3 Hallmarks of a High Performance Mindset

Writer  /  Dr. Dave Schroerlucke

We’ve all heard the adage “talent is not enough.”  But let’s face it, talent certainly helps – a lot. Even the best mental preparation will rarely overcome glaring discrepancies in ability. Competing at the highest level in any performance domain requires, first and foremost, an adequate level of expertise. But expertise itself is no accident.

The idea of natural or “god-given” talent is a myth, albeit a prevalent one. Sure, many performance activities have physical requirements that are indeed heritable traits. It would be exceedingly difficult, for example, to be an NBA player if you were below six feet tall. Likewise, it would be difficult to realize your dream of being a horseracing jockey if you were above 6 feet tall. Height is “natural.” Talent, on the other hand, is not natural. Talent is always the result of persistent, disciplined effort.

Many people associate mental training for sport and performance primarily with learning how to stay calm and focused under the pressure of high-stakes competition. However, mental skills are just as important, perhaps even more so, during the skill-acquisition phase of training. In my mental coaching practice, I draw a distinction between “Preparation Mindset” and “Performance Mindset.”

The Preparation Mindset comprises the mental qualities and processes that are necessary for the development of a high level of expertise. The Performance Mindset involves the mental qualities and processes that promote reliable demonstration of already-established expertise when it matters most. In this article, I highlight the essential mental qualities associated with the Preparation Mindset. These qualities are vision, optimism and will, which together create the easy-to-remember acronym V.O.W. – as in “V.O.W. to succeed.”


The first mental prerequisite for developing expertise is vision. Before anything extraordinary can be achieved, it must first be envisioned in the mind. Visions are specific and detailed.

“I hope to be a great violinist someday” is a vague aspiration. “I will play first chair in a major orchestra within five years” is a clear vision. How is a vision different from a dream, purpose, goal or intention?  While these words are often used interchangeably, dream is a bit too hallucinatory, purpose a bit too supernatural, while goal and intention are not lofty enough to generate the necessary inspiration. Remember that your vision will ultimately serve as the driving force behind your ongoing motivation and commitment. In imagining your long-term vision for yourself, it is important not to set your sights too low. While there are some real limitations in life (which are generally unwise to ignore), most limitations turn out to be unnecessarily self-imposed or, worse yet, accepted merely based upon the limiting beliefs of naysayers. Never accept the limitations of others’ beliefs about what is and is not possible.


The second mental prerequisite for developing expertise is optimism. I am not talking about having a bubbly, positive disposition or a generic tendency to see glasses as half-full. Optimism is about having an unshakeable belief that realizing your vision is not only a possibility, but is actually inevitable if you remain committed to your chosen path.

Because this commitment requires a willingness to fully invest yourself when the outcome is uncertain, optimism can also be considered a form of courage. My earliest pool mentor loved to say that there are “wanna-bes” and “gonna-bes” in life. Those with the quality of optimism are the gonna-bes of the world. They have a sense of self-assurance that they will ultimately accomplish whatever they set out to accomplish.

Although they may experience self-doubt, they are not hindered by it. Optimism is a close cousin to the more popular terms self-belief, self-confidence and self-efficacy. However, optimism is preferred here because it also conveys the energy and enthusiasm that frequently accompany this sort of robust self-belief. The enthusiasm of those who know where they are going and believe in what they are pursuing is unmistakable, contagious and inspiring.


The final ingredient in the recipe for expertise is will. With apologies to the many believers in the pseudo-scientific “law of attraction,” visions of performance excellence do not magically manifest themselves simply because you “put them out into the universe.” Manifesting a vision requires the deliberate execution of one’s will through persistent goal-directed activity.

Will involves a dedicated commitment that is undergirded by the vision and optimism discussed above. Frequently used synonyms for what I am calling will are drive, persistence, resilience, and tenacity. Any of these words would suffice, but they do not lend themselves to the acronym that I wanted to use. The bottom line is that the pursuit of excellence is not for the weak-minded or faint-of-heart. There will inevitably be obstacles to overcome, setbacks to endure and disappointments to suffer.

The road to excellence is littered on all sides with those who have relinquished their vision due to some difficulty or other. Very often the difficulty simply amounts to impatience. When the world’s foremost experts in various performance domains are asked to identify the most important mental factor that contributed to their success, their responses almost always involve an unwavering commitment to achieving their vision at all costs. That’s what I mean by will. To realize your highest vision for yourself, you must want it more than anything else in life. You must adopt a do-whatever-it-takes mentality and be willing to make the sorts of sacrifices that others are unwilling to make.

Let’s review. The necessary mental qualities for developing world-class expertise are vision (know exactly where you are going and why), optimism (believe that you will get there and commit fully) and will (want it more than anything and don’t give up when the going gets tough).

Please note that I have identified these qualities as being necessary (but not sufficient) conditions for achieving performance excellence. Even with all three of these qualities present, realizing a lofty performance vision will also require top-level coaching, intelligently designed training, adequate environmental supports, access to challenging competition and the mental skills to reliably deliver your optimal performance under stressful circumstances. The qualities I have identified here provide the mental foundation for performance excellence, not the entire structure.

So there you have it. If you want to be great, you have to VOW to be great. Begin by clarifying your vision and cultivate an unshakeable belief that, with persistent goal-directed effort, your vision will eventually become a reality.

Now let’s get our minds ripe!

Visit ripeminds.com for more mental performance tips.

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