P is for Pursuing Your Principles And Not Worrying About The Opposition

There are many models for doing fine work. One approach is to put all your energy into pursuing your principles for achieving peak performance.

It is not to use energy worrying about the opposition. The latter may be other competitors or even negative thoughts inside your head.

Great workers always do the basics and then add the brilliance. They often take this step by aiming to become the best they can be rather than by worrying about distractions. Sometimes these distractions come from outside, sometimes they come from inside.

Tim Gallwey popularised aspects of this approach in the 1970s. He encouraged people to focus on their inner game as well as the outer game. He provided many tools that people could use to perform at their best in sports and other aspects of life.

Tim summarised this approach in the following way. You can discover more via the following link to The Inner Game website.

The inner game can be summarised as: Performance = Potential – Interference.   

Performance can be enhanced either by growing Potential or decreasing Interference.

It is impossible to achieve mastery or satisfaction in any endeavor without first developing some degree of mastery of the relatively neglected skills of the inner game.

Most of us have experienced days when our self-interference was at a minimum.

Whether on a sports field, at work, or in some creative effort, we have all had moments in which our actions flowed from us with a kind of effortless excellence.  

Unfortunately most of us have also experienced times when everything we do seems difficult. With minds filled with self-criticism, hesitation, and over-analysis, our actions were awkward, mistimed, and ineffective.  

Obviously we all would prefer to have more of the first and less of the second. 


Looking back, can you think of a situation when you pursued your chosen principles for achieving peak performance? You did not get side-tracked by negative thoughts. Nor did you worry about potential competitors.

You may have taken this approach when performing creative work, playing a sport or pitching for business. You may have done it when giving a keynote speech, auditioning for a part or doing another activity.

What did you do then to keep focusing on your principles? What did you do to, when appropriate, buy time to find solutions to challenges? What did you do to keep focusing on the picture of success?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a situation in the past when you pursued your chosen principles for achieving peak performance rather than worried about the opposition.

Describe the specific things you did to take these steps.

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of taking these steps.

Today there are many models that encourage people to follow the principles approach. Here are some of these.

The Positive History Approach

This positive history approach encourages individuals to find and follow their successful patterns. Everybody has a positive history. Everybody has overcome challenges and worked to achieve specific goals.

This approach is used in many fields. Sports psychologists, for example, often invite athletes to recall their best performances and explore the principles they followed. They then focus on how the person can follow similar principles to achieve success in the future.

Mentors sometimes use this approach when helping a person to manage a crisis. They create an encouraging environment in which the person can feel at ease and express at their feelings.

At a certain point, however, they may ask the person to explore their positive history. They may then ask some of the following questions.

Looking back on your life and work, when have you have tackled a similar challenge successfully? 

What did you do right then – what were the principles you followed – to tackle the challenge successfully?  

Looking ahead, how can you follow some of these principles – plus maybe add other skills – to tackle this challenge successfully?

Mentors often enable a person to build on their inner strengths and successful patterns. When appropriate, they also provide positive models, knowledge and practical tools that the person can use to achieve their picture of success.

The Process Approach

Great athletes sometimes focus on the process rather than worry about the prize. Paradoxically, this approach can result in them actually winning more prizes.

Nathan Barber wrote an article for Edutopia that describes how this approach can be applied to education. Below are excerpts from the article. You can discover more via the following link.

Nathan Barber On Process

Focus On The Process
And Results Will Follow

Great sports coaches focus on player growth and development for the ultimate win. Educators can follow suit by focusing on student learning rather than test scores. 

As I explored the correlation between great coaching and great teaching while interviewing highly successful sports coaches for a book about what teachers can learn from them, a common theme surfaced repeatedly. 

Several coaches stressed the importance of emphasizing the process rather than the results. This approach may seem counterintuitive, especially given the unprecedented emphasis on testing and performance in education today.  

However, the process-oriented approach to teaching and learning falls in line nicely with classroom instructional goals such as growth mindset and mastery.

One might expect coaches competing for Olympic medals and NCAA national championships to focus on big-picture goals, wins, and titles.

While truly great coaches such Marv Dunphy, Terry Schroeder, Brad Frost, and Brandon Slay do have NCAA titles, Olympic medals, or both, what I learned from them runs counter to what might be expected.  

Many of these coaches maintain that focus on the process has been a key ingredient for their success. They define “the process” as the emphasis on player growth and team development, mastery of skills, and mastery of elements of their respective games. 

Each insists on staying centered daily on the process, rather than talking daily about how to win games and championships. Consider, for example, the words of the Tampa Bay Rays’ manager Joe Maddon:

“You’re not trying to beat the Yankees or the Red Sox or the Blue Jays, you’re trying to beat the game of baseball through execution.”

What makes this philosophy perhaps both counterintuitive and ironic is this: athletes and teams perform best when their coaches focus on the process and train to mastery, not when their coaches train them to perform.  

An athlete focused on his own growth and mastery of the game will see improved performance. For example, when a pitcher in baseball focuses on mastering the curve ball rather than striking out batters, the results will follow. 

Great leaders who see the value in process-focused teaching and learning, though, can help teachers improve what happens in their classrooms.  

Focus on the process will lead to mastery, growth, and ultimately, better performance. If you don’t believe me, ask Coaches Dunphy, Schroeder, Frost, and Slay – to name just a few.

The Professional Standards Approach

This is an approach used by artists, athletes, scientists, medical staff and people in many other fields. They aim to set and maintain high standards that will result in them delivering success.

Different people set different standards depending on the field in which they operate and the goals they want to achieve. The key is for them to go beyond simply writing grand sounding words and translate the standards into action.

Great workers consistently deliver the standards. They deliver excellence and on occasions produce extraordinary work. Such workers also embody the Japanese concept of Kaizen and are committed to constant improvement.

Good mentors, for example, create an encouraging environment in which a person can feel at ease. They clarify the person’s agenda and the real results they want to achieve.

When appropriate, they then pass on knowledge and practical tools the person can use to tackle the challenge. Such mentors also keep expanding their repertoire of tools for helping people to achieve their pictures of success.

Below are the guidelines we provide for people who want to act as mentors in their own organisation. They are also encouraged to add other points that will enable them to achieve the required professional standards.

Choosing to follow
the principles approach

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a situation where you want to follow your principles for achieving peak performance?

You may want to take this step when encouraging a person, teaching a course, giving a keynote speech or creating something beautiful. You may want to do it when leading a team, managing a crisis, acting as a trusted advisor or doing a creative project.

Imagine that you have chosen to focus on a specific activity. What are the principles you want to follow in the situation? How can you translate these into action? What may happen as a result of taking these steps?

You can put 100 percent of your energy into pursuing your principles rather than worrying about the opposition. You can then keep doing your best to achieve the picture of success.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to pursue your principles for achieving peak performance rather than worrying about the opposition.  

Describe the specific things you can do to take these steps.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking these steps.

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