Right Question to Optimize Your Performance

I’m a fan of continual improvement, and I’m always looking for techniques to make it happen. I enjoy reading about ways for individuals and teams (e.g., a company) to optimize performance. Lately, I’ve been reading about individual optimization—sleep, diet, exercise, and cognitive performance. I made some notes:

  • Things that move the needle the most on personal optimization aren’t the most appealing options (sometimes you dread them). And doing them can be an unpleasant experience. But when you finish and are on the other side of your decision, you feel great and happy you did whatever it was. Examples include big things like a grueling physical workout. But they also include little things like cutting a TV show short to go to bed early.
  • The things that slow or even prevent personal optimization are often attractive options that feel great in the moment. But you don’t feel great, or you have regret, when you’re on the other side of the decision. I’m thinking of things like excessive alcohol consumption (i.e., a hangover), an unhealthy meal, or even staying up late to watch a movie. All of them feel good in the moment, but later that day or the next day when they negatively affect your performance—not so much.

Sometimes I focus on the desirability of an activity—how I’ll feel as I do it. If I dread it, think it will be unpleasant, or just don’t want to do it, sometimes I opt out. That’s the wrong approach. Given my desire to optimize my performance, I want to change the criteria I use to make these decisions. I want to focus on how the activity will make me feel afterward. Said differently, I’ll ask myself “Will this make me feel better or improve me?” If the answer is yes, I should do it. If the answer is no, I should say no (though there will always be exceptions).

Asking myself this question is a simple mental hack to make better decisions that optimize my performance.