaks down the habits even further into specific things that he has seen high performers do that helps the reader really understand what it is that they have to do.

Seek clarity

This is probably obvious to you (and it’s obvious to me) but at the same time, how many of us actually sit down to think about what what we are doing now, where we want to get to in the future and the exact steps that we will take to get there? I remember some advice that I got early on in consulting at Deloitte – if you were not intentional about defining your own brand, someone else will define it for you and that may or may not be a good thing depending on what you are branded as. It’s the same thing here with your life, are you being intentional about what you want to become? Because if you are being intentional, you are going to be much happier about where you end up rather than where you might end up if you decided to ‘drift’ in life.

How do you get clarity in the things that you do? Brendon recommends a simple practice which I will be incorporating into my life – before every interaction, I will be asking myself a few questions:

  • How can I be a good person or leader in this upcoming situation?
  • What does the other person need? How can I help?
  • What kind of mood or tone do I want to use?

Even taking a few seconds before every interaction can help ground me in the right way. As quoted from the book, “…high performers anticipate positive interactions and they strive consciously and consistently to create them.”

Generate energy

I used to complain (mostly to myself) that I did not have the time to do the things I wanted to do. I’m busy from work, I’m trying to support myself, do chores on a regular basis, shop, hang out with friends, etc., but I realized that it’s not a matter of time. When I set about to self publish my books, people asked me how I had the time to do it with a demanding job and the short answer is that I prioritized writing over other things that I had in my life. If you are watching Netflix or TV for a few hours a day, think for a second before you complain that you do not have the time. But in a lot of cases, it’s not just a matter of time management, it is a matter of energy management – that is, maybe you do have the time for it, but your job is so draining that you just do not have the energy to devote to the task or activity you want to do.

One of the ways that I try to generate energy myself is getting in a workout in the morning – every time I travel, I try to work out every single day even if it sometimes means sacrificing a bit of sleep to do so. I find that if I can do a few things on any one day, I have a great day (exercise, writing, expressing gratitude, eating a good meal).

Here, Brendon suggests a few things to help generate energy: first, similar to asking yourself the questions in seeking clarity, make sure that you are entering each situation or interaction fresh. Before you go into your next meeting, take a few seconds to release the tension that you have from things that have happened recently. If you go into a meeting after getting off the phone with a customer service representative who was rude to you, you are going to get a different outcome then if you got excellent service from a customer service representative. The point is, you want to be intentional about what you want to get out of every interaction. Another thing that Brendon recommends is coming into every situation with positivity (which I have been actively trying out now with I think great results).

Raise necessity

This was something new to me – Brendon says that high performers ask themselves who needs them to be at their A game and why they need them because knowing these two things means that you are going to perform at a much higher level on a regular basis.

A concept that is touched on as I am reading through Atomic Habits is about understanding the why in order to change your behavior. For example, when faced with a chocolate bar or a salad as an afternoon snack, many people might reach for a chocolate bar but if you believe you are a certain type of person (that is, the type of person that does not eat junk food as a snack or eats healthy because they care about what they put into their body) then they are going to choose what they eat more carefully. Here, if you believe that you are a high performer, you have all the skills, commitment and focus needed to perform an activity – and you don’t do it because of the extrinsic rewards of money or recognition, you do it because it is intrinsically rewarding. Here, I’m not trying to say that extrinsic rewards is not important but I do know that if you perform at a high level, you will be rewarded appropriately extrinsically.

Increase productivity

A similar concept here on a book that I’ve written about before: Deep Work by Cal Newport, which says that the world rewards those that can produce the most valuable work (a term he coins ‘Deep Work’). In order to be a high performer, you have to focus on things that Brendon calls “prolific quality output”. By focusing on the PQO, they become better recognized, more effective and better remembered. Think about it for a few seconds – maybe that last project you did where you did lots of amazing things – how much do partners on the project remember about all the little things that you did (or do they remember the results of that one outstanding executive presentation you did?) High performers find the specific things that are their PQO and then focus on those things.

He has a section here also on work-life balance which I found quite interesting – people think of balance in terms of evenly distributed hours but Brendon suggests a different approach – he suggests balancing the happiness or progress you have in your major life areas. Brendon has ten distinct categories for himself (which you can adjust as needed): health, family, friends, intimate relationships, mission / work, finances, adventure, hobby, spirituality and emotion. Every week, he takes a look at each of these areas and figures out, simply on a scale of 1 – 10, how happy he is in each of these areas. For the week after, he then tries to adjust those activities so that he can ‘balance’ out his happiness. Low in health? Schedule some workouts in. Low in intimate relationships? Plan a few dates and schedule the time in. The more and more I think about it, the more I like this way of balancing out your life – it can even be a good way of considering what you spend your time in and how happy you think you should be – if you are spending 50 hours or more on your work and it is only a 6 on your happiness scale, is it because you are spending a lot of time at work or is it because you are unhappy with what you are doing.

Develop influence

Slowly, in my shift towards being a manager and getting a few years of consulting experience under my belt, I find that more and more people are asking me questions and looking to me for answers. The shift happened slowly but surely and I have to say that it was strange at first but I think it is partly because I am still trying to grow myself.

High performers teach people how to think, they challenge people to grow and they role model what they want to see from the people they are trying to influence.

Back in university, when I was a second year Residence Advisor, I thought a lot about the things that I did because I knew how much of an influence it could be on new Residence Advisors. New Residence Advisors, looking for how to act and behave in certain situations, would watch the senior Residence Advisors and learn from them so it was extremely important to role model what you wanted to see and to show them how to think about different situations so that they can learn.

I have even tried to do this at work – rather than saying how reports should be written or how slides should be presented, I ask questions to those that I work with to dig into their understanding and thinking. I see two great benefits with this approach – one, sometimes I get insights that I am not aware of from understanding someone’s thinking (which means that we can produce something much better together than if we individually did it) and two, rather than providing them with feedback on a specific situation, I help tweak and improve the way they think about things so that they can do much more in the future.

Demonstrate courage

Out of the six habits that I read about, this habit in particular was one that I probably do not do very well in. Recently, one of my friends told me that she wanted to have lunch with one of her co-workers in the office that she was close with. Just a few minutes before lunch, she stopped by the co-workers office and just before they were about to go for lunch, another co-worker that my friend did not particularly like, stopped by and all three of them stopped to chat. Her co-worker, the one that my friend was planning to have lunch with, decided on a whim to invite the other co-worker to lunch. What a weird situation to be in! My friend, at the very last minute, decided to bail on them and I cannot imagine what I would do in the same situation.

I’m a bit more cognizant of this now and recognize that it is a key to success – telling people what you want to do, what you want to achieve and most importantly, when you want to achieve it. I remember going to lunch with a friend and telling her about my self-published books. It was the first time that she had heard about it even though I had been writing for months. That’s probably not the right way to sell or market your books but part of me was afraid of answering all the questions that came with it (what is it about, how is it applicable to me, when will it be out, where can I purchase a copy, how much will it be, etc.). Now, I’m in the process of writing another book and I have been a bit more courageous in telling some of my friends – not because I want to sell them copies but to give myself accountability for writing a really great book that can help people.

Courage is not just about finding your truth but also about taking that first step towards action. Everyone is capable of great success but they can never get there without taking that first step.

The six habits again:

  1. Seek clarity
  2. Generate energy
  3. Raise necessity
  4. Increase productivity
  5. Develop influence
  6. Demonstrate courage

What are your thoughts on these six habits? How will you embody or incorporate these practices in your life?


About the author:

Wang is a management consultant, self-published author, Distinguished Toastmaster, co-host of a podcast, Udemy teacher, former Uber driver and all around hustler. He is also obsessed about books and he reads books so that you don’t have to. Want a list of Wang’s top ten formative books in his life and career? Interested in book summaries and recommendations every month? Subscribe to Wang’s e-mail newsletter!

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