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Encouraging high performance through motivation Oct 29, 2016

While it is probably premature to talk about “high performance” for younger children, it is a concept that becomes more evident for parents of teenagers, especially as they near the end of their school years. However, the importance of instilling behaviours in the very early years is now well recognised. So what does the research tell us about high performance, and can we distil some ideas from this that might be worth considering for our parenting, even years before we expect to see it.

3 key ways our brains function

To explain this, scientists look at the various parts of the brain and the different functions each perform. Without going into all of the detail, we know that the brain has different parts in which there are three key ways in which it functions:
a. The thinking brain for decision-making
b. The emotional brain for feeling and
c. The automatic pilot that works even when we are not thinking.

As humans who have an in-built need for survival that amounts to a need to preserve energy, we are inherently lazy. To move out of this “chill” zone, we need a moderate degree of stress to get the best performance (diagram below was first depicted by Yerkes and Dodson in 1908). The key question is, what allows some of us to end up in this performance zone with great outcomes, while others don’t.


The answer lies in whether it is external factors or our internal thoughts that determine in which zone we find ourselves.

No matter what that hard thing is, high performers choose to do it more often. They will resist the tendency for laziness and interrupt the autopilot that would rather not do the hard thing. The question then becomes …How do they manage to interrupt their “autopilot” more than the next non-performer? The research says that the answer is to ASK QUESTIONS. For example, “Is what I am about to do getting me closer to my goals?”

The usefulness in having a prior strategy when in that moment

So when we are in the moment, and need to “endure the hard thing” – what is it that makes some of us endure while others settle for the easier option. High performers have a prior strategy. If they think of their strategy when they are in that moment, it is easier to push through.

This was borne out by another speaker I recently had the pleasure of listening to – Stephen Bradbury. Stephen won Australia’s first winter Olympics gold medal 2002 in the 1000m speed skating and showed us a slide of the words above his bed…


He knew that his competitors would be getting up. The moment he opened his eyes, he saw that sign and dragged his sore and tired legs out of bed and off to training…with no regrets when looking back.

Tony Wilson summed 70 years of performance psychology with 1 important concept:


So can we encourage internalising behaviours in our children in their formative years? I think we can by empowering them.

3 ways to empower your children

Three ways we might do this is by:
1. Giving them choice wherever possible and reasonable and letting them see the consequences of those choices;
2. Finding out and helping them to understand what motivates them; and
3. Helping them have small goals they can achieve and feel the satisfaction of reaching that goal.

I know for me, this sometimes meant standing back and not stating what was to be done, but letting the risk of failure drive their actions. If something was that important to them, they would do what it took to not fail. This was an internal drive within them. And I noticed they were all the prouder for having dealt with it themselves.

Our albums are designed to help parents help their kids to capture their goals and achievements, so that slowly over time, it will gently help bring about internalising behaviours. Our display pages also make it easy to quickly turn your child’s smallest achievements in a “big deal”.

Related posts: Value kids’ small achievements

More than “just memories”


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