The Performance Delusion

There's a question that business spend a lot of time, money and effort trying to answer and resolve:


If I were writing this from a ‘traditional’ perspective, I’d be blaming a dip in performance on things like a lack of motivation, engagement, confidence, self-belief or inspiration, and then I'd have to give you some solutions to each of those 'problems'.

I live in a much simpler world these days, and all of the things in the list above come under one heading: Thought.

I find it interesting that the words above are nouns – they’re stated as ‘things’, as if we could put them in a container and dole them out as required. In fact, the feeling or state of mind we call ‘motivation’, 'self-belief' or 'confidence' is just a bunch of thoughts we’ve packaged up and put a label on.


When we see the truth of that, a particular state of mind looks rather random, and completely irrelevant to whether we decide to take action (or not) on something we want or need to get done.

When we get a glimpse of how motivation or other states of mind are constructed, it starts to seem a little strange that we think we need a particular thought and its corresponding feeling to be present before we can do what we need to do.

Let’s look at a simple example. How many people would still be in bed at lunchtime if they waited for inspiration or motivation to strike before they felt they could lift their head from the pillow? If those things were truly necessary in order for us to get our feet out from under the duvet, we’d have the perfect excuse for being absent from work.


That may seem like a silly example, but it’s actually very relevant.

We seem to have bought into the idea that there are some things that require motivation, confidence, self-belief etc., and others that you can just do regardless. In fact, the only thing stopping us from doing ANYTHING that’s physically possible for us, is a thought.

Whether that’s:

  • Completing the piece of work we’ve been putting off
  • Asking for a pay rise
  • Speaking up in a meeting
  • Admitting to a mistake
  • Asking for help
  • Hitting ‘publish’ on a blog post
  • Going skydiving

There’s nothing in the way of you doing any of those things, but a wispy bit of vapour that you’re seeing as an obstacle, either by its presence (when we call it fear of failure, disengagement or lack of self-confidence) or its absence (when we call it motivation, confidence, inspiration, self-belief).

What would change for us if we really saw that?

The same is true of all of the ‘states of mind’ I mentioned at the beginning of this article. None of those thought constructs are necessary for you to perform well, nor are they to blame if you’re not performing.

The key to performing at your best more of the time is understanding where your feelings are coming from (100% from Thought), and that whether they feel like ‘motivated’, ‘freaked out’ or ‘can’t be bothered’ has nothing to do with the task at hand or your ability to start it or complete it.

Once we understand this, we’re free to perform (or not perform) as we see fit, without believing we’re at the mercy of the way we feel in any moment.

On the other hand, it also has the side effect of taking away our excuses. Sorry about that folks!