The Power of Restraint: Insights from Dr. Jeff Spencer

Dan Nicholson

In the world of high performance, whether in sports or business, there's often a relentless drive to continuously push the boundaries and surpass all prior benchmarks. It is this tenacity that often leads to remarkable feats of achievement. However, it is equally important to understand and respect the importance of another critical facet of this equation: restraint.

Dr. Jeff Spencer, a renowned performance coach who has advised everyone from Olympic athletes to Fortune 500 CEOS, argues that "the key word in the champion’s vocabulary is restraint." This may appear counterintuitive at first glance, especially in a world that largely celebrates relentless pursuit and unyielding tenacity.

The context for restraint is particularly applicable when an individual or organization has experienced a moment of peak performance - their best day, best week, or best month. It is during these high-water mark moments that the risk of overreaching, of pushing just a bit too far, becomes significantly higher.

Why? Because in the exhilaration of success, it's easy to get swept up in the momentum and attempt to immediately go further. You might reason, "If I achieved this much through my efforts so far, just imagine what I could accomplish if I pushed a little harder."

Dr. Spencer advises that, at these times, the wisest move is often to recognize the progress made and “ride the wave.”. This doesn't mean becoming complacent or resting on one's laurels. Rather, it is about respecting the new level of performance achieved, allowing oneself or the organization to adapt to this new standard, and strategizing the next forward thrust thoughtfully.

His philosophy of restraint distinguishes sustained high performance and potential “blow-ups.” The blow-up might manifest as burnout, stress-related issues, or critical missteps due to overzealous decision-making, all of which can set back progress significantly.

Restraint, in this context, is not about limiting ambition or potential. Instead, it's a strategic pause, a period of consolidation that respects the complexity of the high-performance journey. It is about maintaining a sustainable pace that enables long-term success and continued progress, without compromising personal well-being or the integrity of the organization.

The pursuit of high performance is not just about the destination but also about the journey. Respecting the rhythms of this journey - knowing when to push and when to pause - can make all the difference in achieving lasting success.

Pause and reflect:

  • In your personal or professional life, have you ever experienced a “blow-up” as a result of pushing too hard after a success? What lessons did you take away from that experience?
  • Can you share a time when exercising restraint contributed to your long-term success?
  • How do you find the right balance between pushing for more and exercising restraint in your own pursuits? 
  • Dr. Spencer's advice is particularly relevant to athletes and top executives. However, how might someone in a less intense profession apply the principle of restraint?
  • How might the concept of restraint apply to other areas of life, such as personal relationships, health, or personal finance? Can you provide examples from your own life or observations?

Dan Nicholson is the author of “Rigging the Game: How to Achieve Financial Certainty, Navigate Risk and Make Money on Your Own Terms,” deemed a best-seller by USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. In addition to founding the award-winning accounting and financial consulting firm Nth Degree CPAs, Dan has created and run multiple small businesses, including Certainty U and the Certified Certainty Advisor program.

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