What? High performance is about relationships?? Isn’t it about the competition? The pursuit of excellence? The craft? Technique? My area of expertise? It is…until it is not.
Think of any endeavour you have been involved in. I think back to my first job out of university, as a women’s better sportswear sales manager for Macy’s. I thought it was about clothing. Inventory reports. Forecasting consumer trends. Refolding sweaters in cube shelving (for the millionth time).
Nope. It turned out that I had to cultivate good working relationships with the elderly sales ladies who ran the check-out registers, who had worked in the same areas for 20+ years. I had to stop trying to prove I was the expert and listen to them. And more often than not, take their advice. I had to get savvy with talking to the store buying line, those folks who allocated stock to my area. If they didn’t think I could do a good job promoting their merchandise, they would not risk giving me much. And I certainly had to cultivate quick trust with customers, learning to read their preferences and bring over other options that worked for them. When I got that right, they felt “gotten” and we made more money.
So yes, on one level, it was about the art of procuring and selling merchandise. But without the ability to relate effectively to the myriad of people whose fortunes intertwined with mine, the procuring or selling of stuff became that much harder.
Having said all that, this piece is not about how to cultivate great external relationships [that comes later.]. Today it’s about the equally important relationship we have with ourselves. The truth of it is that the quality of the relationship we have with ourselves can make or break our own individual ability to perform - be it in sport, at work, or with those we love.
I was grappling with this notion that we have an array of ways we might relate to ourselves, and came up with this relation-quality ladder, which I recently shared with a corporate group I was working with.
The idea is that we each relate to ourselves in unique ways, some of which can be more or less healthy or conducive to performance or even a happy life. Unpacking it from the bottom, I invite you to consider where you are on this ladder relative to your relationship with yourself:
1. Traitor/Enemy: This is the person whose inner critic has taken over. The inner voice that beats us up after mistakes, but doesn’t see much to celebrate in successes, either. This is often the inner world of the perfectionist or relentless high achiever. I never have anything good to say about myself. This is often a painful and even powerful relationship where the person feels subservient to an unrelenting task-master.
2. Unremarkable/Passerby: While the negativity at this level is gone, this is the relationship we might have with someone like the supermarket checkout person. The relationship is neutral and transactional; otherwise, it’s out of sight, out of mind. Huh, never really thought about it, or I never really think about myself at all.
3. Pleasant/Neighbour: Here, the person is aware that they are in a relationship - like when we move into a new neighbourhood and, presumably, are motivated to get on with the people who live around us. But beyond the pleasantries, there isn’t much more. This is a relationship characterised by pleasant, benign neglect. Eh, I just don’t prioritise myself in the grand scheme of things.
4. Situational Care/Teammate: This is a deeper relationship but bounded by the role. That is, yep, I care about you, but mostly in the context of our shared experience. Once the person leaves the team or workplace, I’m not likely to be concerned or invested in them. I see the point of self-care, but it’s inconsistent and conditional based on how I’m feeling about myself. Or, I do something nice for myself once in a while.
5. Committed/Soulmate. This relationship is perpetually caring, supportive, and in service. This is the long-married couple who still hold hands and chuckle lovingly about each others’ foibles, all the while gazing at each other affectionately. You know those people. You might be in a relationship like that. It’s about unconditional acceptance rather than an insistence or even a strong wish that the other person change. I love the person I am including my flaws. I have my own back through good and bad times. I’m nice to myself all the time.
Can you find yourself on this ladder? If not, I'd love to hear about your experience with this model...your feedback can make this better.
Some in the corporate group said that they would slide around the ladder depending on the situation, which makes sense. While I know clients and athletes who seem “stuck” at the bottom more often than not, I also know people whose minds are particularly harsh after mistakes but then might resolve into a more neutral or benign stance otherwise. If that sounds true for you, it’s still worth knowing which rungs you live on and when.
It’s Shaped Like a Ladder for a Reason. And for a host of reasons spanning from mental health through well-being to high performance, it’s worth climbing the ladder. Just as unconditional positive regard from parent to child enhances the child’s sense of secure attachment and of self, our steady positive regard for ourselves creates a solid foundation from which to launch ourselves into whatever challenges life throws at us. When we are conditional, so is our performance. When we are at odds with ourselves, we have unintentionally made the effort that sustained high performance takes that much harder.
If you want some guidance and help in re-working your relationship with yourself…I can help.
Get in touch here.