Good People Becoming Great

The tools psychologists have are increasingly being used to help people achieve peak performance. That is likely one reason why a good portion of my practice involves work with adults, athletes or students who accelerate development of their advanced analytical, cognitive, or memory skills. In other words, taking people from average or above average functioning to truly great functioning and/or superior performance. For athletes, this is called “playing in the zone”, and for business people this may be called “hitting the sweet spot”.

For students this may involve a certain academic goal, like obtaining a certain score on the MCAT (medical school entrance exam). Other people may call this “finding your flow”. In fact, one of the best books on achieving peak performance was written by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (PhD), and it is aptly entitled “Flow”. It has become a classic, along with other informative and credible books written by performance psychologists with deep training in behavioral science.

Because psychologists have rigorous training in the behavioral science of personality, it is now hard to find a sports team or large corporation that does not utilize professionals with advanced psychological training. Individuals without clinical problems are also increasingly using behavioral scientists to help them correct obstacles since even well adjusted people all have what I call “personality derailers”.

At their very best, psychologists help people learn to increasingly experience their potential. But finding one’s potential is elusive, because so often we are dragged down by certain unhealthy or impairing tendencies/preferenes/habits. For those who are willing to seriously commit to correcting some of these tendencies, there is a good chance they can find a new level of functioning instead of only momentarily glimpsing “growth spurts” or forward leaps once in awhile. But any sustainable corrections are the result of intelligently focused “sweat” work. Habits are hard to break. But the regret one can have that they never corrected a tendency that could have changed their life is often enough of a motivator to inspire the necessary commitment.

Aside from my role as a therapist or doctor, I also work with people as more of a counselor to help them identify and correct core personality tendencies/habits/preferences that are holding them back from unleashing their potential.

The process may include advanced personality assessment measures, the same ones athletes and organizations use to enhance their functioning . We identify and accelerate personality strengths, while recognizing any “personality derailers” that might keep people from reaching their potential.

I recently worked with a pre-med student who simply had to overcome their test anxiety to get the score they wanted on the MCAT. They hit their target and then some, and only a few meetings were necessary. What is unfortunate is that before our work the extent of his ability was kept hidden by one thing only: test anxiety.

As I talk about in one of my blogs, a very small percentage of a person’s psychological makeup (say, 2% of their total set of traits/preferences/habits) can undermine the other 98% of their makeup that is healthy and positive. For example: You are very smart and attractive, and have a truckload of other great qualities. However, you also are very controlling and you do not take criticism well. These are two qualities that have been shown to be frequent “personality derailers” that can throw an otherwise well-functioning “human personality train” off its track.

As shown in the book “Why CEO’s Fail” even mature and seasoned leaders have failed because they were unable to address the 2% of their personality blocking the other 98%.

That 2% is often THE difference between being good and being truly great. The problem is most people settle for living good lives, when with a little bit of work they could be living GREAT lives. Even if you feel you are doing reasonably well now, you must ask yourself, how convinced are you that what brought you to where you are now in life (however you define that) is enough to get you wherever you want to go. The title of a good book of functioning also provides a rule of life that is often true: “What got you here won’t get you there”. The book is by Marshall Goldsmith, PhD.