Improving performance

Life is full of challenge.  The wise person is neither too soft, nor too hard, on themselves.  Photo by Kolleen Gladden on Unsplash

At work, performance issues dominate.  Organisations often want to maximise their profit, and they try to manage their people’s performance as a way of doing that

There are two main ways of enhancing performance:

  1. Empathically (or personalised) – going from the standpoint of the person, listening to and prioritising them
  2. Expathically (or depersonalised) – going from the standpoint of the performing organisation, prioritising the overall aim and limiting personal listening

When developing yourself, you have the same two broad options.

  1. You can attend carefully to yourself, understanding when you feel pressurised, and arranging your world so that it makes it easier for you to perform
  2. You can listen to, and attend to, the world’s needs and aims as a priority, and limit the amount you listen to your own suffering
Each one has its advantages and disadvantages.


Whenever you embark on personal change, you divide yourself into two voices: a progressive voice, and a conservative voice.  Your progressive voice will want to get on with the change; but the conservative voice will nag and warn you of the distress and discomfort the changes are causing.

If you are kind to yourself, you can end up prioritising the conservative voice too much.  This means that whenever you feel discomfort, you give in to it, and let yourself off changing.  For example, if your project is to diet, then you might find yourself experiencing acute hunger, and then giving in to it in order to be kind to yourself.  This can be a disadvantage, if your project is important to you, and your over-kindness to yourself is stopping you winning.

On the other hand, at well-chosen times, a bit of self-empathy can help you to get through the overall project.  It’s a case of balance.


This is what we mean by being cruel to be kind.  English doesn’t really have a good set of words for it.  Perhaps ‘discipline’ is the closest we get; but that doesn’t really explain the relationship with yourself that you have to have.

If you are disciplined with yourself, then on the plus side, you can make tremendous progress on projects, win competitions with others, and do things which wouldn’t be so possible with a softer approach.

On the other hand, ignoring your personal needs can lead to crisis points, in which you give up projects when you run out of critical resource.  This can happen however strong you are.  Again, it’s a case of balance.


A good general rule is to apply the right medicine to the right moments.  You need both empathic and expathic treatment to get through any change – times when nurture and care are prioritised; but also times when discipline and determination are prioritised.


Consider a project you have.  Ask yourself:

  • Are you choosing the right moments to take care of yourself, acknowledging your weakness and suffering, and making life a little easier for yourself?
  • Equally, are you choosing the right moments to push yourself, acknowledging the need for action, the need to ‘fight and not to heed the wounds’?

Maybe you have a personal improvement project.

  • Sometimes you have to attend to your self-care, making sure you do not push yourself too much
  • Sometimes you have to attend to the task at hand, flexing your action muscles, developing self-discipline
Some fools are soft when they need to be hard, and give in too quickly through discomfort.  Other fools are hard when they need to be soft, overdo it, and give in eventually through exhaustion.  A wise person finds a balance, and learns to manage themselves.