“If you’re interested in mastery, you have to learn this lesson.
To really achieve anything; you have to be able to
to tolerate and enjoy risk.”
~ Barbara Sahakian neuropsychologist Cambridge
We began our discussion of Ultimate Human Performance in our last installment and we’ll dive deeply into this topic throughout this series.
Simply put, Ultimate Human Performance (UHP) is a very personal issue. While we may be able to point to societal measures, and we’ve certainly been heavily conditioned to do so, I’m not referring to societal definitions here per se.
The pinnacle of your performance must be individualized—very individualized. If we stopped right there, and considered all the implications and ramifications (which are vast), we’d be well on our way to beginning our own journey of UHP.
True magic in life begins when you stop chasing a career and find your calling.
The implication of following your calling is risk; and a large dose of it. Research tells us that most entrepreneurial start-ups close their doors in eighteen months or less. This is why I contend that entrepreneurs change the world.
This eighteen month risk can certainly be mitigated, but in no means can it be avoided. (reference mentor with James)
It’s also interesting to note that as Sahakian states above we must not only tolerate risk… but enjoy it.
The greatest risk to truly living life fully is no risk at all.
Unfortunately most of the recent research in extreme performance has been conducted with athletes. I say unfortunate because there may be a tendency to believe that the findings don’t pertain to entrepreneurship, business, relationships, inspiration, and life itself. Nothing could be further from the truth.
One of the seven laws of the universe is the Law of Correspondence. While this law states many things, one of the simplest things it tells us is that life is repeating patterns. If something works in one place, it works the same way in another. If it is true in athletics, it’s true in business, it’s true in life.
Studies show that when we put ourselves in a high consequence environment, big neurochemical responses ensue. These neurochemical responses are the tracks of a heightened state of awareness.
Please understand that high consequence decisions and actions are not the same as a high risk environment.
In other words, we’re not discussing putting life at danger, but rather realizing that the consequences of our actions are high.
Get the difference?
It’s also of note that neurotransmitter responses are not the cause of the risk related high… rather they’re the effect.
In our typical flatland interpretation, far too many scientist and layman alike have attempted to define the whole of the human experience by their effects alone. In our desperation to measure and define… we call the effects the cause. They’re not the cause. Consciousness is the cause; and consciousness cannot be defined by mere chemical reactions alone.
In our reductionist world we attempt to make the effects the cause. Consciousness is the one and only cause.
The cartography is not the territory—only an attempted map of something much greater. Neurotransmitters are but a map, or the effects, of an inexplicable and immeasurable cause of consciousness. Do you follow?
The dopamine present in high risk has been described by those in the know to cocaine. Natural cocaine. When high levels of dopamine are released there’s an extreme and heightened focus and awareness. An incredible euphoria. Increased performance and pattern recognition results and we’re automatically uplifted and performance is enhanced.
These pattern recognitions are powerful. For when they kick in (the “situational awareness” cited in psychology—more on this to come), even more dopamine is released and the cascade continues as we become more and more empowered and confident that we are more than capable for the risk at hand.
To say this is a high would be a vast understatement. If you’ve ever been in extremely focused flow you know exactly what I’m referring to here.
“All things are in the universe and the universe is in all things; we are in it, and it is in us; in this way all things occur in perfect unity.”
~ Giordano Bruno
Furthermore, if you understand the focus and pattern recognition described above, you now know one of the things necessary to trigger the much touted and documented “flow state.” (reference Mastery, Genius and Greatness series).
In a word one of the biggest hacks to flow is: Risk!
Now it’s vitally important to understand that “risk” is always relative. Please read that again.
While risk is a necessity for focused flow and Ultimate Human Performance, it’s not necessary to court your own mortality—even though it may feel that way unconsciously.
In other words, you don’t have to put your life at risk.
Pulitzer Prize winning author Ernest Becker’s work entitled The Denial of Death reveals that not only is our own mortality our greatest fear… it’s the single most common and consistent place that we live in the greatest denial.
Something to ponder.
But mortality, and putting our lives at risk, is not the issue here. The issue is putting our self mentally and emotionally on the line. For the risk we’re discussing for ultimate performance is more mental and emotional than physical.
While there are certainly physical implications to all actions of the mind, once again, similar to the neurotransmitters discussed above, they’re the effect not the cause.
Believe it or not, research shows that mental risk is not only necessary for focused flow and growth… it’s actually a fundamental factor of truly living versus merely existing.
“Life is on the wire… all else is just waiting.”
~ Karl Wallenda
Now you may be one of those individuals who read the above and say, “Well James, Wallenda fell to his death walking the tight rope!”
Yes, you’re correct.
The frightening fact, that Becker’s work addresses, and we do our best to deny, is that the question is not “Are you going to die?” For the answer is self-evident.
The true question is “Did you truly live?”
Unfortunately, the answer to this one true question for most is a resounding “No.”
There’s a vast difference between truly living and merely existing.
Wallenda exited this life doing his One Thing, his Magnificent Obsession, the thing that he was born to do. How about you?
Studies of death and dying prove time and again that the number one emotion of those at the end of their physical lives is regret. The regret that I could have done something great, I had a chance, I really should have, I wish I would have. I submit that regret is most probably the greatest emotional pain of all.
Regret is the footprint of a life half lived.
As you look back across your life,
you don’t have the most regret for the times you said “yes.”
You have the most regret for the times you were unwilling to say “yes.”
Let me please reiterate. I’m not advocating putting yourself at physical risk—for this is not necessary for your own UHP. But taking risk in consequences is absolutely necessary for extreme and ultimate performance.
Again, risk is relative. For a shy man to cross the room and have a conversation with a beautiful woman will create the same internal response as walking the tight rope did for Wallenda.
Simply put you must push the envelope of your own comfortable and known.
I was recently doing a mentoring session with a young lady who was having challenges in the workplace. As I listened to her tell of the great challenges she was confronting (actually asking my assistance on how to confront), they didn’t seem that grave or ominous to me.
As a professional communicator, it was a simple case of communication to be readily solved. The courage to stand her own ground.
But I learned a long time ago that everyone’s challenge and risk is very personal. (reference mentor with James)
“To reach flow, one must be willing to take risks.”
~ Ned Howell, Harvard
Everybody’s biggest life challenge is the biggest life challenge they’ve ever faced. While it might seem simple to you, it may not be so simple for another. It will serve us all well to remember this.
I was mentoring an Emmy award winning movie producer just yesterday. He was uttering the values in which we’ve all been heavily conditioned in current society. The mindset that you must “go where the money is,” that you must “chase the almighty dollar.”
I shared with him just a few of the literally countless times that I’d done just the opposite.
Ironically, by following my calling, my Magnificent Obsession, I had time and again been not only blessed with living my purpose, the greatest blessing of all, but had also been blessed with the dollars as well. Please read that again and ponder deeply.
We’ve been sold a bill of goods and told to chase the dollar. Ironically, those who have the dollars have obtained the dollars by living their love.
Does finding and following your calling automatically guarantee that you’ll become a multi-millionaire?
There are few guarantees in life.
But two things that are guaranteed when you do follow your calling are:
- It’s going to take tremendous risk to go against your heavily conditioned social paradigm of following the dollar. And most importantly…
- You’ll live a meaningful life. (reference Living a Meaningful Life)
Please remember that life is not meant to be easy… it’s meant to be meaningful. A meaningful life is a life well lived—all else is mere existing.
You must become comfortable with being uncomfortable.
So if you’re interested in Ultimate Human Performance, then you must willingly to accept and enjoy risk.
The mental risk of facing your own demons and fears.
The willingness to dance with your own demons.
The willingness to step out of the safety and security of the known to enter the adventure of the unknown.
Are you ready?
There’s always more.
And the journey continues…
Stay Awake, Love Life, and Be Epic