Upping Your Personal Performance Expectations

Not that it’s my birthday (which it isn’t), but whenever an annual marker like this or New Years comes ‘round, one of my customary wishes is that I’ll be measurably wiser a year from now than I am at present. Another, more tangible challenge I make is upping the my performance expectations at the gym–I want to reassure myself that, going forward, I am meeting a higher level of achievement now than I did 12 months prior. Forestalling the dread of a downward slope of ability is a key goal.

But, what I’ve been thinking a lot about, of late, is the sort of graph that would measure my creative abilities vis a vis my chronological age. So, I ask this of you, too. What do you do better now than you did before? Think about the real progress you’ve made; formulate a portfolio of enhanced performance; congratulate yourself!

As we know, most adults fear that their abilities hit a peak and then start to diminish—and they’re not entirely wrong. Heck, Will Shakespeare proclaimed as much in All The World’s A Stage (http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/all-the-world-s-a-stage/ ). But, what I want us to explore in today’s post is the things we’re doing better now than we did ten years ago, because we are much more than our physical bodies. And, to get you in the right frame of mind, let’s look at the example of a 17 year old versus a 12 year old. I think it’s safe to say that while a 12 year old’s limbs may be way more flexible and capable of wrapping themselves into one of those yoga knots, it is a 17 year old—who can no longer manage such feats—who is stronger, smarter, faster, and more controlled.

By the same token, I know that I am wiser, more confident, and capable now that I’m in my 40s than I was in my 30s. This is good. This is what I want, and I hope to report another advance ten years hence. What puzzles me is the vast swath of humanity who believe that things like wisdom and good humor happen organically, with no effort on their part. “I’m older than you,” they reason, “so I know more. I’m right.” Really? Do you believe this? Age is not the seminal criteria. Alas, we all know infantalistic fools who are our seniors. Wisdom, kindness, and good humor are not guaranteed to descend upon our crowns as years tick by. So, if this is the case, the converse is also true: skills such as creativity, insight, and flexibility continue to develop as we progress through life—but only if we make the active choice to cultivate them. Re-booters hold onto this knowledge because it plays a critical role in what we decide to do with the rest of our lives.

I’m going to give you a couple of examples reflecting this line of thought because it is easy for people to believe that their creative abilities diminish as they age, but I contend that it doesn’t have to be this way. In the latest 007 film, Skyfall, both James Bond and M wrestle with whether or not they are “too old” for their line of work. When Bond objects to working with a Quartermaster so young he still has “spots” on his face, Q tells him that, “age is no guarantee of efficiency.” “And youth is no guarantee of invention,” replies Bond, reminding Q that knowing when to pull—or not pull—a trigger is something Q can never learn from working on his cutting edge laptop. Although Bond fails all his assessment tests to re-join the force, M brings him back, anyway, because she knows he can do it. And he does, too. He knows more; he can pick up better clues sooner and faster than before. As beat up and battle weary as he is, 007 is more capable than ever.

In 2008, the rock group, The Police, played a concert in Tokyo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7_lgm4q734. Prior to the concert, the band members were interviewed about coming back together after so many years apart. They talk about playing with more power. Stuart Copeland is quoted saying, “Everything is different, and nothing has changed.” There was none of this business that his shoulder hurt him or he was tired of playing all the same songs or complaints about Sting being more famous. Copeland was at a point where he could play the same music, but with greater skill and understanding. When you look at your life to date, how is this true for you? What situations no longer phase you or cause you anxiety?

Much has been written about the theory that investigative scientists or composers make their most important contributions when they’re young. That may be true in some cases, but certainly not for all. I know people in their 60s, 70s, and beyond who say they have more creative energy today, and are on the cusp of significant breakthrough discoveries now, than twenty years earlier. They are better artists, writers, philosophers, researchers, lovers and friends—all of this due to the wisdom, patience, insight, and imagination they have actively cultivated over the course of their adulthood.

I remind you of this because it is so exciting! Re-booters understand that more and better in our lives awaits us if we have the courage and energy to pursue it. Age does not determine ability, mindset does. Sure, there will always be some activities that come more easily to others than they do to us, but we have our talents, too. We just need to keep nurturing them through our willingness to try new approaches, to ignore “common wisdom,” and avoid getting bogged down in habitual thought. If M had accepted conventional wisdom that James was too tired and beat up to be worthwhile, Bond would never have made it back to the field. If Stuart Copeland believed that rock music was a “young man’s game,” he wouldn’t have subjected himself to the potential embarrassment of performing in a stadium filled with 30,000 people more than half his age.

Don’t tell yourself you’re too old a dog to learn new tricks. Try going counterclockwise, see if you can leverage what you already know, keep an eye out for that new approach. Otherwise, you can join the legions of calcified thinkers who populate our world.


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One Response to “Upping Your Personal Performance Expectations”

  1. paobs Says:

    What happened to May 12th? As always, a great column 🙂

    Sent from my phone


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