Do you create annual goals to increase your production and assets under management by at least 20%? Do you have a clear vision of what your practice will look like in five years? Do you believe that achieving recognition within your company and the financial industry is essential to your definition of success and self-satisfaction? If you answer "yes" to these questions, chances are you are playing to win, as opposed to playing not to lose.

Sports commentators often note that individuals or teams are either playing to win—really going for it—or playing not to lose by taking a more conservative approach. The same terminology can apply to star performers in the financial services industry.

Much of my work as a behavioral psychologist consulting to the financial industry over the past 25 years has focused on identifying the critical factors that differentiate exceptional advisors from average performers. In that quest, I have consistently observed that all successful people eventually hit a plateau.

There are two responses to this. One is to work harder and faster. This usually doesn't change things much-some say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The other response is to realize you're stuck and change your approach. This consistently results in better outcomes and, frequently, a renewed love for and focus on your work.

So, how do you change your approach, one that may have worked well for years? Challenge yourself, set new goals and take calculated risks to achieve the next level of success in your career. In this way, you can achieve peak performance.

Entering the Zone
One of the most important aspects of achieving peak performance is entering a state called "the Zone." Being in the Zone is defined as feeling completely at one with what you are doing and being able to control your destiny—at least for one moment. It is your mind and body creating a natural synergy. You've entered the Zone when you are immersed in work or activities that reflect your passion and it seems effortless. You may not be aware of time passing. You feel confident about your decisions and find the activity you are engaged in intrinsically rewarding.

One way to get into and stay in this positive, creative space, and ultimately achieve more positive outcomes, is to shift your energies away from the goal ahead and focus instead on the process. This will allow you to rediscover the joy in your work, because unless you are enjoying what you do, the rest is meaningless.

Being in the Zone is the ideal way to work when you're trying to reach peak performance. The other components of peak performance are as follows:

  • You must create a challenge and move beyond your comfort zone.
  • You must make continual behavioral adjustments based on internal and exter-nal feedback about your effectiveness.
  • You must have clear, specific goals.

The most important part of peak per-formance is this—you must create a powerful future vision. To do that, ask yourself these questions: What is my future vision for myself and my career? What does success look and feel like? What are the necessary behaviors I have to learn to achieve this vision?
A former coaching client of mine is a great example of the positive outcome of creating a powerful future vision. Chris is a 48-year-old advisor who had been a sole practitioner in the financial industry for the past 20 years. During that time he had routinely been recognized as being one of the top advisors in his firm, but his assets and production had steadily declined over the previous five years.

Chris always enjoyed meeting new people and networking. He passionately believed that developing personal relationships with his clients and their families was critical to being effective in guiding them to plan for their financial futures. Yet over time he had become mired in the details of running his practice and was spending less time doing what he loved—interacting with people. Furthermore, he had no idea what he wanted his business to look like in five years.

By answering a series of specific questions, Chris was able to create an ideal future vision. Utilizing this vision as a template, he began the process of shifting his practice to a team model. He now spends the majority of his time working directly with current and prospective clients, allowing members of his team to assume the other responsibilities. He not only says he's having fun again, but his production and AUM have both increased by 20% in the past year.

The following behavioral exercise is designed to help you visualize your ideal future. Take 15 minutes to sit alone quietly and consider the following: What does your life and career look like five years from now? Take a few moments and imagine this amazing future—don't limit yourself. What type of office do you have? What is your production level? What types of recognition have you received? What is your personal life like? What is your lifestyle?

Playing for Keeps
Now that you have a better understanding of where you want to go in your practice and life, you have to create a roadmap to get there. Acknowledging that you would like to incorporate a peak performance mentality in your work style is only the first step in this process. How many times have you set goals in the past only to see your enthusiasm wane and lofty goals fall by the wayside?

We all have behavioral patterns that we bring with us to new experiences. In order to make this future ideal a reality, you must understand your own behavior, know what motivates you and uncover the factors that limit you from engaging in new behaviors that are likely to lead to success.

The most critical step in reaching the next level of success in your career is asking yourself what you can do differently and what you're willing to do differently. If you're honest with yourself, you know that these two questions can generate very different lists.

  • Here are some other questions to contemplate quietly and honestly:
  • What are some of the beliefs or fears that limit you?
  • Are you afraid of failure? Are you afraid of success?
  • What stops you from setting higher challenges and achieving them?
  • Is this your job or your career?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What motivates you? Are those motivators intrinsic or extrinsic?
  • Are your strategies limiting you or helping you?
  • Are you committed to managing your business or creating your business?
  • Are you having fun?

The answers to these challenging questions will offer you important insight about topics you may not have taken the time to think about before. Once you understand and modify the behaviors that interfere with your success, you are ready to create the behavioral blueprint necessary to achieve your goals.
The more you know about yourself, the better you can leverage that knowledge to meet your goals. You should be aware of what you love about your position—the challenge, the work, the money—as well as what you gain from it. Is it self-confidence, self-respect or something else? Finally, you should make sure you're not doing things to limit your progress. Remember, in the business "game," your biggest competitor is you.

Denise P. Federer, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, executive coach and founder of Federer Performance Management Group. She has been a consultant to the financial services industry for 25 years.