As I have collaborated with performing professionals—actors and professional athletes—I have learned increasingly about elite performance, and the factors that distinguish from average performance. Colleagues who have also studied this area, such as Geoffrey Colvin in his book Talent Is Overrated, inform this conversation.

Professional athletes have specific challenges to regulate states of mind at transition times, such as the beginning of their pro career with the stimulation of fame and new wealth, and at retirement to deal with successful transitions of career, income, and status. Actors especially have middle career challenges dealing with fame, wealth and regulation of mind states to sustain success, as well as wellness of mind, body and spirit.

  • Attention to state of mind. Elite performers know that state of mind and immersion in an ideal state creates “flow.” Flow is the state of automatic performance within procedural memory—not observing, not thinking about how you perform. Regulation of state of mind is best done by physiology and focus. See The Neuroscience of Change: 3 Steps to Rewire Your Brain for a way to combine physiology and focus to ensure an ideal state of mind.
  • The best performers observe themselves very closely. They monitor their performance and their state of mind. This subjective awareness becomes systematic for top performers. Am I staying true to purpose? Is this the best strategy? Am I making a balanced decision of reason and emotion? Am I grounded/centered? One of the consensus top three professional golfers of all time, when asked about his method, said, “I can see myself very well. I can visualize myself from all angles, and see my ideal swing and stroke. I can also see when I’m a bit off the mark to self-correct.” This awareness and self-visualization is not about video replay and analysis, but a unique development of body intelligence and objectivity to recognize both state of mind, and the automatic procedural body memory within the flow of that state of mind.
  • Elite performers are more specific as they judge themselves, set more specific goals and strategies. For example, average performers are content to say that they did good or bad, but the best performers have a specific standard that they strive to achieve.
  • Elite performers and average performers spend the same amount of time learning and practicing, but the difference is how they spend this time. Elite performers spend three times more hours than average performers on deliberate practice—the methodical, sometimes boring and uncomfortable work to stretch fundamental ability. Larry Bird shot 1000 baskets a day, seven days a week.
  • When and how elite performers practice is also different. While average performers spread their work through the day, elite performers consolidate their work into two well-defined periods. They correspond their work to their unique effectiveness, and pay attention to their natural biorhythms.
  • Elite performers do not believe their errors are caused by factors outside their control, but look to themselves to critically self-evaluate what they can do differently. They believe they are responsible for their errors.
  • Elite performers have a growth mindset. Average performers tend to believe that innate talent, like intelligence, is fixed. See Fixed vs. Growth Mindset.