[Book Review] 8 Ways To Great: Peak Performance on the Job and In Your Life

I love lists. And the book, 8 Ways To Great: Peak Performance on the Job and In Your Life, by Dr. Doug Hirschhorn, is my favorite kind of list: what successful people do to stand out from the crowd.

Dr. Doug, as he is known among the Wall Street elite, offers no earth-shaking surprises in his eight core peak performance principles. But that’s not the point. Because, for the most part, we know what to do to achieve excellence, just like we know what to do to lose weight. What we need is a shift in perspective that will galvanize us into action.

From abstract to concrete. What a relief to find that, unlike plenty of other self-help books, this one is free of glib platitudes. Dr. Doug makes every point with precision and backs it up with specific examples and illustrations so you understand exactly what he means.

Principle #1, for example, is “Find your why.” Now that could be kind of daunting if you’re thinking you have to come up with some grandiose mission statement for your life. But with examples like: “I’m a marketing executive because I get a kick out of figuring out how to influence people to buy,” you get it: it’s about articulating what’s meaningful to you in a down-to-earth kind of way.

Flipping your perspective. I read fast and I know I’ve hit gold when I hear the figurative screeching of tires in my head. With Principle #2: Get to know yourself, Dr. Doug reassures us that we don’t have to change who we are. We just have to develop greater self-awareness of our strengths and weaknesses. Then he throws in a subtle twist: get a grip on how your strengths can be potential weaknesses, and vice versa – the ability to remain calm, for example, becomes a liability when we don’t communicate the urgency of a situation.

This to me is the mark of a “self-help” book that is truly helpful. It presents what you may already know with a fresh, often subtle spin. And this time, you really “get” it.

For example: winning is not everything, I know that. As a performance coach myself, I’ve always advised my clients to “love the process” (Principle #3). And yet, in reading this book, I realized that I hadn’t fully understood the profound truth in committing to “measure success in terms of how well you performed, not only the outcome.” The greatest traders and athletes would rather play their best and lose rather than make stupid mistakes and win. Any attachment to the outcome will, paradoxically, keep us from achieving Principle #5: “Be all that you can be.”

Dr. Doug writes with such credibility and authority – earned from working with thousands of trading professionals at financial institutions and hedge funds around the world – it melts any resistance to accepting the truth of what he says. Oh, so I can stop waiting for the perfect moment before making a decision? (Yes, Principle #7: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.).

Keeping it real. Still, all of this advice-giving would be kind of dry if Dr. Doug didn’t weave in plenty of colorful anecdotes and stories to drive home his point. There’s the one about the multi-millionaire client who could afford to lose $150,000 in a trade but couldn’t bear the idea of throwing $600 in the East River if he didn’t follow his game plan – and so, stayed accountable (Principle #8). Or the client who called in a panic because he was literally losing millions in one of the crashes of 2009. Without coddling – “If you want a hug, call your mother” – Dr. Doug sent him back to the trenches to look for the opportunity emerging among the chaos (and the client thanked him later).

Anyone looking to step up their game needs to read this book. Take notes, do the exercises and keep it handy so you can refer back to it regularly. Do that, and you can’t help but become great.

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