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Are you at your 'Personal Best'?

19 July 2017

Personal Best

In the pool, on the track or on the golf course, to be our ‘personal best’ is the goal that we often espouse in these competitive aspects of our lives. Progress is measured and achievement declared when our ‘PB’ is broken and our performance measurably taken to a higher level.

But what about the areas of our lives where performance cannot be quantified, or progress measured? How do we know when we are at our personal best with our clients, teams and relationships? How do we know when we are at our personal best with ourselves? In the absence of an external gauge, are we left fully to our internal compass?

As a developmental coach, I believe that our purpose is to achieve our personal best, whose marker is the ease with which we experience life. In working with and in companies for 25 years, I observe that as ‘corporate athletes,’ we often struggle to reconcile a work environment of permanent urgency, endless interruptions, substantial change and uncertainty with our needs to stay focused, get results through our people and sustain optimal performance. So how do you do it?

This ease also results from playing to our strengths, following our passions and having a personal-best mindset.

Play to your strengths

Strengths are an authentic, energising and accessible resource that can be harnessed to achieve your personal best. Studies show that when people use their strengths, they become energised and confident. They reach goals faster and more easily, and experience less stress and greater wellbeing.

Playing to your strengths, when coupled with the right amount of challenge, helps support this sense of ease associated with being at your personal best. People describe that when they are “in the zone” they are able to filter out background noise and it’s easy to get lost in the work and not notice the passage of time.

However, if there is a mismatch between skill and challenge levels, we can either feel stressed (i.e. too much challenge) or bored (i.e. not enough challenge). So getting this mix right is key to achieving our personal best because growth is achieved through expanding our comfort zone.

Playing to your strengths, however, is only part of the formula. Using your strengths is the means to an end, to a goal or a greater sense of purpose that fills us with meaning. Living on purpose provides us with passion, which is the powerful force in accomplishing anything you set your mind to.

Passion / Purpose

Passion, and the deeper inner purpose from which it emanates, plays a pivotal role in how you ‘show up’ in life. People who are connected to their passion can be spotted from a mile away. They unleash their energy to bring out the best in themselves and others. As Benjamin Disraeli, a 19th century British Prime Minister, once said, "Man is only great when he acts from passion."

However, in working with leaders today, many are grappling with the idea of fulfilling or even having a purpose. Answering a few questions from Bill George’s ‘True North’ (see insert) is a good way to start identifying your purpose, or life’s work. Also choose to adopt the perspective that you can do what you love with your life. One of the best ways to strengthen this point of view is to surround yourself with people who are living examples. How many of your friends and family are following their passions? If it’s not many, it might be time to expand your circle, associate with—and be inspired by—men and women who are inspired by their work.

 Where do your passion and purpose lie?

  1. What do you want your legacy to be? 10, 20, 50 years from now, what will your name mean?
  2. Fill in the blank: My life is a quest for _______. What motivates you? Money? Love? Acceptance? Recognition?
  3. If you were to donate everything you have to a cause or charity, which would it be?
  4. What do you love most about your current job? What do you wish you could do more of?
  5. What do you think you were put on this earth to learn? What were you put here to teach?
  6. List your core values. Use your company’s mission statement to list its core values. Do they match up?
  7. What skills do people frequently compliment you on? These may not be what you think you’re best at.
  8. If you had the opportunity to get a message across to a large group of people, what would you say?

Check your mindset

Having the right mindset is key in achieving your personal best. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has shown that it is our belief system about our own abilities and potential determine how great our personal best can be. In her research, Dweck identifies two mindsets:

A ‘fixed’ mindset that assumes that our character, intelligence and creative ability are static givens that we cannot change, which creates an urgency to prove ourselves over and over, and a “growth’ mindset that assumes our true potential is unknown and can be cultivated through efforts.

At the heart of what makes the “growth mindset” so winsome is that it creates a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval. Its hallmark is the conviction that human qualities like intelligence and creativity, and even relational capacities like love and friendship, can be cultivated through effort and deliberate practice. Not only are people with this mindset not discouraged by failure, but they don’t actually see themselves as failing in those situations — they see themselves as learning.

Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives to become their absolute personal best. 

Achieve your personal best and find that 'growth mindset' by  joining development coach Suzanne Salter in UTS Business Practice's Self-Leadership Lab. Registrations are open.

About Suzanne Salter

I am a passionate developmental and mindfulness coach and university leadership lecturer with a unique mix of skills and background. Educated in the United States, France, Australia and New Zealand, I worked for 17 years in equity derivatives and financial engineering in over ten culturally diverse markets, turning around and building successful businesses for Société Générale, Westpac and CBA.

I have solid practical knowledge of the complex issues facing both leaders and followers. I understand the pressures of operating in highly competitive environments, where flawless client service, product delivery, brand and reputation are critical factors of success.

I also understand the importance of the mind and the power of conscious choice to create our desired reality. I work with my clients to build awareness around non-serving behaviours and help them take responsibility for how they want to “turn up” in the world.

My career transition to coaching was motivated by a genuine desire to help others develop their potential and to bring about a more sustainable form of leadership that helps both organisations and individuals reach their full potential.

When people ask me what I do, I say that I facilitate growth and development within individuals and society. Not everyone can do this and I get a real buzz from doing it!


Clients include

Australian Museum. Amgen, Sudler Hennessy, Systra, GHD, Pierre Fabre, UTS