When it comes to studying success, achieving top performance, and trying to become a Selfmastered individual, there is a wide variety of ideas, sources, and case studies to choose from. There are so many, in fact, that the signal-to-noise ratio is poor, and that there is an abundance of misleading information.
Content related to “mind-set” and “success” is currently popular because of its ‘feel-good’ nature, which grants the individual some false sense of reward when sharing on social media. At Self-Mastered we believe that self-improvement must be quantified across various metrics, and not something that you just “feel”.
It is our mission to provide you with actual tools to develop and better yourself and to provide you with ideas to test, adapt and incorporate yourself.
In this article, the differences between top and low performers will be explained, as will also a system on how to become a top performer and the science behind it.
Top and low performers are different in many ways, and for every individual, there is a different answer, depending on their understanding of what constitutes top and low performance. To add, everyone also has different goals, different habits, and keeps track of different metrics.
For the purpose of this article, we will define top performance as achieving more and better results from your efforts, while low performance is not achieving as many goals, or achieving poor results in relation to your efforts. Becoming a top performer is being more efficient about your efforts and decisions and achieving more and better.
Following this differentiation between top and low performers, the key difference between them is that top performer have a higher quality decision-making process, which results in better decisions and better outcomes in relation to the efforts and choices made.
In this article, we will show how you can upgrade your decision-making progress, by consciously upgrading the algorithms that are part of it.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s differentiate actions depending on whether they are automatic and triggered without much thought, or actions that do require time and effort to make and to decide between the options.
Top performers differ from low performers in that they make fewer decisions throughout the day, and automate more of their actions and decision making. This may sound counterintuitive, as to how could you make better decisions by making less and relying on automating them? Let’s explain the science behind it.
Decisions made from the basal ganglia are more automatic and on “autopilot” than decisions made from the prefrontal cortex.
Actions like brushing your teeth before bed, taking a shower every day, putting your shoes on, etc., are automatic and performed in the basal ganglia. You do them without ever putting thought into them, without ever having to decide if you should or should not do them. These actions and habits are what here at Self-Mastered we call “analogical algorithms.”
Choices such as where should you go to eat, or if you should perform task A before task B, or if you should write instead of reading, etc., are choices that are made in the prefrontal cortex part of your brain. These are choices that are not exactly habits, as they are not as repetitive, and they also require more thought behind them.
Choices, habits, and actions decided in the basal ganglia consume less energy and thought-processing power than those decided in the prefrontal cortex, due to the former being better equipped for repetitive actions and the latter being better suited for more complex and creative problem-solving.
When using your prefrontal cortex for problem-solving, you will spend a lot of time and energy doing so, leaving your energy levels depleted and affecting the rest of your daily tasks. You can read more about how to manage your energy levels here.
The difference between top performers and low performers when it comes to using the different parts of their brains to make decisions is that the former turn most of their decision-making process into repetitive habits and actions, “storing” them in the basal ganglia and using the “autopilot” part of their brains. This action leads to top performers “saving” energy and brain processing power to perform and solve more complex and creative decisions with their prefrontal cortex.
The key idea is that there are many actions an individual makes throughout the day, which consume large amounts of energy to think about, which could be turned into conscious habits, “transforming” them into actions that are more autopilot and less energy-consuming.
A low performer spends more brain energy and time on decisions and choices that are not as important or give out a high return of investment, resulting in less brain power for those actions and choices that do.
Creating and focusing on systems is usually recommended instead of focusing on goals because it systematizes the actions needed to achieve goals and relies on discipline, whereas focusing on goals relies on motivation and willpower.
Motivation does not last forever, and if most of your energy is spent on making futile choices, there will be not much willpower left for what truly matters or differentiates. Let’s learn how to use willpower into systematizing and “algorithmizing” our choices and decisions, to become a top performer.
Now that the science behind decision making and the differences between making choices with the basal ganglia or the prefrontal cortex have been made, let’s create a plan to achieve top performance. Instead of using motivation and willpower to make decisions every day, both will be used to “algorithmize” habits and to create the systems that will allow the individual to become a top performer.
What constitutes top performance, as mentioned above, is that the outcomes of decisions, choices, and efforts are aligned in quality and in time invested with the efforts made. The same underlying principle that indicates that you do not consume much thought-processing power on deciding to brush your teeth or not can be used to turn many choices that do consume thought-processing power into automatic ones.
By the sheer power of repetition, you can train your basal ganglia, which is the part of the brain that is in charge of the movement of feelings of emotions, etcetera, to become accustomed to them and to start craving that set of habits.)
Before turning choices and actions into habits to free up brain processing power, which are those choices and actions that you make daily? This is up to every individual, as every individual has different goals and habits. However, here is a model to identify your own.
The following mental model can be used to identify the actions and decisions you make daily to turn into “analogical algorithms”
Experiment (trial and error)
The first step is to experiment with the different actions you want to turn into habits. The idea is that they make sense and are in line with your goals, like your North Star Metric. While many may seem to make sense and end up not, other actions and habits may not initially seem like they make sense according to your goals, yet they are a sure way to achieve them. This is why individual experimentation is crucial to identify what works for you.
The second step is to analyze thoroughly which are those different habits and actions you have been experimenting with that deserve to be doubled down on and which ones should be dropped. Remember that it is crucial to have a goal to strive towards that provides for a point of reference.
Once correctly identified which the actions to double down on are, iterate them. Iteration is truly a powerful concept to understand and utilize to your advantage. The feedback loops that result from iteration are a powerful indicator and provider of data for decision making and optimization.
The fourth step is to analyze the feedback gained from the iteration and make small adjustments along the way. Feedback is important data, and every new iteration can lead your decisions closer to efficiency which, when fully optimized, leads to the automatic and autopilot component that we seek in top performance.
Finally, the step which ties together the whole point of the article is to connect and stack all of these habits, actions, and decisions in a way that they become an optimized system. This system is what can lead the individual to success.
One of the common examples of habits stacked and connected to each other, and which you can also apply, is the morning routine or ritual. A good morning routine which is concordance with your goals is the best way of kick-starting the day, by avoiding spending energy on making decisions or choices. A routine is followed without much thought, with actions that have been automated and “algorithmized”
Top performers differ from low performers in that they achieve more and better results according to their efforts. One of the key aspects of this success is in how many actions and decisions they automate and run on autopilot throughout the day versus how many actions they do not.
Actions made or habits stored in the basal ganglia in the brain are usually done without much thought, such as brushing your teeth, putting your shoes on, etc. They are actions and habits that are automated and that the individual performs on autopilot, without wasting energy on thinking if they should be done or not. Actions made from the prefrontal cortex require more brainpower and energy expenditure.
The difference between which part of the brain is making the decisions is crucial to understand, as the individual can make the conscious choice and effort of repeating certain actions and choices to turn them into repetitive habits and “storing” them in the basal ganglia.
Long-lasting change is created with a change in environment, and not with willpower. The individual’s willpower and motivation can be used to systematize and automate most of the initial decisions that were being performed by the prefrontal cortex, to then focus on creative and deep work or actions which can lead to higher outcomes.