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Get results without burning out with the Performance Curve

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Get results without burning out with the Performance Curve

Concentrated young black woman reading illustrated book in green studio near blooming flowers
Insight into The Performance Curve: Maximize Your Potential at Work while Strengthening Your Well-Being by Laura Watkins and Vanessa Dietzel

Working smarter is at the very heart of The Performance Curve. This new book, written by Laura Watkins and Vanessa Dietzel, explores the balance between efficiency and wellbeing.

Laura has co-founded and run two leadership businesses, following on from her career at McKinsey. She has a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience from Cambridge University. Vanessa brings unique insight from her blend of corporate experience, coaching, and teaching breath work and yoga. For the past twenty years, she has been working with leaders all over the world on their individual and organisational performance.

The powerful duo combines their expertise in leadership development, business performance, neuroscience and holistic well-being to help us harness the performance curve.

The Performance Curve

Most people know that consistently pushing themselves too hard diminishes their effectiveness and well-being over time. We have both fallen into this trap. So what does it take to kick some bad-ass goals without burning out. Have your effectiveness and well-being work in a virtuous cycle, rather than competing against each other? We call this being on the performance curve, which is the title of our book.

At its core, The Performance Curve is about a life well-lived. People and organisations thrive as well as help each other reach their potential. It’s a vision close to our hearts and why we wanted to consolidate in this book our experience in business, neuroscience, adult development psychology as well as more practical knowledge from breath and body-based traditions and therapies.

The key is to look beyond practical tips, such as productivity ‘hacks’, which usually just give us a temporary boost or help us spin our hamster wheel ever faster.

Instead, the book lays out a systematic way for sustainably building our effectiveness and well-being every day. By developing our inner operating system. Our inner operating system is the deep wiring that automatically drives us. It includes our ways of thinking (often called mindsets), our emotional responses and our habits.

The more we can become aware of this deep wiring, the more we can take charge of it. By doing so, we can better deal with challenges, change and complexity. For example, if we are feeling overloaded, we will better understand why and how to manage it (or avoid it in the future).

Hidden drivers for success

The most important aspect of this wiring is our deep needs and fears, which we call ‘hidden drivers’, because they drive a lot of the choices we make day-to-day, mostly without realising it. Continuing the example above of feeling overloaded, perhaps we struggle to set boundaries, stemming from a need to be liked and a fear of feeling rejected if we say ‘no’. Or we may need to feel valuable, which drives our tendency to say ‘yes’, even when we are busy.

Our hidden drivers exert a powerful force in our brains. In particular, they can steer us into what we call ‘protect mode’, the flight-flight-or-freeze survival response.

In “protect mode”, we react quickly and automatically, rather than taking time to make deliberate, proactive choices. It is like an autopilot with a limited range of emergency functions. This mode keeps us safe when facing immediate physical danger, like a tiger in the jungle. However, it decreases activity in many parts of the executive centre of the brain, located in the prefrontal cortex.

This reduces our ability to regulate our emotions, bring our best thinking to problems, and relate skillfully with others. It caps our effectiveness and limits what we can achieve when faced with the often complex challenges of modern life. And, if “protect mode” becomes our habitual way of operating, we increasingly erode the well-being and functioning of our bodies and minds.

Building a virtuous circle

So, if we want to build a virtuous cycle of effectiveness and well-being, one essential piece of the puzzle is to be able to spot when we are in protect mode.  We must build habits that shift our brains into explore mode.

In explore mode, our brain is firing on all cylinders to pursue opportunities and rewards. We can do the complex work of manipulating information in our heads, creating options, exploring perspectives, empathizing, and thinking through decisions. We can bring more creativity and intuition to tackle difficult issues and collaborate better with others, all of which also increase our well-being.

How do we access explore mode? One such habit is being able to spot our hidden drivers and direct the energy contained in them towards our goals.

For example, when we are tempted to say ‘yes’ to something despite feeling overloaded, we might ask ourselves ‘How can I say no in a way that strengthens our relationship?’ or ‘How can I be valuable here without overloading myself?’. By answering those questions, we can meet our deepest needs, and boost both our effectiveness and our well-being.

If you’d like to explore these ideas, take a look at The Performance Curve.

By putting the book together, we researched hundreds of scientific references and interviewed some remarkable characters. We talked to virtuoso cellist Yo-Yo Ma, CEO of Krug Champagne Maggie Henriquez, and international development and humanitarian leader Lorina McAdam. Take inspiration from them as much as we have, to make your life truly well lived. We look forward to hearing what you think.


Laura Watkins and Vanessa Dietzel are the authors of The Performance Curve: Maximize Your Potential at Work while Strengthening Your Well-Being (Bloomsbury Business).

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