Performing at Your Best In Your Work and Life - IBZ LIfe & Work Coaching

Performing at Your Best In Your Work and Life

Performing at Your Best

In Your Work and Life

Performing at Your Best In Your Work and Life - IBZ LIfe & Work Coaching
“In performance we sometimes get so focused on the thing itself that we stop paying attention to why am I doing this, what is it that matters to me about it, and how does it bring meaning into my life, and those are tremendously important aspects of performing well.”
Kate Hays, PhD

We all have to perform in life and work – interviewing for a job, taking an exam, giving a presentation at work, competing in a 5K run/walk, speaking at a community meeting, auditioning for a choir or band. Emotions and the pressures we experience can get the best of us, blocking our ability to perform the way we’d like.

I recently interviewed Kate Hays, PhD, psychologist, author and a leader in the growing field of performance psychology. Here are a few highlights to help you perform at your best in situations that call for peak performance.

What is performance psychology and coaching?
Let’s say you’re speaking at a meeting or interviewing for a new job. Performance psychology and coaching offers strategies to help you perform this task well and be fully engaged. It focuses on the mental aspects of performance, any kind of performance, addressing not just the action but the thinking, emotional component, asking: “Who am I? How am I approaching this? What are my thoughts that enhance my performance? What are my concerns that detract from my performance” (K. Hays, Personal Communication, 2018). Performance coaching helps us address these questions so we can deliver at our best on a more consistent basis.

Who can benefit from performance psychology and coaching?
According to Dr. Hays all of us can benefit from performance coaching. She says when you’re going into any situation you anticipate may feel uncomfortable, it helps to be aware of how you’re likely to react.

“… You need to have some realistic grounding, some awareness about what you’re likely to be thinking about and saying to yourself, and if it starts to go off the rails you also need to have some ways for bringing yourself back to being in that present moment and staying focused on what it is that you want to accomplish”
(K. Hays, Personal Communication, July 11, 2018).

What is “optimal tension”?
According to Dr. Hays, when we’re facing a challenging situation it helps to be aware of the amount of tension we’re experiencing in our minds and bodies. Some tension is good, but not too much. It’s important to know what the optimal amount of tension is for me – the stress level at which I perform at my best. This involves awareness of what I want to be feeling, thinking, and experiencing in this situation. “I don’t want to be totally asleep because then I won’t be giving any energy to this performance, but on the other hand I don’t want to be a quivering pool of jello”
(K. Hays, Personal Communication, July 11, 2018).

How does mindfulness and diaphragmatic breathing benefit performance?
Dr. Hays says one of the best ways to manage our level of tension is diaphragmatic breathing, sometimes called belly breathing, which involves inhaling and exhaling fully to create space for oxygen and help direct focus and concentration.

Noting that mindfulness is really “in” right now, Dr. Hays explains that improving performance can start with mindful breathing, repeatedly coming back to the breath as a strategy to clear the mind and bring us greater focus. Mindfulness can also have significant physical and psychological benefits.

“Mindfulness is all about being in the present moment and performance ultimately is about being in the present moment. So you can really train yourself to notice what you are thinking about, decide what you want to do about those thoughts, and choose where you want to direct your attention” (K. Hays, Personal Communication, July 11, 2018).

Mindfulness reminds us also to pause and pay attention to what really matters to us. Knowing what sparks our deep sense of calling can enhance performance, connection to that performance, and quality of life.

How can I perform well if I’m not feeling at my best?
Sometimes we are not at 100% full power. One option in these situations is to respond with our “80% edge.” Rather than thinking about what we can’t do, we can strive to give 100% of the 80% level available. Although it would be great to always be at 100%, this may not be possible.

“The idea is maybe you’re only at 80% today, but what you want to do is give 100% of that 80% you’ve got…it’s a terrific notion that lets you be fully present as well as you possibly can, rather than all or nothing”
(K. Hayes, Personal Communication, July 11, 2018).

This 80% edge concept empowers us to be enough in this moment right now even when we are not at our best or the situation is not optimal. “It certainly allows us a bit of self-forgiveness, which is a pretty good thing”
(K. Hayes, Personal Communication, July 11, 2018).

Don’t forget the “why”?
Although we want to be at our best each time we’re called to perform in life and work, we may not always achieve that. Remembering the why – the personal meaning, value, and importance of performing – is integral. Dr. Hays says during practice and performance, it’s significant return to why this is important to me – not the external reasons, but my own personal reasons. What is important about this to me not as a demand but as a supportive impetus toward optimal performance.

“Sometimes I think about working towards being excellent as compared with being perfect”
(K. Hays, Personal Interview, July 11, 2018).
Performing at Your Best In Your Work and Life - IBZ LIfe & Work Coaching

4 Tips to Improve Performance:

  1. Remember why you’re doing it. Whatever the performance may be, tune into what it means to you, the “why.” Remind yourself why this endeavor is important to you and let that knowing support you as you approach your goal.
  2. Remember to breathe in preparation and performance. Mindfulness can bolster your capacity to be present in the moment, bring oxygen into the body, and improve focus.
  3. Let yourself know you are enough. Rather than striving for perfection, work toward excellence and give 100% of what you’ve got.
  4. Learn some performance strategies. Be aware of how you typically respond in life and work situations that require performance types of skills. If you want to strengthen your performance strategies, one option is to consult a coach.
To learn more about Dr. Kate Hays, performance psychology, her books, or to contact her, visit Dr. Hays website at

Click the button below to listen to an excerpt from Ilene Berns-Zare’s interview with Dr. Kate Hays!

Resources and References to Learn More:

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Ilene Berns-Zare, PsyD, PCC, CMC is an ICF Credentialed Professional Coach and Speaker. Ilene helps people live their best lives by bringing mind, body, and spirit into flow with their strengths, callings and potential. She inspires clients to find fresh perspectives and access their full potential as creative, resourceful, whole persons. Find Ilene online and access free resources at

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