Five Paths to Peak Performance
Insights on becoming ultra-successful from executive coach Dr. Julie Gurner
Are you a nice person?
Do you act reasonably?
Are you persistent?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, the chances are that you are holding yourself back.
Tomorrow’s podcast is with Dr. Julie Gurner, who has spent over ten years coaching some of the planet’s most ambitious and high-performing individuals on how to thrive in fast-paced, high-pressure, extremely competitive environments.
Over at her Substack, Ultra Successful, Dr. Gurner is accumulating a toolkit of challenges, lessons, and insights she has uncovered from her work with top-percentile individuals.
In anticipation of tomorrow’s episode, here are five ways Dr. Gurner suggests you can unlock your peak performance.
The below quotes and insights are drawn from Dr. Gurner’s Substack, Ultra Successful.
I. Don’t Be Nice
“I’ll say this upfront: the world will want you to be “nice,” and others will benefit if you are. In fact, your “niceness” will benefit almost everyone but you.”
People think that if they’re not being nice, they are being mean.
This is false.
“Nice” is just marketing-speak for “people-pleasing.”
Success demands a clear understanding of your standards and what you expect from yourself and others. But if your prime directive is to come across as “nice,” you're gauging your words and actions on how they make others feel.
Being “good” is different. “It realigns your actions to a new standard” and requires you to “correct the story you tell yourself around what actions should happen and why.”
Whether an action or response is “good” is determined by you, not by the reactions of others.
A “nice” person might let others off the hook, maintain inconsistent redlines, or avoid difficult conversations that lead to improvement.
A “good” person has strong standards, draws lines in the sand, and firmly maintains them. This may not make you “nice.” But it's fair, honest, consistent, and transparent. That's what truly matters.
Takeaway: Success isn't about pleasing others. Don't compromise your integrity for the sake of being "nice."
Dr. Gurner writes about the difference between “nice” and “good” here.
II. Persistence is Overrated
“You see, persistence is natural for a lot of ambitious people — to have a singular goal and push — but often when persistent people meet up against obstacles, they either keep pushing…or drop out, get discouraged, or run up against a barrier that is just insurmountable.”
Persisting at something that isn’t working is a waste of energy.
To glorify persistence is to disconnect effort from results. Mindlessly grinding at a problem may be persistent, but it's soul-destroying, leading to stagnation rather than growth. It’s a “brutal and tiring way to live. Living to fight another day and clock it in, instead of creating a far more compelling future in the days ahead. This is how both careers and companies…just stall.”
Tenacity is different. Its endgame is not about following the plan but finding the best way to achieve the goal. Tenacity doesn't just value input; it focuses on the optimal path to success.
Persistence requires the grindset. Tenacity requires adaptability and adjustment.
A persistent person may be an unstoppable force, but eventually, they will meet an immovable object.
A tenacious person is going to bypass the immovable object altogether.
Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to change the plan.
Dr. Gurner writes about persistence vs. tenacity here.
III. Be Unreasonable
“Something that the highest levels all have in common? Almost all of them were seen as “unreasonable” by someone, if not many people, along the way.”
Consider the goals, lifestyles, and trajectories of those around you – your family, friends, and peers.
Reflect on what is expected of someone in your current environment.
Is that what you want? Or are you aiming for something different?
If you want to achieve the unexpected, you need to start making some unreasonable decisions.
Being unreasonable means forging a path distinct from the conventional one. It's about envisioning a reality that aligns with your values and having the tenacity and resourcefulness to make it happen, even if it sets you apart from the pack.
Here’s Dr. Gurner: “Give yourself a taste, and you’ll start to see things others don’t - new potentials, new worlds, new opportunities, and realize that being unreasonable is how you really start to shape the world.”
What's once deemed unreasonable may become accepted over time. The reality that once seemed beyond comprehension may just come to life. Take Steve Jobs, famed for his “reality distortion field.” His biographer Walter Isaacson quotes Steve Wozniak: “His reality distortion is when he has an illogical vision of the future, such as telling me that I could design the Breakout game in just a few days. You realize that it can’t be true, but he somehow makes it true.”
Takeaway: Identify a state of reality that you find desirable. Take the bets required to make that reality come true, and wait for the world to catch up.
Dr. Gurner writes about being unreasonable here.
IV. Create Your Own Momentum
“The thing that every top operator knows is this…the door that will really push momentum is the one that is likely out of your vision right now.”
When we think we "have momentum," we often assume something beyond our control has given us a push. But that's only half the story.
While momentum feels like being pushed toward an objective, we're not just passive participants. Momentum won’t come if we just sit back and wait.
Momentum comes from taking action.
We create our own momentum by taking the first step toward our goal and actively looking for the opportunities that the first step unlocks.
As Dr. Gurner has noted, the wind at your back doesn't always come from the first move. It's the subsequent doors that open after the first move, the opportunities you seize, the unexpected routes you take. That’s how you “create a flywheel.”
Waiting for momentum without taking the first step is like waiting for a bus without going to the bus stop.
Takeaway: Take that initial step. Seek the opportunities it reveals. Embrace the most promising ones. Before you know it, you're not just riding momentum; you're driving it.
Dr. Gurner writes about creating momentum here.
V. Change your rules, change your future.
“The media can portray ultra-successful people as rule breakers, but in my work, I would say more accurately that they simply do not live by imaginary rules that govern the majority of people.”
Your rules define you. They shape your ambition, your actions, and your outcomes. But not all rules serve you. While some guide us toward kindness and civility, others simply hold us back.
Humans are social animals. We are desperate to fit in, to act in a socially acceptable way.
This leads to us ingesting the “rules” that others live by.
There are dozens of imaginary rules you could be following (Dr. Gurner discusses some of them here). But the common thread of many of them is that they consider the approval, expectation, or common behavior of others. They originate from a herd mentality.
If you follow the same rules as everybody else, your ambition and potential are limited in the same way as everyone else. The “ultimate penalty of following imaginary rules is that these rules keep you mid-pack…when you could be levels better, and you *know* you could be levels better.”
To break out from the herd, you need to start following different rules. Ones that are born from your values and beliefs, not social expectations.
Takeaway: The rules you follow are socially constructed. Break them. Embrace rules that align with your core beliefs.
Dr. Gurner writes about imaginary rules here.