When I got the pitch to interview an executive coach on his method to develop high performers, I was skeptical — I get these types of emails weekly. It seems like everyone is some sort of executive/life/spiritual coach today.
But Eric Frazer isn't your average peak performance coach, or as he likes to say, "peak performance expert."
I was intrigued that Frazer has helped major corporations such as Google, Berkshire Hathaway Home Services (Berkshire's real estate arm) and Cisco hire and find high-performers using his background in clinical and positive psychology. (He was a post-doctoral psychology fellow at Yale University School of Medicine, holds a doctoral degree in clinical forensic psychology at the Miami Institute of Psychology and has a bachelor's degree in psychology from Fordham University.)
Frazer, who founded his company Top Talent Psychology, two years ago, also coaches executives and entrepreneurs seeking to optimize their performance. Typically, one-on-one sessions with Frazer cost $250 an hour and up.
To see what peak performance coaching is all about, Frazer worked with me at no cost for a month. We did three sessions a week for an hour.
Here's what I learned.
According to Frazer, a key to success, and ultimately peak performance, is to identify your "core battle," as he calls it, which is, in essence, your "hero's journey" (an evolution toward greatness made famous by author Joseph Campbell). You must identify and realize what your top talents are, and figure out how to actualize your true professional potential in a way that brings fulfillment.
To do that, Frazer says it is important to identify what you believe are your top skills and how you ultimately want to use them in your career. This will also help identify what is holding you back.
To find my core battle, Frazer asked me what areas in my life I'm currently happy with and not happy with, and who I ultimately want to be.
I told him I'm generally happy but wanted to do more in my career and work on bigger stories and projects.
He also asked me pointed questions like:
1. What am I truly most passionate about in regards to reporting? For me, it's health, environmental issues and learning the inner workings of the food system.
2. What keeps me up at night, or what do I obsessively think about during the day? I think about the fact that I need to be doing more to challenge myself at work. How can I take on bigger stories and bigger interviews while maintaining my day-to-day workflow?
3. What could your professional life look like in two years? My answer: Being a successful journalist who reports on long-form features that inspire and educate others about health, wellness and environmental issues.
4. What am I afraid of? Not being successful. Failure.
Frazer then asked me about my daily work habits.
After talking for nearly an hour, Frazer determined that I was like most of his clients: I tend to have many moments of "high-performance" but it's not sustained. When I'm passionate about a subject or topic, for example, I obsess over it — as a CNBC Make It senior reporter this could be landing an interview with a major CEO or drawing attention to an issue that hasn't been widely reported in the media. But if I'm not inspired, I can coast.
Frazer also determined that several things hold me back.
Some of the things that prevent me from reaching my potential are logistical: For example, in order to break big stories or land exclusive interviews, I need to actively pursue leads and subjects on a daily basis, not just when I remember to follow up.
Others are the stories I tell myself. For example, I said a lack of time was preventing me from going after bigger stories, when that's just an excuse.
And then there are my problematic beliefs, broader "themes" Frazer calls them. We discovered that I have a fear of disappointing others and myself. While I do have high expectations of myself, deep down I am a little fearful that if I really go for it and fail, I would find out that I'm not as good as I thought was. It also became clear that for a long time I have pushed aside that little voice telling me to pursue certain stories or take bigger risks in my storytelling so that my life feels manageable.
Having pinpointed what I want and what's holding me back, Frazer emailed me an "action plan."
For motivation, Frazer had me identify an A-list of people I'd like to interview. Since my early days at CBS News, I have always kept a shortlist of people I wanted to pursue, but it definitely needed to be refreshed.
Frazer said the list would help me feel more fulfilled — on slower days, I can turn to it to help create momentum and feel inspired.
The action plan also included an exercise to visualize exactly how I saw each interview go and what questions I would ask. Then I journaled about it each night.
I also had to seek out mentors to help me with my fear of disappointment and to get a better idea of what others think of my work performance.
I tracked down two former bosses I admire to get their insights on my past performance, where I could improve and where they believe I thrive. They made me see my fear of disappointing others was something I invented. They said I have always been a high-performer and they didn't view me as a "coaster." So really it's my own thoughts of failing that are preventing me from pursuing certain interviews or controversial topics.
To help me with creativity, Frazer had me book a "float session" in an isolation tank (it's filled with at least 10 inches of water and enough dissolved Epsom salt to allow a person to float) at a spa. He said the relaxed experience could help me unlock new ideas.
During my first hour-long float session, it took me about 20 minutes to fully feel relaxed inside the tank. It didn't help me have any new ideas, but it did help me clear my head.
With regard to exercise, Frazer suggested using my outdoor runs to think and to do so without music for focus.
As for my habits, Frazer helped me create a new workflow, breaking down my "to-do" lists each day into small, actionable steps and creating deadlines for each task. For example, I should look at my list of ideal interviews every day and make phone calls or write emails to follow up, spend time researching topics related to each subject or add new targets to the list. This Frazer says, will help me stay accountable on projects that are important to me and my growth and make them more manageable.
After filling in Frazer on my progress, he told me that he could hear in my voice that I was excited about pursuing the new interviews and projects I had come up with. And I felt it too. I felt energized and focused after working with Frazer for only a few weeks.
I also found it empowering to bounce my ideas off someone who isn't a friend or family member, who could give me real feedback and help me navigate the pros and cons of my career aspirations.
Since working with Frazer, I have maintained my list of target interviews, which I update every other day. Additionally, I continue to journal daily about my goals and create short-term actionable steps to pursue them.
Frazer encouraged me to continue reconnecting with mentors, to find other techniques that will help me stay relaxed and to focus on my goals.
Not everyone can have a personal coach but there are some tips in Frazer's book, "The Psychology of Top Talent," that he says can help anyone with peak performance.
1. Have a daily health routine
Eating healthy and maintaining good physical wellness practices is essential for any high-performer. Frazer writes that he always carves out time to meditate and journal every day in addition to getting at least six hours and 45 minutes of sleep a night. He also sticks to a healthy diet that includes steel-cut oatmeal with fruit for breakfast and a kale salad for lunch.
2. Do constructive activities every week
Some of Frazer's weekly habits include listening to a new TED talk podcast and writing one new article about his profession on LinkedIn.
As a psychologist, Frazer says there are a lot of benefits to taking a "mental health day."
"In the work of high performance, it is important to replenish regularly," he writes. "This may mean taking a morning or afternoon off, a full day, and long weekends on a quarterly or tri-annual basis to have rest, but it can also mean you reflect and focus on your accomplishments and focus directions."
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