Where Does World Class Performance Start?

Maybe it starts with a ‘P’….

Have you ever wondered what it is that differentiates the very best in the world from the rest? It is a question that has intrigued me for years. As a sport psychologist, I wondered whether the traits that separate world class athletes also apply to performers outside of sport. So, I set out on a mission to find out. Over the last few years I’ve worked with and listened to a diverse range of world class performers, from a twice Michelin starred chef to a record-breaking polar explorer, to find out what characterises those who are world class in their field.

What did I find?

I found that truly elite performers tend to share eight common traits. These are not perhaps the obvious traits that you’d expect. Many people would argue that traits such as ‘determination, drive and dedication’ would set world class people apart. However, I don’t see those things being differentiators. There are plenty of non-world class people who display determination, drive and dedication in abundance. I’ve found that the things that differentiate the very best are much more subtle, but also more profound. None of these traits appear to be hereditary. In fact, I recently wrote an article called “Being World Class; It’s PDA, not DNA”, which argues that DNA is likely to have a relatively small influence on whether a person’s success. Instead, I believe that PDA (Perception, Decisions and Actions) has a very significant impact.

The ‘P’

The ‘P’ obviously stands for Perception; how we see the world. It encompasses the meaning we attach to events and our experiences. Our perceptions tends to underpin our decisions, and therefore has a huge bearing on our actions; what we do (and what we don’t do) and how we do it. The way in which we see the world therefore influences our response to events, challenges, set-backs, adversity and uncertainty.

How does this work in practice?

Many people would perceive that world-class performers take more risks, that they are able to push the boundaries and are therefore more creative than others. Certainly I’ve seen that the very best in the world display these characteristics. They are also mentally tough and make some very courageous decisions. But what is it that allows them to do this? Perhaps it is their perception of what constitutes a ‘risk’. Many people would perceive that the potential to ‘fail’ constituted a risk. In fact, fear of failure causes many people to back away from challenges. The world class performers that I’ve met don’t seem to perceive mistakes or failure as a risk. They don’t seem to adopt most people’s definitions of success and failure. Their views are probably closer to Thomas Edison, one of the men who invented the first commercial light bulb. Famously, Edison and his colleagues ‘failed’ around 10,000 times before finding a viable solution.

World leading adventure racer, Bruce Duncan perceives that physical discomfort and pain is just a temporary inconvenience. Experiencing severe discomfort is not worrying or threatening to Bruce; it’s part and parcel of the challenge. This perception means that he’s able to operate at a level beyond the point at which most of us would give up. His perception of discomfort drives his decision to keep going and keep pushing, even though it’s painful.

Change your ‘P’.

What if you changed you perception? What is failing wasn’t ‘failure’? What if mistakes weren’t risky? What if uncertainty wasn’t threatening?

Imagine how your decisions and actions would change.

Would you like to see how a twice Michelin starred chef, an Olympic finalist, a world leading adventure racer and the world barista champion all perceive their challenges?

Would you like to gain an insight into the way they view set-backs, adversity and uncertainty?

If you’d like to understand how the perception of world-class performers underpin their incredible decisions, visit


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