Peak Performance – Are Positive Thoughts Enough?

Books, publications, and seminars on positive thinking have bombarded the general public, businesses and sports teams for years. Yet, why are people still inconsistent in their success and even worse, why does success seem to elude the great majority of people, businesses and sports teams. The answer is simple. Positive thoughts alone are not enough.

As an NLP practitioner, (see, the key to “peak” performance is not just positive thoughts. One of the keys to “peak” performance is identifying why you need the positive thought in the first place. It is now time to look deeper. If one was totally congruent in their thinking, behaviours and execution and completely in alignment with the goal, game plan, intention, etc. then positive thoughts would not be needed in which to attempt to mitigate or eliminate the reason why you would need a positive thought. Positive thoughts would be one’s natural state. Instead, because of life’s uncertainties, fears, resistance to success, disempowering beliefs and incongruent identities & roles, one’s natural state is influenced by the curve balls thrown by life (fears, doubts, etc. as described above). It is like trying to fix a problem by treating the symptom rather than the cause. It would be like continually filling a flat tire with air and driving 10 miles until the air leaks out again, instead of patching the tire or getting a new tire. The first mile, the team may perform well however each mile thereafter, the air slowly leaks out and the symptoms reappear. The solution is easy: FIX THE CAUSE and avoid the leaks. People are certainly a creature of their old and ineffective habits.

The Structure of Results:

Causes and internal processes generate behaviors which then create results or symptoms.

The key is to look at the underlying issue of why a positive thought is needed. What are you trying to fix? What is the underlying cause? The symptom is what shows up in your behaviours. The cause is what drives your decisions and behaviours and thus your results.

Many coaches, managers, athletes, etc. look at the “results” and try to use positive and not so positive thoughts to correct performance. This is their attempt to change behaviour. If they don’t like the results, they will try to change the results using old, outdated and ineffective ways they have always used to change the unwanted results. Yet, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

Some will look at the symptom which is the actual behaviour (i.e. errors, turnovers, specific behavioural performance, etc.) and focus on changing specific behaviours by practicing certain skill sets or repetition of certain behaviours that produce better results. Although this has some merit up to a certain level, it still does not get to the root cause that controls the level of skill, thinking processes, states of mind and how one represents their task and goals at the unconscious level. The more sophisticated coaches, managers, etc. will trace the results to the specific behaviours and then to the actual cause. By addressing the actual cause for poor or inconsistent behavioural performance, behaviours will have a more profound shift towards execution of the strategies, actions, roles and tasks that are in complete alignment with the goal at hand.

A Three Step Approach to Change:

  1. Acknowledge the results
  2. Observe the symptom
  3. Address the cause

Shown below are some examples of symptoms with possible causes:

Sub-Par Performance
  • Low or unsupportive states of mind.
  • Time orientation distractions (Past / Future thinking vs. Present Moment
  • Low skill sets
  • Using limited or ineffective success criteria in context to the highest goal.
  • Lack of awareness or low or no commitment to success criteria. (An alignment issue)
Low Motivation: A sense that you have no control.A sense of helplessness / hopelessness,Low or no perceived value to the outcome
Inconsistent performance: Internal Conflict: Two or more parts in conflict. (Fear of failure vs. wanting to succeed)Two high values in conflict (i.e. Flexibility vs. Security,)Inconsistent success criteria.How you represent success internally? (Internal representation using visual, auditory, kinesthetic)


Some examples:

Sports performance

Over the years, I have seen many mixed messages from coaches, athletes and top management. Many times during the course of a game, you can often see players and coach’s thoughts switch from “playing to win” to “playing not to lose”. Although these two messages appear on the surface to mean the same, they are entirely different messages which greatly impact one’s performance. From an NLP perspective, “playing to win” is similar to the green light and “playing not to lose” is similar to the red light. Remember, the brain takes things literally. If I said don’t think of a blue elephant, what will you be thinking of? If I told you to think of “not losing”, what will you be thinking of?

Saturday Night Live

In 1991, Saturday Night Live debuted a skit with Al Franken playing Stuart Smalley who in essence tried to use positive thoughts as a way to improve self-esteem (Cause). (Symptom was poor relationships) Stuart Smalley’s favourite phase was I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me! As we all know putting a “band aid’ over a wound that needs medical attention or putting tape over a broken bone will not change the situation however it will disguise the situation. One would continue to go through life attracting the same results because the underlying issue hasn’t changed. Pretending you are succeeding, winning or performing at your best is not the same as actually performing at your best.

The concepts in this article may require further study. Practicing performance on the field, ice, floor, etc. goes a long way at the skill level. Repetition is an anchor that can develop positive behavioural outcomes in the context in which they were designed. Improving behavioural flexibility however is at the cause level thus the level of skill sets and actual game performance are highly influenced by the internal processes that generate these behaviours. Items such as the quality of your thoughts, internal representation, states of mind, beliefs, values and your identity all have major influences on performance.

Dave Isaac is a Master Practitioner in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and helps individuals, athletes, and businesses achieve peak performance. Visit:

Dave Isaac

Dave Isaac

NLP trainer and coach as well as owner and founder of Designing Success Inside, LLC, providing training, coaching, seminars and workshops in Neuro-Linguistic Programming to various businesses and organizations as well as individuals.  NLP is the study of human excellence and teaches powerful ways to create changes in your life by eliminating self defeating patterns of behavior, developing states of excellence, enhancing communication skills, creating a compelling future and developing deep levels of rapport with others.

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