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Award Badge Learning Professional of the Year - Black and White version
Award Badge Topo Leadership Develoment Training Coaching- Black and White version
Award Badge Learning Professional of the Year - Black and White version



Can’t keep up? How to transition from workaholic to high performer

[3 min read]

Swapping conditioning for positioning to improve mental and emotional health.


It is absolutely crucial for our emotional and mental well-being that we find a sustainable relationship between work and life. This can sometimes prove challenging, especially in times of working from home or the pressure of finding new, innovative ways of conducting our tasks or business operations. For us to succeed in today’s competitive and quickly changing market situations, we must be high performers. There is, however, a big difference between high performers and workaholics.

Generally speaking, high performers create a healthy and sustainable environment where they feel in control, happy and fulfilled. Workaholics on the other hand work hard and long hours in an unhealthy and unsustainable environment. They feel out of control and frustrated, without having a purpose or feeling good enough. This evidently leads over time to burnouts, anxiety and deteriorating mental health.

There are a number of characteristics that separate the high performer from the workaholic (details on this topic are covered in the blog “Workaholic or high performer? 7 warning signs that work is starting to affect your family life”). The one difference we would like to highlight in this article is the positioning versus conditioning.



Workaholics are often conditioned by others, and buy into social obligations and expectations of others. This adds immense pressure to an already fast-paced life. To experience more inner peace and mental freedom, we must stop being conditioned by the negativity and limitation of other people.

You may have heard of Pavlov’s experiment where he conditioned his dog. He started with the knowledge that dogs didn’t need to learn to salivate when they see or smell food. He called this an ‘unconditioned response’. However, when Pavlov realised that any object or event that the dog learned to associate with food would trigger the same response, he realised that he had made a significant discovery of conditioning.

In his experiment, Pavlov used a tuning fork as stimulus. Whenever he gave the dog food, he would at the same time sound the tuning fork. The dog created an association between the tuning fork and the food. Once this response was learned, the dog was conditioned to the point that he would dribble purely based on the tune of the fork without having any food present.

What does this research teach you? Starting right this moment, create awareness around how you are conditioned from your past or current environment. If you discover conditioning that is no longer serving you or is holding you back in your professional or personal life, make sure to recondition yourself in a way that will assist you to move forward.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~ Victor Frankl

When reading the book ‘Man’s search for meaning’ by Viktor E. Frankl who survived the death camps during the Second World War, you might experience some life-changing epiphanies. We highly recommend this book although it can certainly not be classified as light reading material… Viktor Frankl had to endure revolting and obnoxious events. Despite the enormity of what he endured, he was able to experience what he calls ‘the last of the human freedoms’. The Nazis were able to control the camp and the physical bodies imprisoned within, but they were not able to control Viktor’s choice of the meaning he gave to all the sickening happenings he had to witness. He himself chose how all of this would affect him… or not.

Viktor Frankl had the freedom to choose both…

  • the meaning he gave to his extremely negative experience, and
  • the way he responded

We can only change ourselves, not others. If we get very clear on our vision and goals and create certainty within ourselves that we are (or on our way to) who we want to be, we are no longer negatively influenced by the opinion of others.

True empowerment lies in the certainty within (internal) not by trying to control the external environment.

“They cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi




    So, if we want to become a high performer rather than a workaholic, we must position ourselves for success, challenge the status quo and use critical thinking.

    “I am not what happened to me. I am WHAT I CHOOSE to BECOME.” ~ Carl Jung

    People often say: “I am who I am today because of what’s happened to me in the past” or “I am the result of what I experienced in the past”. As Viktor Frankl (and many others) quite clearly proved to us is that what truly matters is the meaning we give to those event(s). This statement of course might be a bitter pill to swallow for those who experienced some tough [email protected]*# in their life. However, there are leadership strategies that can be enormously helpful and supportive, one of which is the ‘Certainty within’.

    Certainty within is:

    1. How we interpret the events we experience in life, in other words the meaning we give (external to internal), and therefore…
    2. …how we choose to respond to these events (internal to external)

    A perfect example is the story of two sons raised by an alcoholic father. Both brothers moved out and went their separate ways but were later in life interviewed to analyse the effects of drunkenness on children in broken homes. Research by Dr. Hans Selye found that although the two men were strikingly different from each other (one completely abstaining from alcohol, the other a drunk like his father), they both gave an identical answer when asked why they developed the way they did: “What else would you expect with a father like mine?”

    This story clearly demonstrates that every human being has the certainty within to choose how they want to interpret events in their life and therefore how they respond to it. With this awareness alone we can greatly improve our work and life and well-being.

    When we react to an event that we struggle with, we must consider who we would like to be and if the response we choose moves us away from or towards the outcome we want to achieve. For example: If in the past we have chosen to react with rage to a particular situation, we should ask ourselves if this is the person we want to be. If it is not, we must change the way we interpret the event. Rather than reacting with rage next time, we could interpret the event with “Yes, this makes me a little angry”, or “This is slightly annoying” or “You know what, this really tickles my little toe.” Through this, we can achieve a different, more positive outcome.


    As always, practice is the key. Positioning yourself for a successful balance between work and life to strengthen your emotional and mental health is not something you can achieve quickly, or once for all time. It is a continuous process of discovering new ways to take charge of the way you react to situations and thus positively influence yourself and those around you.


    “Dare to make a difference!” #WeMakeItEasy #LeadershipSkills


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