Peak Performance Strategies

Commited to your consistent success

Know Thy Expert-Self: How specifically?

Let’s explore the ways that one can get to know oneself. Firstly, there is paying attention to your experience at any one time, and merely taking note of what you find in your experience. What you find could be what you are thinking about, or it might be how you are thinking, namely whether you are paying attention mostly to the pictures, the sounds or the feelings of you experience. The way you organise the data will determine what it is you are getting to know about you. For example, you might be interested to make a distinction between your thought and feelings, and which one plays the most important role in shaping the behaviour, which is a result of the thinking feeling process. You might also start to make comparisons, either by using a set of criteria of your own, or by doing a comparison with somebody else as a standard. In a nutshell, the questions you ask in getting to know yourself will determine the answer. If you ask any of the detail questions above, you will get different information from asking about your identity, or values, or competencies.

The answer lies in your experience. No matter what information you work with, whether it is questionnaires, or so called validated psychological tests, ultimately, if you do not test it against your own experience, you define yourself as somebody else wants you to!

Competence defined
The view held by this author is that competence is a cause of effective performance, not a synonym for it.
A competence can be defined as a particular internal sequence of modality events that characteristically produce a predictable behaviour or outcome. To put this in another way: competence is the referral to a process in which certain distinctions and comparisons in the modalities of experience leads to designated outcomes. In other words, the modalities and the sequence of the modalities, is how the competence is experienced or "done" in the person's head. Confidence, or problem solving, or whatever other competence, are particular sets of distinctions and comparisons people make in their experience, in the particular context, to get to a designated outcome.

Examples are good spellers who uses pictures to see the words in their minds, and would only use an auditory strategy if the preferred visual one does not bring up the word. Typical "think about" thoughts, or meta processes, are done in auditory mode, specifically internal dialogue, that runs as ongoing commentary while the person does the thinking strategy. While people make presentations to a group it is possible for them to "watch" themselves and make corrections to how they do things. Some people only "know" their mind when they have a clear feeling about an issue, and they cannot, or would refuse to make a decision before they know how they feel.

Attributes of an expert

1. Experts do things very, very rapidly and at an unconscious level.
At an expert level one is referring to examples of people functioning at the unconscious competence level of the learning curve. It is interesting that conscious processes in the mind require a much slower tempo of neurological functioning. In order for one to become aware of what and how you think, it seems it is a prerequisite that you slow down the mental speed to correspond with the tempo of verbalisation/language and/or a tempo at which you can recognise pictures. When you speak with an expert about their competence, the answer you more frequently get is that they don't know, or that it just happens, etc. This is the experiential indication that whatever it is that they do at the unconscious competence level, is outside of their awareness because of the speed at which they run the neurological software. Beginners, on the other hand, do things only as fast as they can say it on the inside or as fast as they can recall their internal pictorial representation of the steps of the competence. Repetition, or experience, of the internal sequence of events is what allows for the person to "speed up" until they equal the expert and they become unconsciously competent.

2. "Experience" allows the expert to think in non linear formats.
Experts do not necessarily think sequentially, but more like "jumping steps". The can take calculated short cuts, or think in unusual/innovative/creative ways about the problem, which is very different from the linear thinking of the novice. They can do this because of the different forms of thinking that they can utilise. For example like changing conceptual levels in their thinking from abstract to concrete (or vice versa). Or changing conceptual positions (eg. dreamer to self critic or problem analysis to problem solving while considering the restrictions to potential solutions).

3. Expert flexibility is a demonstration of how the expert considers the outcome and the context of the event in their decision of what is the "correct way" of applying the competence.
This consideration of the outcome and context is what gives the same competence its "variability" or differences in appearance: the same competence will have a different form or even sequence under different circumstances, because the requirements are different. Test this in your own experience by comparing different examples of using the same competence in different contexts, and notice how the form/process would change to accommodate the circumstances/context and the identified outcome. A good general example would be teaching people decision making strategies. The contexts that apply will determine the kind or form of the decision making, which will be appropriate. Think about how you might go about a decision in a situation which is not dependant on how much time a person has for making the best decision, or how much information is explicitly available. Compare this with a time when you are pressured for time, and a working decision is required immediately, even though not all the information is available. "A particular skill or capability (such as the ability to "think creatively") may serve as a support for many different kinds of tasks, situations and contexts", says Robert Dilts(1). Using only behavioural methods to identify the presence of a competence could therefore never identify the contextual demands on the variability of the capability, or the context specific form of the competence.

4. Experts recognise the internal and external cues when to start and stop the process. This is easily underestimated as can be seen with the concern about training transfer and the predictive validity of measurements. A person might have the neurological software in place (as was seen during an assessment centre or from psychometric testing) but that still does not mean the person will recognise the cues when to use the strategy. Frequently people, when they have been not successful, will in retrospect identify, and even demonstrate, what they should have done. At the time, they will tell you, they do not think of it "in that way". Therefore, the appropriate identification of the cues when to use what version of the strategy, is what correlates with success.

5. It is clear that as experts run the "expert neurological software" they do so at more than one level.
As they run the strategy there is at the same time an ongoing evaluation about whether they will be achieving their outcome if they continue to think along the current lines, i.e. run the current software. This meta position is an ongoing process that assesses not only whether the outcome will be achieved but also whether it will meet the criteria for the outcome. This is the seat or source of work ethics and the dynamism of the achievement drive, defined by David McClelland as, "the need or drive for wanting to do better".

6. The resultant, external behaviour is a poor reflector of the internal sequence of thoughts.
The most one can say after the behavioural assessment of a competence is that some kind of thinking is present in some form. Whether this competence is available under the contextual parameters of real life, and whether the essential meta step for self assessment and personal learning is present, would be uncertain. This fact would only be identified accurately to the extend that the assessment procedure approximates the real working conditions. (This should be a serious consideration for when to use psychometric evaluation, if at all, because they are notoriously insensitive to contexts even though their interpretation and “predictive value” cuts across contexts).

The Risk in Knowing Yourself through Tests/Instruments
From the point of view of the validity of the different methods for identifying your personality or competencies, the one thing missing in all of the existing instruments is that they are not sensitive to the context in which the particular form of the software operate. From your own experience you would know this: for example, take the how of being self confident (or any other competence or aspect of yourself that you are curious about). Please take a moment and think of an example where you can clearly recall how you were ... in a particular situation: what where your thoughts, feelings and behaviours in that situation. This will be your experiential definition of doing confidence in one particular situation. Now, think of another example of a time and a place in which you were aware of doing confidence. After identifying your specific thoughts, kind of feeling and behaviour, compare your two examples and notice how they are the same and how they are different. Not only will you find some differences, but very definitely also some differences in the specifics of the how. It is in the how where the difference lie, that you get a sense of the flexibility, or lack of flexibility, that goes with the range of who you are.

The more flexibly you apply your neurological software, the wider the range or potential that goes with your name. Another way of saying the same things is: the more options you have to choose from in a particular situation, the more likely is it that your behaviour will be appropriate in that event, and the higher is the likelihood that you will achieve your intended outcomes for yourself. Having only one strategy to assert yourself, or handling conflict, or resolving a problem, will very quickly come unstuck if the situation vary from what you are used to. Your awareness of this inbuilt flexibility is already the start to the application of options and the beginning of any success recipe.

X or not X or mostly X?
At the time of writing this article, the author is not aware that any one of the myriad ways of getting to know yourself, consider this experiential information about the context specific form or characteristic of a person. In giving you information about “you” or even the “real you”, they will insist that your are X. Or, if they want to create a semblance of flexibility, you are mostly X. The exceptions that you are aware of will not fit the rationale of a particular test or questionnaire, and cannot be dealt with in terms of the instrument used, and will be ignored. It then becomes one of the “mostly’s”. What can you do?
A simple little reality testing will allow you to get good mileage out of any “know yourself” exercise. Remember that the test reflects the thinking and priorities of the compiler (refer to the concluding comments below), and they are interested in the average, general version of you that does not exist. If this one general, average version did exist, it would be indicative of your rigidity or stuckness. It would clearly be a liability, not an asset in the world we currently live in. Here is how to get beyond the impression given of you by the test:

1) Accept for a moment that there is some validity in the test (hell, you have invested some precious time on the off chance that it might be!);
2) When is the information about you true? Under which circumstances, or when, where, and with whom is this a good or accurate description of you?
3) Under which circumstances is this not a good or accurate description of you? How are these other circumstances different from the example above in your experience? These differences in your experience also reflect what is then important to you. This difference in the content of the experience and the implied shift in what is important to you would therefore influence you to nominate a different outcome.

X When?
Different outcomes and a difference in what is important to you will lead you to doing what you do differently to meet the different outcome. Reality testing is becoming aware of these differences: different circumstances, different definition in experience, difference in what is an important and therefore different outcome that requires different strategies or neurological software.

We are sure your own experience will indicate to you how this inherent flaw in most kind of “know yourself” instruments. Remember back to the last time that you had to complete one of them, especially where you had to make forced choices. The part that you did in your mind, which the instrument and the expert are not aware of, is the decision process you went through to make the choice. (Now that would be the mother lode of information about the person that is you!) One of the things you would have had to do in your mind, if you were going to choose something true to your experience, was to contextualise your choice. That is, you would search for a time in your experience that you had to make a choice similar to the one you are asked to do in the instrument. Your choice would therefore point to a vital piece of information: when is the choice in question, a valid choice for you. If you could not identify a time and a place in which item “a” was your choice over item “b”, you would find it most difficult to write an answer. The problem that arises from thinking about the choice as “sometimes it is true, sometimes not”, or maybe even, ”I will never have to make this choice in real life”, will require you to force a solution. No instrument for knowing yourself allows for another important choice, namely, "no choice". The choices reflect the theoretical emphasis of the instrument’s compiler and they do think of choices between items that are alien to real life. At the very least, through the instrument, they can insist that you make a choice that you would never consider making in your own experience. Not having the choice to not respond, deprives you of useful and valid information, and produces results that are biased.

There are many ways during the completion of these instruments to solve this dilemma, but you will most probably use another database, not an experiential one, from which to solve the problem. Instead of then using your own, real experience, i.e. information about your “true experiential self”, you would use other information. Some of the ways of thinking to help you make these choices are, “what should I choose?” or “what impression do I want to create?” etc. Whatever you do instead of draw upon into your own, real experience is making further conclusions about you invalid.

Frames for X
The holographic manner in which the brain produces a conscious experience is what makes it possible for an experience to accommodate so many truths. The whole field of psychology is evidence of this: psychologists are busy with the same dimension of the person, experience, and the many theories about the what and the why of the same data, is possible because experience is so versatile and many faceted. A favourite theory (even if it goes with the label of “statistical validity”) is only one frame for an experience. Another theory will be an equally valid frame, but will highlight a different dimension of the same fruit salad called “experience”. The importance of paying attention to the multi dimensionality of experience for knowing oneself is that you have to decide up front what it is you want to know! What you want to know, and what you ask as a result, will determine what answers you get. Learning about oneself therefore has to be outcome based.

Outcome Based Knowing

To do outcome based knowing there will be three steps:
i) Deciding what it is that you want to know. Do you want to know your preferred way of responding in certain contexts? Or, would you like a description of your characteristic response? Maybe you have a question about what is important (i.e. values or criteria) to you? What competencies do you have? What behavioural preferences or options do you permit yourself? What are your typical thoughts, feelings, and behaviours when you are successful at something? Who are you (really [yuck])?
ii) Since all experience is context specific, you need to consider this variable in your exploration by identifying a particular incident at a time, a place and with whom, during which you did the best example of that which you want to know about. In this experience, during that moment is the information you are looking for.
iii) What you want answered will be found in that particular experience. If your enquiry were about a pattern, you would need other examples to verify the pattern. If you want to know what is essential or different, you would use contrastive questions to highlight for you what is unique.

Getting to know one becomes a futile exercise unless it is aimed at getting to know something specific about you, and it includes the contextual qualifications.

The author have noticed how careless people are about learning from their successes. Maybe it is because of an “fix it” mentality, which motivates us to spend an inordinate amount of time on what was incomplete, unsatisfactory, less than the expected against some set of criteria. The reader might wonder about the next statement, which seems to go hand in hand with this emphasis on “less than” examples: has it not struck you how people experience bad news more convincingly than good news? It is a lot easier for people in general to become convinced bout bad news than it is for people to believe good news. Also, it is very easy to convince people that good news was false they would change their minds a lot quicker about good news than they do about bad news. Maybe this is another reason why people would spend a lot more time thinking, concentrating and maintaining the not successful experiences in their lives, at the expense of neglecting their successful examples. It seems that we learn from our failures because we are not smart enough to learn from our successes. And even if we did pay attention to our successes, we don’t trust it. We disqualify it with statements like, “it was luck”, or, “it was because of so and so’s help”, or “the time was right”, etc. This disqualification of our own success experiences deprives us of extremely useful, balanced and valid information about ourselves. One model to utilise a balanced approach will be discussed below.

What follows is how to learn from success experiences, and even if it had been a group effort, to pay attention to your contribution in that context. Robert Dilts has developed this model(2), and it allows one to contrast and highlight the difference between success and not being successful. The thinking is that as you succeed by design, you fail by design. It as if the mind has it’s own software that it runs as a way of accessing different “resources” (or competencies, or strategies as the author prefer to call it). These strategies allows the person the flexibility or resourcefulness to, more likely than not, achieve their outcome(s) in a particular event. Minor changes in the strategies are sometimes enough for a person not to do what is appropriate to achieve their outcomes. This model of Robert Dilts is a neat way of identifying your own, essential success recipe, with no inbuilt answers to fit a model or a set of standards.

To complete the diagram below, will take three steps:
a) Identify by name the competence that you want to know your success recipe of.
b) By remembering a real life example in which you did the competence successfully, and complete the diagram. Having completed the diagram for your success example, only then do the same for a not successful example.
c) Taking each of the rows one at a time notice what the differences is that will help you understand the essentials of your success.

Name of Competence:
Effective Context
Ineffective Context
What are your goals?
How do you know you are achieving your goals?
What do you do in order to reach your goals?
What do you do if you are not satisfactorily reaching your goals?

Having completed this format, the following pointers will be helpful:
1) The difference can lie at any one of the rows. Do not anticipate what the difference is that makes the difference, rather use an inquisitive approach and find out.
2) Before you make general conclusions about your success recipe, please remember that the lesson learned here might only be applicable to this competence in this context; if you want to test if the conclusion can be generalised, use at this format on at least two other examples.

And Value questionnaires?
This is equally a no no! It starts with the fact that like any other personality instrument, it does not allow for the context specificity of values. Every single experience is processed through a set of perceptual filters, the most active one next to language, being the value one. The mechanism for evaluating the content of experiences for being good/bad, right/wrong, effective/ineffective, true/false, etc. are the criterial equivalences3. The criterial equivalences are used by the brain to recognise whether the content in experience matches or mismatches the appropriate values. Imagine for every word in your vocabulary, (including the value words, like for example, good/bad, right/wrong, effective/ineffective, true/false) you have an "sensory template" made up of the modalities, through which you recognise words. Take an example of a value word like trust. For every context in which the word apply a person will have a "sensory template" through which they will recognise whether trust is present or not , in that experience. People have ways that they would expect to see, hear or feel to know that the person in the experience is to be trusted, or not. The way of recognising or defining trust ( the sensory template) will be different for a person when they think of a business partner, or a friend, or a sexual partner.

In responding to value questionnaires, the person accesses these sensory templates of what the words mean, apply it to a particular context to make it experientially relevant. From this application they would make a judgement from which they answer the question. Once again, the process, i.e. the accessing of particular context and an appropriate template, from which the person came up with an answer, is the essential information. This information is not available to the tester. Not having the "how" or the "what" that produced the outcome of the questionnaire, the tested is still the mystery. The values profile of that person is reflecting an internal process, as well as a set of contextual "presuppositions" unknown to the tester. Unless this information is reality checked with the tested, the validity of any deductions about the experience of the tested is highly questionable.

So, who am I really?
The fact that every experience we become aware of has the characteristic of context specificity "hard wired" into it, is the clue to the understanding of the multiplicity of oneself. It is impossible not be yourself, because if you are not you, from whose "seat of being" are you operating from and whose brain? Another way to think about this intriguing question is to imagine that in effect your multiplicity is like a fruit salad: in every context you display a particular blend of your being. Change the context or change the mix (a little more pineapple, a few cuts of banana less than a moment ago) and you change what you get, even all are variations of a fruit salad. Another way of thinking about this, is imagine you are the Metropolitan museum in New York. You are the whole museum, with different floors representing different aspects of (your) being human. Standing in front of an oil painting is not like standing in front of what the museum is all about. A person's name represents the range of fruit salads that make you up. The Metropolitan Museum likewise would be a more accurate statement of who you are in all your facets, emphasis and dimensions.

How does one know when you wake up in the morning that you are the watercolor belonging to the museum that carries your name? I remember that Robert Dilts had said somewhere, and I cannot remember where I get this from, that the unified experience of self lies in the relationship of the parts that make up the whole. The relationship between the components is the "clue that hold you together".

It is from this inherent context specificity of experience that it is an inappropriate question to ask oneself, “who am I really”. If you did make the mistake to come up with an answer, and you forgot that you have just generalized from a limited experience, as if that is a total representation of who you are, you will have made a serious error. Generalising your identity from one or two experiences traps you into an inclusive mode: only what fits your narrow definition of self is now permitted. Identity’s are notorious self fulfilling prophesies. Any exception to the rule would make you feel decidedly uncomfortable, because it is not you. This is called "cognitive dissonance". Here is the thought virus: the range that is you, reflected through your role variety, is narrowed down by a faulty generalization. Your name, more accurately, is like the name of a fruit salad: it is a mix that, depending on the mix, determines the flavor. The unified sense of who you are, lies in the relationship between the variety that makes you up. Your name represents a gestalt, which at any time is more than the parts that make it up.

The question, “who you are really?”, also implies a standard or set of criteria against which the answer will be judged. And it is here were the variety of personality instruments and tests find a breeding ground: the implied “really you”, reflects the standard or preference of the author (even if by repetition it gets "statistical validity"). This preconceived identity definition or "range of self" determines both the questions and the range of answers, and then, predictably, the answers you can come up with. The trap is you can only be what the bias in the instrument allows you to be, and nobody else!

1 Kruger, Armand: "Denominalising emotional intelligence, part 2" Anchor Point, April 1999, Vol. 13, no. 4, page 45.
2 Michael Hall: “William James and the NLP Model” available at
3 See George O Klemp, jr.: "Identifying, measuring, and integrating competence" in New Directions for Experiential Learning, 3, 1979.
4 Robert Dilts: Modeling with NLP. (1998) Meta Publications, PO BOX 1910, Capitola, California 95010;p38.
5 Described extensively in his work: (1991) Tools for Dreamers. Meta Publications, POBox 565, Cupertino, California 95014. Page 153ff.
6 See Kruger, Armand: "I love your equivalences" in NLP World, Vol. 6, no. 2, June 1999.