September 19, 2017
I was not prepared to like this book. I’ve never met the author or heard him speak, but I admit to having a bias against the premise that is at the heart of all consulting—that everything can be taught. It’s not a false assumption; it’s just not a complete one. Context is everything, which is why history often has less to teach us than we may think.
Too many books of this genre are written by people who have been drinking the Kool-Aid and come to believe they have discovered the true essence of water. Burchard, thankfully, is not that author. You may not agree with everything he writes, but you will ultimately conclude that he is authentic, and that’s about the highest compliment I can pay a person.
Every good consultant will start their session with their objective. Brendon is no exception. “This book is about how people become extraordinary, and why others block themselves from that possibility. It will show clearly and unmistakably why some excel, others fail, and far too many never even try.” A few pages later he adds, “It will reveal what it takes to become not just an achiever but a high performer—someone who creates ever-increasing levels of both well-being and external success over the long term.”
Then comes the hook. Every consultant knows the old saying, “Them that can, do; those that can’t, teach.” That’s why they always give you the pièce de résistance, the handful of words that describes why their idea is different. It can normally be shown as a geometric shape or simple graph. In this case, it is, “High performance is not achieved by a specific kind of person, but rather a specific set of practices, which I call high performance habits.”
At this point, I admit, my expectations were being met. And then things went from bad to worse. “Taken together, the six habits you’ll learn here won’t just get you to excellence, they’ll make you happier—and the data proves it. The positive emotions of engagement, joy, and confidence that define the high performer’s emotional state can be yours.”
Happier? I am a sexagenarian who has known modest success and far less modest failure. If there is one thing I’ve learned it is that happiness will not give your life meaning or you contentment. Having the world by the tail is not the path to a purposeful life.
But I persevered through the book. I am a curious person and do not give up easily. And the author has achieved more success in high performance coaching than most of us will ever achieve in much of anything. He has a Rolodex (an outdated term, for sure) of the most powerful and influential people on the planet, from Oprah to past presidents and Olympians.
I read the book pretty much straight through although I have long practiced one of the tidbits of advice the author offers. I refuse to multi-task and believe it is the scourge of inefficiency and incomprehension. But I do believe in taking breaks, in changing the scene, and augmenting the primary objective (in this case, reading) with the indulgence of a good coffee or a piece of chocolate.
I won’t share the six habits of high performance (HP6) that are the heart of the book. And the reason is that we don’t learn if we don’t learn in context. And that task is up to the author, not me, a reader.
I will tell you that one thing all six habits have in common is that they are deliberate. They require conscious effort. There are no little green pills. The book, in fact, might have been called The Power of Being Deliberate.
Burchard is also not a therapist. “I’ll remind you, I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, neuroscientist, biologist, or any other title I’m aware of that ends in ‘-ist.’ I am a professional high performance coach and trainer who is paid for results, not discussion or theory.” Fair enough. That’s probably what most people who will consider this book are looking for. Otherwise you’d be in the religion or philosophy sections.
There is some jargon but it’s admittedly modest for a book of the genre. There is talk of prolific quality output (PQO, of course), and “performance necessity,” and you will have to get your head around, “They [high performers] remember that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” It’s a central theme.
The HP6, as I was reading the book, did remind me of a variant of cognitive behavioral therapy but that’s not a criticism. It’s a function of the very deliberate nature of the process and practices described. In the end, high performance, as Brendon describes it, is a verb, not an achievement. “Connection [for example] is less about comfort than about challenge.” (I personally think it’s about trust.) And, “…it’s so thoroughly obvious that high performers are generating the feelings they want more often that taking the emotions that land on them.”
My biggest pause came with the quote: “The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe to it.” It’s a quote from Joseph Campbell, an American writer known for his work in comparative mythology. He’s probably most often remembered for the counsel, “Follow your bliss.” It’s a quote that is often misinterpreted but is a little too nihilistic for my taste.
And when he writes, “There are only two narratives in the human story: struggle and progress,” my first thought was that Camus would disagree. But that’s too much of a digression to get into here.
The money line for me was, “Superiority draws us off track a quarter inch at a time.” This is a man who believes in his mission. It is a quality that resonates throughout the book and is, perhaps, the book’s greatest contribution. Too many “successful” people, in my experience, talk humility, but walk superiority. Humility is not an attitude. It is a way of living.
It was here that the author earned my 4 rating. The book is probably longer than it needs to be but, in the end, I found it worth the journey. It’s an ambitious work by a man that obviously believes in what he does. And that is undoubtedly why he has known such success.