6 Steps to a Low Stress, High Performance Life

What do you do when your world melts down?

Me? I went to hike a mountain.

In a two-year period, we moved away from friends, our daughter had a stroke, and I worked for a financial firm when the world financial system almost went under. It was a rough time.

When audiences hear me say that I don’t use goals to achieve, they understandably ask: If not goals, then what?  What is a path to achievement or success if not goals?  This is the very question I had to ask myself while climbing that mountain after I had seen that blind adherence to goals was one of the contributors to the financial meltdown of 2008.

And that’s when it hit me: how do you get to the top of a mountain?  Isn’t that what we want our goals to do – get us to the height of our career, our health, our relationship, or our game?  I had always heard, “Never take your eyes off the goal!” but when I tried to keep my eyes on the peak of the mountain – where I ultimately wanted to go – I stumbled on the path or at worst could have stepped off a cliff.  As I hiked, I realized the act of hiking a mountain makes for a perfect analogy to achieving anything in life efficiently and with peace.  I will expand each of these in following blog posts but these are the 6 steps to low-stress high-performance:

  1. Vision

We have heard goals defined as “dreams with a deadline.” My experience is that “deadline” can be toxic.  But having a vision is vital.  It is the difference between taking a walk in the vicinity of a mountain and steady progress toward the top of the mountain.  Our vision is the summit.


  1. Direction

To accomplish our vision of standing on the summit, we can go straight up the mountain but will more likely take a series of “switchbacks” or crossing patterns across the face of the mountain to get to the top.  This is a plan or direction that gets us to the next plateau.  In life, this takes the form of a list of next controllable tasks in the direction of our vision.  More on this later.


  1. Incremental steps

Once we have a vision for where we ultimately want to go and know the direction, our eyes (and minds) focus on nothing but the next couple of steps.  When hiking, as in life, there are always rocks in the path and consistent progress requires near-term focus to keep from stumbling.  A side benefit is that it also makes life much more peaceful.


  1. Measure

This is a key step for high achievement.  We begin measuring those controllable steps and do a little more today than we did yesterday.  All of us underestimate the power of compounded effort – it can take us much further than big goals can.


  1. Observe

After hiking with eyes on the tail for a while, we always look up to see how much closer we are to the summit, but more importantly we look back to see how far we have come.  Looking back to see how far we have progressed is encouraging and motivating.  Then our eyes go right back to the next couple of steps.


  1. Celebrate

Take time to celebrate how far we have already hiked and to celebrate the fun things along the path.  Celebrating both makes a high-performance life feel most like a game.  Do any of us ever work any harder or have more fun than when we are playing our game?

I will unpack these six steps in more detail in the next several posts, but that is it.  When hiking, you begin by deciding the direction you want to go, focus on just the next few steps in front of you, check your progress, push yourself, and enjoy the journey.  You want to move consistently higher.  The low-stress high-performance life is the same.  It can take you far beyond the summit of your current mountain.

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