What is Performance Psychology?

Performance psychology has traditionally been described as a branch of psychology dedicated to helping individuals, groups, organizations, and societies to 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 conducted the first experiments on group cyclists in 1890.

More recently, it 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 artistic performance, academic testing, emergency or medical work, fine surgery, business leadership and entrepreneurship. The behavioral qualities of an elite, high athlete - focus, mental mastery, discipline, training, effective goal setting - seamlessly apply to other areas of life where high performance is desired, or even critical.

In larger companies where the bottom line is important, performance psychology can be equated to peak performance training. Corporations frequently use sports metaphors to inspire higher performance in employees and leaders. Stakeholders look for measurement, a way to quantify an improvement in performance of employees and, therefore, companies.  We are still working to prove that happier employees help the bottom line, something most of us instinctively know is true.  In those bottom-line driven cases, what is sometimes 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.

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 human development part of it is actually the most important part of the whole, because as each person develops individually, they bring more to the group, the organization, or the community that they belong to or are involved in.  If each person brings the best version of themselves to the table at a meeting, the best version of themselves to their team's performance or game, then everyone wins. I believe the field of performance psychology is coming full circle, because It is the original and more holistic approach that inspires and energizes anyone who wants to live fully and authentically in all aspects of their life.

Katie Peuvrelle