When you read or listen to personal development experts, you might get confused about the optimal emotional state for maximum performance.
The Law of Attraction experts teach us to feel good in order to attract what we want. They recommend us feeling as if the wish is already fulfilled. They suggest we find the positive in every situation and cultivate gratitude.
Then there are motivational experts. They shout at us like a drill sergeant. They want us to get angry, never be content with our performance, and attack the next goal in front of us.
As if that wasn’t enough, we have the Zen experts. They teach us to let go of all of our emotions and work on our tasks with mental clarity.
I don’t know about you, but all of that used to confuse me very much until I saw the big picture.
The optimal emotional state for maximum performance changes from person to person and from situation to situation.
The trick here is to recognize which emotional state is necessary for you in a particular situation and then get into that state.
Every person is different. Therefore, I can’t come up with a simple formula that would work for everyone. I’m going to discuss what works for me in different situations to give you an idea. You can make a similar analysis for yourself.
The Ideation Phase
As I have explained in a previous post, I make a difference between two phases while working. The first phase is ideation.
In the ideation phase, I reflect on the problem at hand. I come up with possible solutions and analyze those solutions. I decide on one of them and draft an execution plan.
The optimal emotional state for the ideation phase is relaxation. It doesn’t matter whether my emotions are positive or negative at this stage. I want their intensity to be low. Not too low that I fall asleep, but sufficiently low, so that they don’t interfere with my thinking.
A low intensity emotional state is what the Zen experts are teaching us. It gives us a certain mental clarity to see the big picture and think in depth on a certain problem.
Michael A. Singer explains this mental state in his book Untethered Mind. He also documents his journey from being a yogi academician to becoming a successful businessman in his book The Surrender Experiment. Both books are highly recommended and show how a Zen mind helps you succeed in business and life.
The Execution Phase
When I decide on a solution and have my plan to execute it, that is the time to cultivate aggressiveness. Of course not aggressiveness towards people or property, but towards the work.
The angry drill sergeant motivation is useful during the execution phase. Again there’s an optimal point in the intensity of anger to perform well during the execution phase. If the intensity of anger exceeds that optimal point, it becomes counterproductive rather than being productive.
Anger is not the only intense emotions that would work in the execution phase. Enthusiasm, excitement, and to some extent fear and worry could also fuel your performance in the execution phase. But again, there is an optimal point in the intensity of each of these emotions.
The Resting Phase
Oscillating only between the ideation and execution phases and never resting is a recipe for burn-out. I need my rest time. Low intensity of emotions are ideal for the rest phase.
Some people use caffeine to fuel their execution phases. The problem with that approach is that caffeine tends to stay in the body longer than the execution phase and interferes with the resting phase. For that reason, using your own emotions to fuel the execution phase is better than relying on caffeine.
The Introspection Phase
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates
If you want to follow Socrates’s advice, you might want to include some introspection in your weekly routine. The optimal emotional state for that is slight sadness and a quite environment, free of distraction.
Optimism vs Pessimism
Excluding the extreme cases, optimistic people perform better than pessimistic people. One aspect of optimism is the faith in your ability to grow if you put in the necessary time and effort.
People with growth mindset have a higher chance of success compared to people with fixed mindset. If you want to learn more about growth and fixed mindset, I recommend the book Mindset by Carol Dweck.
As I have mentioned above, this is a personal analysis of me, my work, and my life. It’s meant to give you an idea on how you can make a similar analysis of yourself, your work, and your life. Having that analysis is a good starting point, but it’s not enough.
You need to be able to go through the following steps to perform at a high level.
- Recognize the situation you are in.
- Recognize which emotional state is the optimal for that situation.
- Get into that situation.
These three steps require awareness and self-regulation. It is a skill that you can learn, if you pay attention and put in the time and effort.
Self-regulation is a part of emotional intelligence. If you want to learn more about emotional intelligence, I recommend the audiobook Boosting Your Emotional Intelligence by Prof. Jason M. Satterfield, available at audible.com.
Another part of emotional intelligence is recognizing those emotions in others and cultivating the necessary emotions in others. That might as well be the most important leadership skill.
The optimal emotional state for maximum performance depends on the situation and on the person. You need to analyze the scenarios that you come across often and find out which emotional state works the best for you in those scenarios.
Once you have your emotional playbook, it’s up to you to regulate your emotions according to the situation you find yourself in.
If you want to improve your leadership skills, you need to develop the skill to cultivate certain emotions in others, according to the situation your team find itself in.
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly roundup of my latest posts.