Peak performance strategies can give business leaders a leg up on the competition, even though the true path to success lies in an old joke. A guy says to a taxi driver, “Can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?” And the taxi driver answers, “Practice, practice, practice.”

The taxi driver is right, of course. To get to Carnegie Hall — or any other arena of high achievement — you have to work hard to hone your skills. But psychologists have learned that peak performance takes more than skill development. Even the most highly trained performers won’t achieve their best without the right mental tools.

I was reminded of this fact while reading a Wall Street Journal article on psyching children up to perform. The article focuses on kids, specifically college admissions testing, but the techniques jumped out to me as the kind of peak performance tactics I recommend to clients all the time. Here’s what they — and I — recommend:

Five peak performance strategies

  1. Recall your successes. Remembering and talking about times you have succeeded in the past builds your confidence and helps you to visualize yourself performing superbly again.
  2. Use visual priming. You may be skeptical, but looking at objects that represent triumphs, like trophies and medals, has been shown to improve performance. That’s why when I have a stressful interview I always wear my Phi Beta Kappa key under my clothes. No one else knows it’s there, but I do.
  3. Use “reappraisal.” The physiology of fear and the physiology of excitement are very similar. Both feelings are forms of arousal. So when you feel tension in your body, you can label it as “anxiety” or “excitement.” Using the second label improves your performance.
  4. Utilize routines, rituals, and superstitions. Athletes who engage in a set routine before competing do better. So, if you have a special shirt or food or exercise that you always use before a challenge, good for you. It is probably reducing your anxiety, helping you focus, and reminding you to perform the task the way you practiced it. And because it’s something you likely did before your last positive performance, it helps with the first point on recalling successes as well.
  5. Use music to improve your mood and energy level. Listen to music you love, music that makes you happy and stimulates you. It can help smooth out some of the edges if you’re feeling anxious and focus your mind on the task at hand. It’s especially helpful if you find yourself in a negative feedback loop — instead of repeating worst-case scenarios, choose a song with positive lyrics to break that train of thought.

It’s not just athletes and opera singers who need to be in peak performing shape under demanding conditions. Many business leaders face similar levels of visibility and evaluation. That’s why we find it so helpful to borrow tactics a performance coach would use. While these peak performance strategies won’t take the place of “Practice, practice, practice,” they will help you consistently perform at your best.

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