Performance, Habits and Routine


Performance comprises behaviours and outcomes. The behavioural aspect refers to what one does and the outcome to what has been achieved. Performance is delivering what one has been employed to do, and high performance is when this is done as efficiently and effectively as possible. Performance has to be seen in context. For example, someone exceeding their sales targets may have done so not because their actions were particularly effective but because overall, across the market, the demand was increasing. Thus, even though they may have exceeded their sales targets, when set in the context of others they may in fact be underperforming. In the same way, a cyclist may produce remarkable average speeds as a function of strong tail-winds but when compared to others on the same course these speeds may be considered sub par. Critical to success in achieving high levels of performance is being clear how this is defined. There is no point in someone exceeding current performance measures in, for example, selling lots of ‘X’ if what is valued is sales of ‘Y’. Achieving high levels of performance begins with a clear understanding of what ‘good’ looks like.


Habits are behaviours that happen automatically in response to a cue. Think about when you travel, your passport is probably placed in the same location every time you travel. A habit is triggered by a cue even before you have thought about it. That’s because habits are driven by a different part of the brain than that associated with problem solving. A habit may be triggered whether it is helpful towards achieving a goal or not. For example, habits can be helpful, such as always putting on your seatbelt when getting into a car, or checking your calendar each morning to make sure you are prepared. But they can be unhelpful too, such as turning onto the wrong side of the road when driving in a country where they drive on the opposite side of the road; or, opening up your email software when you lift the lid on your laptop even though you intended to do something else. When we are under pressure, we default to our habits. If those habits are things that will help us perform at our best then that is what will happen. If on the other hand our habits lead to under performance then underperformance will likely be the outcome. Developing the right habits is key to high performance. Habits are useful because they trigger the right behaviours without using our limited cognitive resources. Many of the top performers in all walks of life have developed habits that help them perform at their best. Habits evolve from but are different to routines.


A routine is a consciously, regularly executed series of steps designed to achieve a specific outcome. The aim of the routine is to repeatedly achieve the desired outcome in the most effective way possible without having to figure out what the optimal steps are each time. For example, when getting dressed in the morning, you may well have a series of questions you ask yourself that determines what your choice of clothes will be. For example, whether you are going to work, whether you will be meeting people that might demand a particular dress-code, the state of the weather and so on. This routine helps make sure you don’t turn up at a meeting in sports clothes when you should have been in smart clothes and helps ensure you have your sports clothes with you for the gym on the way home. High performers often have a great many routines that they follow to ensure that they are able to perform optimally again and again and again. Over time, routines can become habits, but not always.