Are you stuck on a performance plateau somewhere in your business or personal life? Not increasing sales fast enough, losing weight fast enough, saving money fast enough or lowering your golf score fast enough? The uncomfortable truth is that at some level of consciousness you might have chosen to stay stuck.
When my youngest was in junior high school, I started noticing a pattern in his report cards. Most of them landed somewhere just under 79.4% and rarely much lower than that. He did decently well–but only as well as he could do without really standing out. A tiny fraction higher and he would have been on the honor roll every term.
In a business course I took during design school, we learned about a study IBM had done that revealed a psychological concept that would later became known as the comfort zone theory. They took sales people from poorly producing territories and swapped them with sales people from high performing territories. They were looking to isolate what factors contributed to and did not contribute to better sales results. Strangely, the top performers improved the so-called poorly performing regions and the other group tanked the good ones. Each group found a way to perform at the same level, good or bad.
This invariably led to the metaphor (which might be more literally true) that each of us has set our performance levels like we set room temperature on a thermostat at home. If my results veer too far up or down from the set point, I will rally or choke as required to maintain homeostatic balance.
In design school, we learned that we never really feel comfortable. We only feel uncomfortable–when things get too hot or cold. Room temperature is just right. Likewise, with our performance in various activities at work or play, stress becomes a trigger to take action: if I do too poorly, I'm stressed and pick up my game; if I do too well, I start to coast and sabotage my results. Success is oddly as stressful as failure. Golf handicaps are a prime example. They rarely improve much. The same also seems to go with weight and personal income.
I think set points are the non-conscious decisions we make about how good we are willing to let things get in our lives. What struck me about my kid's academic performance was the precision with which he landed in this tight performance zone every term. With all the quizzes, exams, assignments and graded projects he had, there was no real practical way to consciously arrive at any particular grade point. It had to be some unconscious program running.
Active and constructive improvement begins with self-awareness. When we went on a road trip together just before high school, Mars helped me work through the mechanics of my step up coaching methodology. During this process he identified an old program (I am not special) and an affirmative new mindset (I can achieve anything I set my mind to). Having decided that it was quite OK to stand-out, his grades never dipped below 80% again. He is today as special and he decided to be back then.