High Performance Habits: #3 Raise Necessity 1 (part 8 of 22)



Necessity Basics

These are the factors in performance necessity (which I call the Four Forces of Necessity): identity, obsession, duty, and urgency. The first two are mostly internal. The second two are mostly external. Each is a driving force of motivation, but together they make you predictably perform at hight levels.


Internal Forces

Naturally, we all want to do a good job on things that are important to us. But high performers care even more about excellence and thus put more effort into their activities than others do.

The goal for all underperforms must be to set new standards, self-monitor more frequently, and learn to become comfortable with taking a hard, unflinching look at their own performance.

Sometimes the fastest way to get back in the game is to expect something from yourself again.

Go ahead and tie your identity to doing a good job. And remember to set challenging goals. Decades of research involving over forty thousand participants has shown that people who set difficult and specific goals outperform people who set vague and non-challenging goals.

See yourself as a person who loves challenge and go for the big dreams. You are stronger than you think, and the future holds good things for you. Sure, you might fail. Sure, it might be uncomfortable. But what’s the alternative? Holding back? Landing at the tail end of life and feeling that you didn’t give it your all? Trudging through life safely inside your little bubble bored or complacent? Don’t let that be your fate.

High performers’ dreams of living extraordinary lives aren’t mere wishes and hopes. They make their dream a necessity. Their future identity is tied to it, an duty expect themselves to make it happen. And so they do.

Obsession With Understanding and Mastering a Topic

If an internal standard for excellence makes solid performance necessary, then the internal force of curiosity makes it enjoyable.

What I know about high performers is that they do indeed spend an enormous amount of time thinking about and doing their obsession(s). Is this “abnormal”? Absolutely. But normal isn’t always healthy, either.

When high personal standards meet high obsessions, then high necessity emerges. So, too, does high performance. And that’s just the internal game of necessity. The external forces are where things really get interesting.

Before we move on to the external forces, spend some time reflecting on the following statements:

  • The values that are important for me to live include …
  • A recent situation where I didn’t live my values was …
  • The reason I didn’t feel it necessary in that moment to live my values is …
  • A recent situation in which I was proud of living my values or being a particular kind of person was …
  • The reason I felt it necessary to be that kind of person then was …
  • The topics I find myself obsessed with include …
  • A topic I haven’t been obsessing about enough in a healthy way is …


External Forces

High performers often feel the necessity to perform well out of a sense of duty to someone or something beyond themselves. Someone is counting on them, or they’re trying to fulfill a promise or responsibility.

It’s hard for underperforms to see that obligations are not always a negative thing, which is why we found that underperforms complain more about their responsibilities at work than their high performing peers. Some obligations can naturally feel like something to complain about. A sense of obligation to family, for instance, might lead you to live your parents or to send them money. This kind of familial duty might feel like a ball and chain to many, but meeting such duties also happens to correlate with positive well-being.

At work, a sense of “doing the right thing” drives positive emotions and performance as well. Organizational researchers have found that employees who are the most committed, especially in times of change, feel that it would be “wrong” to leave a company if their absence would hurt the company’s future. They often double down on their efforts to help their managers even though it requires longer work hours. Duty to the mission replaces their short-term comforts.

I learned that when you have the opportunity to serve, you don’t complain about the effort involved. When you feel the drive to serve others, you sustain solid performance longer. This is one reason, for example, why members of the military are often so extraordinary. They have a sense of duty to something beyond themselves – their country and their comrades in arms.

Real Deadlines

Why do athletes work out harder in the weeks immediately before walking into the ring or onto the field? Why do salespeople perform better at quarter’s end? Why do stay-at-home parents report being better organized right before school starts? Because nothing motivates action like a hard deadline.

What is a “real” deadline? It’s a date that matters because, if it isn’t met, real negative consequences happen, and if it is real, benefits come to fruition. … but just as important, high performers are not seeking to meet false deadlines. The reality is that when you choose to care for others and make a big difference in the world, the number of deadlines coming at you will increase.

Keeping the Fire

Identity. Obsession. Duty. Deadlines. As you can imagine, any one of these forces can make us bring up our game. But when internal and external demands mix, you get more necessity, and an even stronger wind at your back.

I’ll repeat the part about this being a sensitive topic. Lots of people really dislike necessity – they hate feeling any sort of pressure. They don’t want internal pressure because it can cause anxiety. And they don’t want external pressure because it can cause anxiety and real failure. Still, the data is clear: High performers like necessity. In fact, they need it. When it’s gone, their fire is gone.

Bottom line: We change and improve over time only when we must. When the internal and external forces on us are strong enough, we make it happen. We climb. And when it gets most difficult, we remember our cause. When we are afraid and battling hardship and darkness, we remember we came in the cause of light and we sustain positive performance over the long term. Here are three practices that can fire up a greater sense of necessity.