The Process To Peak Performance

Jeff Spencer was not your typical child. Who else would get up at 4:30 in the morning to practice baseball, or spend a childhood dreaming of marching into an Olympic Stadium in the parade of nations [1]? That was Jeff though. Fast forward into adulthood and he is an ex-Olympic cyclist, coach to the elite, advisor to fortune-500 companies and author of the success handbook “Champion’s Blueprint.” This all came from being what he calls “a professional student of human achievement” for some 40 years.

Spencer’s observations started young, when he began to look at top level athletes and realise that those who won the gold medals weren’t “the biggest, baddest and toughest” on paper. It was something he found curious [2]. Then, in the year following his first cycling championship, his parents divorced. Jeff was approximately 13 years old. That was the last time he saw his dad. Strangely, this provided him with another insight into the world of human achievement.

“My dad was an artistic genius, and a design genius, legitimately. Thirty years later I found out that he died homeless on the streets of New York City. This kinda gave me another glimpse into the world of success. What I realised was that, despite my dad’s talent, his obvious will, his technique and technology, none of those saved him. Will and talent aren’t enough. Never has been. Never will be [2].”

 

This begs a question: what does take us to success if will and talent aren’t enough?

Spencer starts by asserting that “There’s really no perfect path to the bigger future, and there are no guarantees for the future. Get up every day with a purpose and an intent to elevate our game, and to also call people to their bigger games.” However, he has observed a pattern that repeats in the lives of those who attain peak performance, be it in business, sport or other disciplines.

This pattern allows a person to develop the capacity to perform at our best, and to call upon that ability in the times when we need it. According to Spencer, this takes the learning of very specific competencies. What are they? In a recent interview with The Unmistakable Collective, he went into some detail on the foundations of peak performance.

  1. Legacy. “It always begins with legacy,” says Spencer. “People think of legacy as being something you tabulate at your life’s end, as a list of your successes. Why don’t we begin with legacy in mind? Legacy, when it is set up proactively in advance, and it’s an overarching target to shoot for, that’s our case study that we will leave on the permanent record of what we will do with our time and our talents, to me it’s the most powerful force in the human universe.” If we live this way, with legacy as our starting point, it calls people to a higher game as they watch us live a life of distinction. It is inspiring and empowering. But there are two other powerful aspects of legacy, according to Spencer. It keeps us honest and keeps us in integrity.
  2. Vision. When he talks of vision, he’s referring to the necessary presence of dreams, goals, and aspirations, not an elusive state that can’t be made tangible. “Vision gives this life clarity. When we have clarity, it gives us the ability to commit to a purpose.” This enables us to make a contribution and drive ourselves forward.
  3. Mindset. This is not a matter of mantras or the ability to achieve a perfect grade. Instead, he explains that mindset is the ability to identify and capitalise on life’s best opportunities, and avoid life’s potholes. “Many of us have more faith in our ability to fail than our ability to succeed. I’ve never met a person who couldn’t wait to get up and fail,” says Spencer. It’s an interesting observation. It seems we have a war raging within us, between that which wants to keep us small, and that which drives us on to better things.
  4. Base. Every peak performer needs to build a foundation of resources. This is what we need in order to “commit to the journey of becoming our own champion [2].” This might be skills, knowledge, time, team, resources, space, equipment. “No responsible champion ever begins a process without properly vetting that they have the right plan, and they have the right resources to complete the process from start to finish.”
  5. The climb. “The climb helps us craft the persistence to be able to push and develop the skill,” says Spencer. This is the grind. The part where we go out and do it, learning to persist and overcome obstacles.
  6. Elevation. This is a particularly interesting point. At some point in the life of every elite athlete comes the moment where they experience a breakout performance. They might have won a significant championship or beaten someone who is performing at a national level. What happens next matters, according to Spencer.  Many people start changing up the method after the breakout performance, when actually what they need to do is duplicate it. “This is when people make a fatal mistake,” he says.  Elevation is when you are able to duplicate the breakout performance.
  7. Adaptation. In his peak performance theory, adaptation is when you are able to adapt up to the highest level of performance to remain relevant in what he calls ‘today’s rapidly changing world [2].’ This is something that is coached into us. It requires a team of guides, mentors and coaches that can help us stay at the top.  
  8. Riding the wave. Once you reach the top, Jeff Spencer has a warning. It can be tempting to take up every opportunity that is thrown at you. “The way the prolific performers do it is they don’t go after every opportunity. Only choose that which has the appropriate risk and the appropriate return.” They choose only the right opportunities and they wait for the next one. They give pause to balance effort with recovery.

In amongst all of Spencer’s wisdom is a key message on failure and pain. Both should be treated as friend not foe [3].

“Failure is the best teaching moment, as it is our best teacher because it tells us what isn’t working and what to do to keep life moving forward,” he said. “If someone doesn’t experience failure on occasion it doesn’t mean they’ve mastered failure, but are living life too much in the safe zone. We need to see what has to be modified from a failure and get it right. Failure is our friend in that respect [4].”

There is no clear path to success, but the way we go about living each day can go a long way – not only in terms of helping us master our craft and perform our best, but also in terms of inspiring others around us.

 

References

[1] Spencer, J (2016), “My Story,”   retrieved 2 June 2016

[2] Staff (2015), “The 8 Foundations of Peak Performance with Jeff Spencer,” The Unmistakable Creative,  retrieved 2 June 2016

[3] James, A (2014), “Dr Jeff Spencer: Fear is your friend,” Fat Burning Man,  retrieved 2 June 2016

[4] Delgado, S (2012), “Success guru shares secret to peak performance,” Luke Air Force Base,  retrieved 2 June 2016

[5] Spencer, J (2016), “The Champions Blueprint,” Dr. Jeff Spencer Online,  retrieved 2 June 2016