When I advise clients seeking to achieve peak performance, I encounter a common theme. As hard as they work, they struggle to find that final one percent that makes the difference between performing at their full potential – meaning at a legitimate, one hundred percent of their capabilities – and performing somewhere in the mid-nineties, well short of their maximum.
Sometimes they get to ninety-eight or ninety-nine percent of their best, but that final one percent eludes them.
It’s frustrating. What most people do in this situation is threefold:
- They work harder.
- They tweak, change, and add details to their plan.
- They make their daily goals – the stepping stones to their ultimate goal – a little bit bigger.
Unfortunately, these three steps almost never work – and sometimes, they’re even counterproductive.
Because they aren’t specific enough to make a difference. It’s not sufficient to tell a track athlete to run faster, or to tell a cyclist to pedal harder, or to tell a triathlete to swim more. It’s not enough to tell them to change the type of energy gel they use, to consume a certain amount of carbs within thirty minutes of the end of their workout, or get an extra hour of sleep every night.
Optimize the Basics
All those things should already be in place. They probably don’t need to be changed. They simply need to be strengthened. Think of a mountaineer climbing Everest. The mountain itself is 29,000 feet tall. Which means the last one percent of the ascent is mere two-hundred-ninety feet. The way to reach the summit is step-by-step. You trek to a series of base camps, which form the foundation of your journey to the top. The last base camp is at roughly 26,000 feet, about ninety percent of the way to the top.
If you don’t have all your ducks in a row by then, you’ll never make the summit.
I tell my clients who strive to find their top one percent – that last two-hundred-ninety feet, in the language of Everest – to focus on the eighty-five percent of things that must go right to achieve a peak performance. In Everest language, that means making the most of your base camp system. You have to have your oxygen, your food, your gear, and your route working together in unison to have any chance of standing on top of the world.
I don’t ask for perfection. Perfection doesn’t exist. I ask them to solidify their foundation. When the constituent elements of a complex system are optimized, they work in harmony and form a single, synchronized whole that performs at a higher level than the sum of its parts. And when the whole works in unison, that last one percent takes care of itself.