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Why the Best Performers Focus on Their Values

Know yourself: How to use a personal credo to choose identity over reputation.

Key points

  • The key to being a world-class performer in any field is mental, and these skills are 100% learned.
  • The world’s best performers learn to focus on their identity and not worry about their reputation.
  • Create a “values credo,” ten markers that define your values and capture what brings you energy and joy.
  • When you rely on identity, reputation takes care of itself.

The world’s best performers aren’t born that way. They may have innate, superior physical and intellectual traits, but that’s not what makes them champions. The difference between good and great, between doing well and achieving excellence, isn’t physical. It is entirely mental. The world’s best performers learn excellence. And if they can do it, so can everyone else.

Our book, Learned Excellence, is based on Eric's insights gleaned from his 30-year career as a clinical and performance psychologist working with thousands of top performers, including the Navy SEALs, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, and top business leaders, athletes, and first responders.

In this series, we’ll share key insights from Learned Excellence with you.


American figure skater Nathan Chen was the heavy favorite to win the gold medal in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, but he faltered in the short program and came away with a fifth-place finish. Why? Because, as he told us during an interview, Nathan was too concerned about what other people were saying and thinking about him. He forgot why he was there.

Olga Besnard/Shutterstock
Source: Olga Besnard/Shutterstock

The best performers learn to focus on their identity while not worrying about their reputation. They pay attention and draw strength from who they are, and they mostly don’t care about what others think about them.

Focusing on our identity is a behavior we are born with; babies and toddlers will throw fits without much regard for what such behavior does to their reputation. As we grow into our teens and 20s, though, we start to care about reputation very much. We become more risk-averse and less confident, as that nagging “what will others think” voice in the head just won’t shut up. Passing through this stage into our later years gradually reverses this trend; at some point we tend back to our toddler days (sans tantrums, hopefully), caring less about what others think and acting more out of our own identity.

The best performers learn to accelerate this progression. We have worked with thousands of them across multiple disciplines, and have seen this repeatedly: While it takes most people into their 40s, 50s, or even older to find the security of acting solely out of their own values, the best performers learn to do so earlier. This helps them put aside reputational fears and focus solely on their own values and motivations.

How do they do this? It starts with clearly understanding identity. Who are you? What do you care about and stand for? These seem like easy questions, but have you actually taken the time to think about them?

To understand your identity, we advise creating a values credo. Notice and write down your values and the things you care about, the identity markers that define you. What brings you energy and joy? What are your core characteristics and attributes? What do you most respect in yourself and others?

Start with an expansive list, then take a few weeks to think more deeply about it and cull it to its most essential elements. Be honest with yourself; your credo should be realistic as well as aspirational. Through this process, you should end up with around ten “markers” that comprise your values credo. Commit it to memory, and refer to it when you have to make an important decision or you find yourself worrying about your reputation. This ensures you are acting for yourself, not others.

The good news is that when you stay true to identity, reputation usually takes care of itself. We are all performers, in our jobs, families, and communities. When we center our performance in who we are and worry less about what others think of us, our performance tends to improve. Alongside it, so does our reputation. You can’t find a better win-win scenario.

When Nathan Chen returned to the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022, he was armed with his values credo. When he started feeling uneasy about what the press, spectators, and judges were thinking about, he successfully redirected those thoughts to remind himself why he was there.

He had started figure skating as a young boy in Salt Lake City, inspired by the 2002 Winter Games that were held close to his home. He fell in love with the sport and worked hard to achieve excellence for one simple reason. It was fun. He loved skating.

Buoyed by his credo, and this sense of joy, Nathan Chen stayed true to himself in Beijing and blew the competition away. Now his identity includes that well-earned gold medal.

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