An Entrée into Performance Psychology: Masterminding the Performance of Your Life

What is performance psychology, really?


Many assume that it has only to do with the psychology of how to perform better. It seems logical that if you train your mind, your performance will improve. Traditionally, performance psychology has been described as a branch of psychology dedicated to helping individuals, groups, organizations, and societies thrive. Research on using the power of the mind to enhance performance and happiness dates back to as early as the late 1800s, when Norman Triplett, often associated with the birth of sports psychology, conducted his first experiments on group cyclists in 1890. 

More recently, performance psychology is thought of as a relatively new field in human performance, applying sports psychology principles to optimizing the performance of anyone in a situation where doing their best really matters. Wikipedia defines performance psychology as "a branch of psychology that focuses upon the factors that allow individuals, teams, and groups to achieve their aims. It engages the performer on how to be successful by developing the power of the mind and to practice mental skills training in their daily lives." For example, an athlete who suffers from self doubt or an actor with performance anxiety would both be candidates for working with a performance psychology professional. Performance psychology principles apply to athletic and artistic performance, academic testing, emergency or medical work, fine surgery, business leadership and entrepreneurship. The behavioral qualities of an elite athlete - focus, mental mastery, discipline, training, effective goal setting - seamlessly apply to other areas of life where high performance is desirable, or even critical. 

In larger companies where the bottom-line is particularly important, performance psychology often equates to peak performance training. Sports metaphors inspire higher performance in employees and leaders. Stakeholders look for measurement, a way to quantify an improvement in employee performance and, therefore, companies. We are still working to prove that happier employees influence a company’s financial success, and many of us instinctively know it’s true. In those bottom-line driven cases, what sometimes gets lost is the human development part of performance. In contrast to its more holistic origins, the current mainstream understanding of performance psychology has more to do with outcome than with process or growth. 

A paradigm shift is occurring: The old belief that if you don't win, you lose, is over. Driving to win only lasts so long, and it's not sustainable for human growth and development, the most important part of the whole. As each person develops individually, they bring more to their group, their organization, or their community. If each person brings the best version of themselves to the table at a meeting, or to their team's performance or game, then everyone wins. The field of performance psychology is coming full circle, because an original and more holistic approach inspires and energizes anyone who wants to live fully and authentically in all aspects of their life. 

In my performance psychology work, I work with high performers from professional athletes to corporate executives to stressed-out Silicon Valley students aiming for Ivy League schools. I help them do their best work, while experiencing a redefined idea of excellence as a way to fully and boldly express who they are in the world. We focus on performing, not on winning or on success. Very often, higher success is the result. My clients and I enjoy immense rewards, while witnessing a transformation that transcends perfect performance and enters into the pure happiness of self-respect. 

Katie Peuvrelle, M.A. helps high performers transcend perfection, redefine excellence, and live in their potential.

Katie Peuvrelle