Your Best Performance Happens in the Trusting Mindset


image"If you want to achieve excellence, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less-than-excellent work." –Thomas J. Watson

I sometimes catch myself analyzing my performance while I’m performing.

This could be as simple as giving a presentation or as complex as influencing a room of stakeholders.

I start to second guess myself. I’m no longer in the moment. I’m suddenly my worst critic at the wrong time.

Training Mindset and Trusting Mindset

This is the Training Mindset. The Training Mindset is the right place to be when you’re practicing. It’s analytical, intentional, and calculating.

It’s exactly the wrong place to be when you’re performing.

Your best performance happens in the Trusting Mindset. In the Trusting Mindset, you’re so engaged in the task that there’s no room for self-doubt or criticism. The Training Mindset serves you while you practice, but when its time to perform, your Trusting Mindset is where you perform your best.  

In Overachievement: The New Science of Working Less to Accomplish More, John Eliot, Ph. D. writes about the Training Mindset and the Trusting Mindset.

Training Mindset and Trusting Mindset

Eliot identifies the different characteristics of the Training Mindset and Trusting Mindset.  This table shows a summary of those differences:

Training Mindset Trusting Mindset
Active Mind Empty Mind
Judgmental Accepting
Analytical Instinctive
Scientific Artistic
Wanting It Now Patient
Calculating Reacting
Effortful Playful
Critical Quiet
Intentional Rhythmic
Controlling Letting It Happen

Great Performers Focus on What They Are Doing and Nothing Else

Great performers just step up and do what they’re great at.  They don’t focus on the results.  

Eliot writes:

“Great performers focus on what they are doing, and nothing else.  When Tiger Woods or Muhammad Ali cannot seem to make a false move, when Warren Buffet or Bill Gates is in the middle of a deal, when Yitzhak Perman or Al Pacino blows the critics away with a performance, they are not thinking about their technique, what their teachers told them, what their attorneys or accountants advised. 

They are able to engage in a task so completely that there is no room left for self-criticism, judgment, or doubt; to stay loose and supremely, even irrationally, self-confident; to just step up and do what they’re good at, concentrating only on the simplest nature of their performance.

Superstars perform so naturally and so instinctively that they seem to be able to enter a pressure-packed situation that would terrify or freeze most people as if nothing matters.  They let it happen, let it go.  They couldn’t care less about the results.”

Exceptional Thinking is Within Everyone’s Reach   

Exceptional thinking is within everyone’s reach.

Eliot writes:

“The good news: Research and experimentation have proven that this kind of exceptional thinking is within everyone’s reach.  But before you can master this superstar’s mindset, you first must understand why, when people ask great performers like Franz Klammer, "What was going on in your mind?" they are inclined to answer, ‘Nothing.’”

Don’t Question Your Abilities

Great performers trust their skills. 

Eliot writes:

“To be sure, great performers are well trained, experienced, smart, and, in some cases, divinely talented.  But the way their brains work during a performance is a lot more like a squirrel’s than like Einstein’s. 

Like squirrels, the best in every business do what they have learned to do without questioning their abilities — they flat out trust their skills, which is why we call this high-performance state of mind the ‘Trusting Mindset.’ 

Routine access to the Trusting Mindset is what separates great performers from the rest of the pack.”

Don’t Think About the Mechanics of What You’re Doing

The Training Mindset is when you analyze your performance.  Exceptional performance is about simply performing. 

Eliot writes:

“To perform exceptionally — whether it’s hitting an audience with a violin concerto, or even transplanting a heart — requires you to be in that same state of mind, empty of all doubt, without any thought about the mechanics of what you’re doing.  You cannot pull up all those years of education, training, and experience in your memory as you perform — that’s the "Training" Mindset.”

Let your Skills Do the Work, Not Your Head

The Trusting Mindset is about using your skills, not your head. 

Eliot writes:

“In the Trusting Mindset, you have to let all that expertise be there instinctively.  Our ability is maximized when we let our skills do the work, not our heads.  As professional golfers like to say, you have to trust your swing.  You just have to toss the keys — pure Trusting Mindset.”

The Trusting Mindset is the Holy Grail of High-Stakes Performance

People spend too much time thinking critically and evaluating themselves. 

Eliot writes:

“The results of putting the Trusting Mindset into play are never disappointing.  Anyone who has experienced its astonishing benefits is eager to figure out how to tap back into it, making it the Holy Grail of high-stakes performance. 

Unfortunately, people tend to devote too much time to thinking critically and evaluating themselves.  In my teaching and consulting, I have found that people get it better once they understand more about how their brains actually work under different circumstances.”

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • Training Mindset.  The Training Mindset is where you analyze your performance as you go.
  • Trusting Mindset.  The Trusting Mindset is where you use your skills, not your head.
  • Be fully engaged.  Engage in a task so completely that there’s no room left for self-criticism, judgment.
  • Don’t analyze yourself while you execute.  Don’t think about the mechanics of what you’re doing while your performing.
  • Do it until it’s automatic.  Practice your skills until you can do them without thinking about them.

It’s the difference between being in the moment and thinking about the moment.  One of the things that’s helped me a lot is distinguishing between when I’m practicing and when I’m performing.  

When I’m learning the mechanics, I analyze my performance. 

When I’m performing, the key is for me to stop analyzing my performance.

Instead, I need to trust my ability.  If I haven’t practiced enough, I won’t have the ability.  Critiquing myself along the way won’t make up for the lack of skills and will only get in the way of my performance.

If you want to perform better, embrace your Trusting Mindset.

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      1. My favorite is “Let your Skills Do the Work, Not Your Head”
        “Back at Work” part is brilliant!

      2. Thanks Alik.

        As simple as it sounds, I know I haven’t practiced something enough if I find myself overly thinking my way through it.

      3. I can relate — as a musician, the times when I perform the best are when I’m so absorbed that I’m not thinking about anything.

        It can come with practice. First, you have to be skilled enough to be comfortable. Second, you can also practice getting in the trusting mindset, even in your practice, by simulating a performance. It may help, if you’re in some kind of performing arts, if you tape or video what you’re doing so you can analyze it later.

        It’s all about being comfortable within yourself, so a lot of other issues affect it, too, like getting a good night’s sleep, eating nourishing and digestible food, and overall sense of self esteem.


      4. Your blog first caught my eye then my heart then my mind. You may be wondering what on earth I mean.

        Like you, I often notice, mid-activity, my trainer’s mind coming in with a commentary…it’s like a stream of sub-text running alongside the real activity. This trainer mind might be commenting on performance (giving feedback) or it might be converting an experience into a new training (how could I deliver/facilitate this?). It takes me away from being fully present from my activity. This activity can be meditating, yoga, jogging(actually I do lots of lesson, course planning while jogging along).

        When I am completely immersed, without my inner running commentary, I am in my heart energy. It has flow, it aligns with my gifts and talents effortlessly. How do I know when I in my heart energy? I seem to speak or move from a more centred place and afterwards I cannot recollect detail, for example, I cannot recollect precisely what I said and when I said it.

        How do I get from head to heart? I use Focusing. Focusing is a simple, yet profound, technique for working at the interface of the conscious mind and the subconscious mind, at the connection point between heart and mind.

        I settle into my body consciously and hold a space there for both mind and heart. Then I get a sense of the whole of the situation, allowing each to have an inner conversation with me. I hear the “why” of why my mind wants to keep me company with an inner commentary and the “how” of moving into my heart energy. I can then invite the mind to step aside for this time, reassuring it that its time and place will return.

        From this place I notice I am centred, aligned, immersed and in flow.

      5. @Ari – So true. I like how you put it … “skilled enough to be comfortable.” I’m careful where I take short-cuts now for just that very reason. Great points on eating and sleeping too. When you’re knocked off your game, it’s tough to get into a flow state.

        @Leona – Centered, aligned, immersed, and in flow sounds like a great place to be. I like that you have a very deliberate approach for shifting from your head to your heart using Focusing.

      6. What a cool concept. Your post is a perfect complement to my post where I have introduced a framework for life balance. My belief is that when we think our lives too much. Sometimes and most often, the solution lies in acting – by “letting it happen and being in the moment”.
        Thank you, you have some brilliant posts here!

      7. I can completely relate to this post (as a trainer and a consultant). When I’m presenting, I find myself lingering into “training mode” when I recognize I have been talking too long without some sort of interaction. An interactive environment keeps me inside the trusting mindset.

      8. I enjoy how you presented the difference between a training and a trusting mindset. One is not necessarily better than the other. It is a question of being aware which mind we are operating from, for the various tasks during the day.

      9. Hi J.D. – I never looked at it this way. I would always say “I’m in the zone” or “focused”. I do see how it does make a difference whether I’m in a training or trusting mindset. I can be all over the board in training, but when I’m in that trusting mindset, everything seems to flow and time is never a issue.

      10. @Stacey – I know what you mean. I like the interaction — it keeps me engaged.

        @Evelyn – Thank you. I agree that they both have their purpose. Exercising your training mind develops your expertise so that you can enjoy your trusting mind. They’re complimentary.

        @Barbara – You reminded me that another aspect is full engagement. Nothing beats being in the zone.

      11. Wow, JD! I like your framework … esp cause it is so much like mine :). If we can get out of the analysis-paralysis mode, then this framework seems quite intuitive, doesn’t it? I hope you check my framework out, love to know what you think.

        Thank you for the link!

      12. What a great post! I realized that I love to analyze too much till I create self-doubts. Therefore, I’m still taking long way to reach my goal. Your information helps me to realize the mistakes. I’ve wrote down the “trusting mindset” elements and paste it in front of my workstation so that I’ll remind myself and practice the right mindset. Thanks!

      13. @Maya – I checked out your framework — I like the approach. I think balancing our mind, body, and heart is a key to success.

        @Rosabel – Good move. I find sometimes all it takes is a little reminder in the right place to make all the difference.

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