Do you want to become a true high performer, the best at what you do? Then today’s post is for you as we will be exploring what drives world class high performers to achieve extraordinary results.

We all know world class athletes, singers and actors enjoy lots of fame, money, and recognition. But what is unknown to most of us is what pushes stars like Roger Federer and Rafael to continue working so hard and pursuing big goals even after they have achieved exceptional success.

Rewards Can Inhibit performance

What characterizes real champions is that they don’t become complacent after enjoying their initial success. Instead of taking it easy and enjoying the benefits of their celebrity status, they become even more hungry  to break records and work harder than ever before..

Obviously, money no longer serves as the main driving force to ignite their motivation, as they already have plenty. In fact, recent studies indicate that payments as rewards can backfire when it comes to high-performance tasks.

Take a study by economist Dan Ariely who went to India and asked participants to play several skill related games. He offered them three kinds of rewards for reaching certain performance levels.

One third of the participants could earn a small reward.

One third would earn a medium reward.

And one third would receive a relatively large reward.

Guess what?

Surprisingly, those in the highest reward group fared worst of all. The reason was that because they were so focused on making money they felt extremely anxious about messing up.

Transforming practice Into Play

Sometimes we are even willing to pay in order to work hard.

If you have ever watched or read Tom Sawyer as a kid, you may remember a scene where he was ordered to whitewash a long fence. Somehow he convinced his friends into thinking that painting the fence was so much fun that they paid him to have a turn at doing just that.

Sounds crazy-why would anyone pay to paint a fence?

Twain explains a key motivational principle with the following example:

“There are wealthy gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger-coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the summer, because the privilege costs them considerable money; but if they were offered wages for the service, that would turn it into work and then they would resign.”  Mark Twain, the Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

In other words, fun seems to be one of the key ingredients that can help us persist in our daily tasks. By transforming work into play, our real reward becomes the activity itself, which is why we are willing to push ourselves beyond past limits.  

I guess, instinctively you know this already. Have you ever taken classes to become really good at a hobby like playing a new instrument or learning a new sport? And even though it may have been hard work, you paid a teacher to help you improve?

The reason you did this was that you enjoyed the idea and process of getting better at that specific skill. The joy of improving is what turned hard work into a worthy hobby.

Do Goals Enhance Our Performance

We all have big dreams.  But for most of us, achieving them would require consistent hard work. And let’s be honest-how many of us have been investing a few hours a day to make them come true?

One issue is that often it is outside people who define our goals: This can be a boss, a coach or even a parent. So instead of enjoying the process of improvement, we focus on satisfying other people’s expectations. Unfortunately, this can kind of pressure can lead to some dangerous side effects of individuals seeking shortcuts. An employee might manipulate numbers to reach his yearly sales targets, while an athlete could be tempted to inject performance enhancing steroids to win a big sports competition.

Long term goals serve us best when we desire to do something because we find it deeply satisfying and personally challenging. By transforming practice into play, our real reward becomes the activity itself. This is when we are willing to push ourselves beyond past limits and enjoy working hard solely for the sake of making progress. The predominant incentive of the game becomes mastery of a skill instead of any specific outcome.

In his book Drive- the surprising truth about what motivates us Daniel H. Pink introduces three laws to gaining such mastery.

Mastery Is A Mindset

It all starts in our head. This is because only we control our thoughts and attitudes.

To pursue mastery, we need to have what Carol Dweck calls a Growth Mindset, rather than a Fixed Mindset. People with a Fixed Mindset look for easy successes, because to them, hard work means they are not good at what they are doing. Therefore they avoid real challenges.

In contrast, people with a Growth Mindset believe that effort and hard work are the secret ingredients to more success. Therefore they are able to set themselves difficult learning goals and embrace challenges as part of their quest to move towards their big goals.

If you want to learn how to develop a Growth Mindset, start by watching this YouTube clip:

Mastery Is Pain

We all get our chances to prove ourselves. The real question is if you will be ready when these opportunities arise. Your relationship to practice will determine how good you will become at whatever it is you are trying to achieve, and whether you will perform your best when the big moment comes.

However, the daily practice can be painful and sometimes boring. But this is what it takes to become the very best. I can tell you from experience that athletes like Michael Jordan are the ones who show up first to practice sessions and leave last. In other words, you need to feel comfortable about being uncomfortable, and enjoy spending lots of hours practicing mundane activities to enjoy real success breakthroughs. Your ultimate reward will be continuous progress.

Mastery Is An Asymptote

An asymptote is a straight line that a curve approaches but never quite reaches.

In the same way, mastery is something we can approach through effort and hard work, although we never quite manage to touch it. This is why we need to be detached from specific outcomes, and can only pursue real mastery when we find joy from the chase rather than from any specific results.

In summary, exceptional performers do so well because they can motivate themselves in ways most people can’t. If you want to become the very best at your job, as a parent or any other kind of high-performance activity, you need to find the drive to work harder than ever before. This is only possible once you consider the joy of progress your ultimate inspiration.

If you have any advice how you get yourself motivated to become even better at what you do, I would love to hear from you. Please share your story below.


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