How can you change your life to be a top-performer?

I should probably put it out there that I’m a big fan of podcasts. And a really big fan of inspirational/motivational/yes,-you-can-do-anything-you-want kind of stories. Needless to say, I’ve found a few really amazing podcasts satisfying this niche and fulfilling that space in my heart that I think carry a few pearls of wisdom that would render even the most steadfast cynics at least a little intrigued. One of the themes in these podcasts that has been most fascinating to me is the thought patterns and mentalities that predispose “top performers” (people who have reached the pinnacles of professional accomplishment) towards success.

The biggest thing I’ve noticed: top performers are obsessed with their work. I think it’s interesting how extolling the virtues of and aiming towards a “work-life balance” has become the goal of our generation. However, I’ve come to notice that people who are really top performers don’t have that kind of balance. But here’s the truth: they don’t want it. Because they honestly enjoy doing the work/running the business they created more than they enjoy relaxing–an idea and concept I find so interesting. Like when was the last time that you enjoyed working so much that you did it instead of watching TV, taking a full two-day weekend, or complaining about how much you had to work? Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever had such a time. But what I’ve noticed is that people who are truly successful on a high level achieve it only because they work all the time, not because they happen to be “naturally good” at it or “get lucky.” They are aware that “balance” is mostly an illusion and that to accomplish anything big, there are times in your life when you need to be wholly “unbalanced” and give everything you’ve got to your vision.

Another different attitude towards work that sets highly successful performers apart is that they don’t believe that they are going to get burned out, which I think is another prevailing mentality in our culture, especially among students. For example, I remember some parents in high school who advocated strongly for decreasing the amount of homework assigned to their children every night because they feared that their children would get “burnt out” by the hard work before they even entered college. As finance and productivity author Ramit Sethi explains, for some reason, in American culture we are led to believe that too much hard work leads to burnout. And while that may be true in some rare cases, it’s interesting to me why there are a few select people who believe that their work does the opposite—that it energizes them. That it’s not something they need to take a break from constantly, but something that actually feeds them and drives them forward. While the rest of us go about our whole lives thinking that we need another weekend to do nothing at all and “treat ourselves” for getting through the week, people like Ramit Sethi seem to engineer their lives so that “work” is something they would actually rather be doing most of the time than other hedonistic indulgences.

One of the other mentalities towards work I’ve noticed that’s very apparent in highly successful people is that they seem to run their lives, both personal and professional, like a well-oiled machine. I first noticed this when I heard Ramit Sethi swear that one of the best things you can do is automate and design systems for your life so that it runs as smoothly as possible. Having trouble eating healthy? Then meal prep so you can come home and eat without thinking about what to cook. Want to get better at a certain skill? Hire a coach to help you get to your goal faster or outsource your other obligations (or just plain say, “no”, for us money-deprived students) so you have more time and energy to concentrate on your main task. In other words, run your own life like you would run a successful business.
I think there is so much truth to this: like how many times do we sit down, reflect on the day, and come up with ideas so that things that went poorly the first time around don’t happen again? I think most times, we just chalk up whatever misfortune or undesirable event occurred to chance and hope for the best that we’ll improve somehow next time (at least I do). Or worse, we don’t acknowledge it at all, or convince ourselves that it wasn’t even that big of a deal to begin with (okay, I am also guilty of doing this many, many times).
For example, something insightful I heard in an interview with popular Youtuber Lilly Singh that I think sets her and other successful people apart from the majority of the population is that she constantly asks herself, “what stressed me out today” and “what can I do to fix it so it doesn’t happen again tomorrow.” Her example for this was forgetting her phone charger once and then deciding that she would ensure that never happened again by investing in a few more phone chargers and leaving them in places she frequently occupies. This example is so simple but so powerful: imagine what would happen if you eliminated all the little nuances in your everyday life. Would you have enough time to do a half hour of exercise if you hadn’t spent those few minutes this morning searching for where you placed your keys or glasses? And this is only considering time. When you factor in the concept that we only have a limited amount of energy and willpower to expend every day, it really makes you wonder what sort of inane tasks you could automate in your life to make sure that you’re really only spending your time and energy focused on things that will have the greatest impact on your success.
What do you think–does this sound like a horrible, unspontaneous, robotic way to live life? Have you had any experiences with automating your life? In what areas would it be most helpful?
Also, what mentality towards work have you noticed in people who are really successful vs. most people? Is there any way to develop these traits in oneself?

Kritika Kulkarni, Chicago

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