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The Correlation Between High Performance and Mental Meltdowns


The high performance mindset: an unwavering determination to chase the best version of oneself.

Do you have a high performance mindset?

Chances are you do. This mindset is not just reserved for CEO's, professional athletes, and military officers: this is a mindset that drives a lot of us to meet success. The high performance mindset is a constant reminder and the subsequent action to take on the pressures of our unconscious motivation.

LeadershipIt's the mindset that has been responsible for driving some of the greatest leaders, competitors, and innovators of our time. And it's a mindset that has proven to drive powerful results. But it comes with a cost -- an increasingly detrimental one.

What happens when the pursuit of personal greatness becomes a overbearing measuring stick for personal identification? When the stress to be great exceeds the level the brain can deal with?

Two huge concerns are addiction and stress overload. According to Therese Borchard, the founder of Project Beyond Blue, an online community for people with chronic depression and anxiety, "I think there are some biochemical considerations present in the overachiever some of the time....brains in high-powered people may be prone to addiction. The same qualities that make for an effective leader—risk-taking, obsession, dedication, novelty-seeking, strong drive for success—are also what contributes to addiction."

Addiction fundamentally changes the brain on a physiological level. It literally alters the way the brain works, rewiring its fundamental structure. That’s why scientists say addiction is a disease.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the human brain is wired to reward us when we do something pleasurable. Exercising, eating, and other pleasurable behaviors directly linked to our health and survival trigger the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. This not only makes us feel good, but it encourages us to keep doing what we’re doing. It literally teaches our brains to repeat the behavior. And this is how the cycle of addiction begins.

Back to Borchard, "It’s the same with work and success, which can definitely provide a high. While a person without the addictive biochemistry can walk away from her job at the end of the day and sit down to focus on dinner with the family, the addict—and I would add the depressive because we share some of the same creative wiring of the brain, especially when it comes to feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine—needs more and more stimulation to feel okay. Working late into the night might actually be feeding the same centers of the brain...In some people, working 80-hour weeks serves to quiet the noonday demon on some cellular level."

Steve JobsIn a similar study in 2016 by psychiatrist Dr. Michael Freeman identified the relationship between entrepreneurship and depression. It found that many of the personality traits found in entrepreneurs -- creativity, extroversion, open mindedness and a propensity for risk -- are also traits associated with ADHD, bipolar spectrum conditions, depression and substance abuse.

So can someone with a performance mindset cope with a constant struggle to meet their deeply personal "best version" mental model?

Most psychological damage is done internally. Fairly obvious, but the failing to meet the mental model of success in the moment can be devastating for a high-achieving individual.

The journey towards success carves out a void in one's mind that becomes increasingly difficult to fill.

It is important to remember: the struggle to meet yourself and perform at your highest level is not the same as the outcome of your performance.

Maximizing your own potential must not be compared to any outside factor. Oftentimes, people take into account environmental factors like competition or internal factors like measuring yourself against those around you that are very difficult to cope with.

So, if you're struggling to perform "up to your standard", your struggling with conflicting thoughts of what "success" should be, or self-limiting beliefs that plague your every move -- turn your focus outward towards those around you and subscribe to a vocation of teaching, or leading others.

Teaching implies having more knowledge than the subject being taught; therefore, a teacher-student or leader-follower model is established. To facilitate the learning process and development of leadership skills, a high performing individual needs to acknowledge that one of his or her major responsibilities is to be a teacher.


People often justify themselves by their aspirations. And their aspirations are fulfilled through work. So work becomes the medium for mastering oneself. To master work and master oneself cannot be learned by prescription or content; it must be learned in a relationship with a teacher.

To teach, high performing individuals can reverse engineer their feelings and thoughts to discern and understand what their followers are going through as they strive to meet their own version of high performance. Developing the skills and expanding the strengths of a follower are major aspects for the high performance mindset that allows for flows of positive feelings.

Whether on-the-spot feedback, a private organized coaching meeting, or small learning session with a few individuals can be a powerful force to help dissipate the ill-effects of a high performance mindset. A mentor's alliance and the feeling of being wanted and relied upon for psychological fulfillment affirms a performance mindset.

So, if you're struggling to meet your mental models internally, shift your focus to the external and help others meet theirs. You just may find the fulfillment and answers to your problems you're looking for.



About the author, Tim

US Navy Surface Warfare Officer.
Lacrosse Player.

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