Join Jessica Warpula Schultz, LMFT, and Kristen Radtke, LPC, as they discuss society's obsession with high performers and why we can't stop watching them. They explore the choices people make to reach this level of success and the potential loneliness felt on top. Kristen asks her clients, and the listener, "When you're on your deathbed, looking back, will you be happy that you cranked the dial on performance? Or will it involve so much sacrifice that you're going to be in a lot of emotional pain?"
Kristen believes the development of embodied insight to be a crucial step in the process of self-transformation. "I want to liberate people to be able to crank that dial up if they want to and crank it down, if they want to, according to their stage of life and circumstances...my goal is always to help people move in the direction that is most authentic to their inner majority, with a full understanding that that can change over time."
Kristen trains individuals, groups, and teams in psychophysical techniques to optimize performance. In both her clinical practice and in her athletic coaching, Kristen frequently employs meditation and mindfulness techniques to help clients accept and skillfully work with whatever arises in their minds, bodies, and lives.
Produced by Jessica Warpula Schultz
Music by Jason A. Schultz
Insight Counseling and Wellness, LLC
Welcome to Insight Mind Body Talk, a body-based mental health podcast. We're your hosts, Jessica Warpula Schultz and Jeanne Kolker. Whether you've tried everything to feel better and something is still missing or you've already discovered the wisdom of the body. This podcast will encourage and support you in healing old wounds, strengthening relationships, and developing your inner potential- all by accessing the mind body connection.
Please know, while we're excited to share and grow together. This podcast is not intended to be a substitute for mental health treatment. It doesn't replace the one-on-one relationship you have with a qualified healthcare professional and is not considered psychotherapy.
Thanks Jess. And thank you for listening. Now, let's begin a conversation about what happens when we take an integrative approach to improving our wellbeing. Welcome to Insight Mind Body Talk. My name is Jess. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, a trauma informed personal trainer, and your host.
Today's episode is titled achievement and performance. My guest is Kristen Radtke. Kristen is a licensed professional counselor, NASM certified personal trainer, and a Zen meditation instructor, dedicated to holistic body centered psychotherapy. And Kristen owns and operates two practices in Madison, Wisconsin. Clear Path Counseling and Wellness and Mental Edge Racing. And in both practices she focuses on helping people optimize their mind body connection to promote healing and change. As a therapist at Clear Path, Kristen specializes in treating attachment disturbances, eating disorders, somatization disorders, mood disorders, and relationship dynamic issues. In her work with endurance sport athletes at Mental Edge Racing, Kristen trains individuals, groups, and teams psychosocial techniques to optimize performance. In both her clinical practice and her athletic coaching, Kristen frequently employs meditation and mindfulness techniques to help her clients accept and skillfully work with whatever rises in their minds, bodies and lives.
Kristen believes the development of embodied insight to be a crucial step in the process of self-transforming. Both Clear Path Counseling and Mental Edge Racing frequently host workshops, training clinics, and retreats in the United States and Europe focusing on topics, just like the one we're going to be speaking about today.
And I'd like to add that Kristin is one of my nearest and dearest, and so it makes my heart very happy to have someone here who I've been sitting across the table with for many years. Talking about movement, about bodies, about trauma, about life, about relationships, about transformation. And so hopefully if this is one of many episodes with this lovely guest, so thank you for being here.
Thanks so much for having me, Jess. It's awesome to be here.
Well, before we get into the topic of performance, I want you to like tell us a little bit more about how optimizing athletic performance became your specialty and you know, how you, how your background in meditation fitness psychology were combined to create Mental Edge Racing.
Mm. I mean, the long version of this story, I suppose, is that I kind of came into the world that way, wired up as one of those little kids who could not let something go and tell it was done to my satisfaction. Um, in the psychotherapy world, which is really different than the performance world, we might say that I had a touch of OCD as a child, uh, in the performance world.
We might say that I was highly motivated and driven for excellence in whatever I was doing. Like there was this internal standard that I had that only I knew about. Uh, but was unable to walk away from things or stop doing them until I had that sense of satisfaction of reaching that standard. And so I suppose you could say it started there.
It started when I, when I came into the world, wired up that way. Um, and then was around really amazing parents who were incredibly supportive of all of my obsessions and endeavors, um, and who. Also modeled for me, what discipline and hard work and consistency could produce in terms of results. So I was incredibly fortunate with the parents who raised me in the family that I was raised in that whatever I was doing, whether it was athletics or arts or academics, I was always being cheered for.
So yeah. I kind of had one of those really privileged childhoods where I got to follow my interests around and people supported me when I did that. And so, because of that, anything that I got interested in, I got really interested in. So I think by the time I was 13, not only was I running, you know, track and playing soccer, but I was.
Studying the micro movements required to be a better track athlete. And, you know, could I get five seconds off of my mile faster if I worked on my pelvic angle and foot placement in a particular way. So, you know, that started in early adolescents. Um, and then meditation and mindfulness came into my life really through the channel of my mother though.
I could say I was a bit of a. Spiritual kid. I spent a lot of time in the woods by myself, making forts and talking to the trees. Um, all of whom were my friends, and I can see that. Uh, and I think the meditation practice really came through my mother who had daily quiet time. Which I understood much later to be her meditative and spiritual practice.
And she would very lovingly let me come in and sit there, but I just had to be quiet. That was the thing. And I remember when I was really little, it being so hard to stay quiet for that long, but found myself somehow still drawn to that space of sitting there quietly being with her as she practiced and.
You could say that my meditation practice really started then and evolved as I got older and went to college and joined up with a Zen group at Northwestern, and then started practicing with Zen community in Chicago. So it got deeper and deeper as I went and athletics as well, deeper and deeper as I went, always running.
And the mindset for self optimization was with me all. I never, I never knew what it was, what it was to be like without that you could say, so how mental edge came about was this just sort of. The brain child of the things I was spending my time on, I was a psychotherapist in private practice and was practicing triathlon when I started the company and knew that I wanted to work with athletes and mind, body performance, but not necessarily for the sake of performance more for the sake of.
Evolving human beings, similar deeply cultivate themselves and have more attuned relationships with themselves and their bodies and the world. So that's how I got excited about mental edge. I was wired up that way. I had a long history with meditation and athletics that. Had been a personal trainer for some time and thought, you know, wouldn't it be cool if I could like do psychotherapy, like in the lake wearing a wetsuit, like anxiety about open water swimming and uh, wouldn't it be cool if we could actually be on the bike when we're talking about what happens to.
Anxiety and VO two max levels when someone is doing high intensity interval work, like, wouldn't that be cool if I could actually just be right there. So now that's what I do. I hang out in those spaces with people, um, where we're really digging deep to see how their wiring is working and any performance barriers that come up.
They might not be, you know, as simple as something we can train athletically, we might have to work on their childhood. For example. To get through the next performance barrier. So, which don't you think is so cool because often people aren't thinking, wow, I really want to be able to, you know, reach this next level.
I really, um, I'm, I'm starting to feel a little panicked around like mile 17 every time, or, you know, when I get on my bike after an accident, you know, I should be able to get myself through it and, and different things like that. And then it's like, I'm going to hire this coach. It's going to be amazing.
And then. Tell me about your childhood. I think because it is, it's all just so connected and you know, we're going to get into a little bit kind of talking about the, what you've noticed as the myths of performance and really these also in addition, different childhood parts of ourselves who first became focused on achievement and, and how that happened and how that was developed.
And, um, I just think that's like phenomenal. I love that you're doing this. Um, thanks. Yeah, it's a good time. And it's definitely a, it's definitely my sweet spot because I get to selfishly spend so much time there myself in my own training. And so the things that I'm thinking about and working on in my mind and body on a daily.
Uh, people are bringing up in their sessions and I can say, actually, I just got through an eight month period of being obsessed with this myself. And then sometimes you will bring things that are totally new for me and totally blew my mind. So it's really nice. You know, that cliche of, if you love what you do, you'll never work a day again in your life.
I feel like I've found that sweet spot with mental edge because it's placed. Yeah. Agreed. Well let's then begin. Uh, what, where would you even start talking about performance for our listeners? No, I was listening to just today, the high-performance podcasts, which I follow. And one thing that was brought to my attention was so many people have different definitions of that word performance or high performance.
And even when I attempted. The exercise. What comes to mind? When I hear the words high-performance I realized I associated it a lot with outstanding individuals who in athletics, we could say they win things. They win races, they win championships. Um, in business we could say, you know, outstanding individuals.
Who are incredibly innovative or who builds companies from nothing, then, you know, have massive success both personally and professionally as they continue to innovate and bring more people into their vision. Um, but I think for many people achievement and performance, It's really personal. It's really whatever you want it to be.
And it doesn't have to be associated with winning a race. Um, it could be associated with becoming more compassionate with yourself. It could be, I could want to, um, be a better partner, you know, in my relationship and be focusing on cultivating myself that way. So in some sense, we have this idea that high-performing individuals look a certain way.
They look like people who, when things are people who build or run successful companies or whatever. But I like to think of it as however, an individual defines performance at that particular juncture in their life. Right? So at one point a high performance goal for me was to run a race and enjoy it.
Yeah, that was my performance goal was to participate in a race and, you know, not totally push my physical and mental limit to the max and just enjoy what it was. So I'm a big believer in creating a large amount of personal Liberty in determining high performance. While also recognizing that in a very black and white way, when we're talking about performance and success, there is a person who gets through.
And there is a person who does not get first, second or third or fourth or podium at all. And so, you know, there, there is this objective way where we think about winning as associated with high performance. Um, but maybe that's not the case maybe had performances, you know, uh, this week I did a really great job.
Developing emotionally intelligent children this week, my kid cried for an hour straight at the top of their lungs and I was regulated and patient the whole time. I know for me, at least right now, my performance goals, I just joined this great, strength and conditioning spot and. Um, someone asked me, , what's your goal with this?
And it wasn't a certain amount of pounds lifted. It wasn't a certain amount of, you know, reps completed. It's I want to try and do this three times a week without pain and my life not going to shit, trying to do this like that. And what that means for me is like, I want to still sleep well. I want to still be able to feel like myself.
I want to be able to stay focused. At work and I want this to integrate and that's my performance goal for as long as it takes to reach is to like move in this capacity with as little pain as possible,
and yet I'm looking for a little bit more balance right now, but that's probably not what, like, I don't know, 30 year old Jess would have said about her performance schools per se. So yeah, it changes over time and over the life span as well. It does. So when, you know, I think it's so fascinating to think about, you know, when we talk about our lifespan and you brought it up as a, as a child, just kind of how you were brought into this world in this way.
You know, when I talk about performance with other people, you're one of those. I can't even say only few. You are the only person who has ever talked with me about these childhood parts that exist within our performance goals. The way we measure success, the way we look at achievement. So can you, for our listeners who haven't gotten to sit with you and explore this topic, let's, let's dig into that as therapists.
So I'll let you start. Well, I think childhood pain can be a driver of a lot of success or achievement or goodness that comes in adulthood or later in life. And a lot of high performers have not had easy childhoods, uh, was just listening to podcasts. The tongue daily. Who's a diver. And he was talking about the, and he came out in 2013 as gay and his diving team and in his life and talked about the five hours he would spend after school in the pool.
But the contrast of that with growing up in England as a gay boy and not having any place for himself where he felt really like he belonged and that there was this correlation between how driven he was. How much he wanted to prove and how wrong he felt in social groups and unable to fit. And I was really touched by that story that he shared.
And I thought, you know, similarly, when I watched the last dance in tastic series about Michael Jordan, if you haven't seen it a really, really amazing study in. Achievement and performance and the psychology of achievement and performance. And I remember watching the parts about his childhood and how he was spending his time and his brother and, you know, thinking to myself, wow.
He really wanted to win the, he really had a drive deep in him to win and he pursued it, fiercely his whole career. On an unprecedented level and you know, it was the best because of it. And I think a lot of people have childhood experiences that either drive them towards performance or towards perfection or towards.
And they're not always talked about. And, you know, we see the end result, we see the high performer at the end, but we really have no idea how they got there. And I just don't think we should assume that it's without some kind of pain and that's not to say that it always is right. Like I said, in my childhood, I really feel like I came into the world sort of wired up this way in some ways.
Was it. Um, nature component and a nurture component for sure. But my mother told me that even when I was very little, I was incredibly particular about the order of my bath toys. Mm. Like a system. And I had a model in which the bath toys were successfully aligned. Oh, I'm laughing because I'm like flashing to all these other things like that is so you and so many.
Yeah. And even like the dishwasher, when she would leave the dishwasher open, I would sort of like toddle up to it and rearrange it in a way that was pleasing to me. So you could say again, it's like a therapy world. Maybe this is a child with some OCD spectrum traits, but you could also say that that capacity to be.
Really focused or fixated on something is correlated with high-performance that when you sink your teeth into something, you will not let it go. So could we say there was, you know, a child part who felt that the world became safer when it was ordered? Probably was there some sense of. Wanting to be seen or recognized or given love or praise or belonging for excelling academically or in athletics.
Of course, you know, so at some point I can only speak for myself, but I will say that my studiousness at some point had clear results, great teachers praise that you're consistently doing well in school. You're consistently performing well. People notice and give you positive social feedback. And so wherever that drive comes from, it definitely gets socially reinforced, starting pretty little in our childhoods.
So I think there's a lot of correlation between how, how high performers high strivers high achievers are wired up. Nope, potentially genetically, but also wired up through their childhood experience. And one of the more insidious core beliefs that is consistent with a lot of high performers is the sense I am not enough.
And I've checked this one with myself a lot. I don't know if I ever felt entirely like that one fit for me, but what I definitely felt was, um, I can't let it go. I was more on the rigidity end of the spectrum. Like I have my teeth sunk into this and I'm stubborn and I will not stop pursuing this until I am satisfied.
And the metric of my satisfaction is incredibly invisible to everyone else, but I will. When it's right. And I won't stop until I like it. You know, whether it's macaroni noodle, art project or pottery at the babysitter's over the summer, or, you know, going over why I got second in the mile instead of first that year, even though I ran with all the boys.
Yeah. Figuring out, shoot, why didn't I win? Like, what do I have to do? To get to that next level, because I don't want to be beaten again. So, you know, I can't say that this occurs without distress of some sort, but I don't want to say it always occurs with distress because it's also quite pleasurable. Now I remember in childhood for myself, um, when things would be done to my satisfaction, there was a real sense of.
And there was a real sense of, um, contentedness and just feeling pleased with the thing that I brought into the world or created because I spent 30 more hours on it than the kid who spent 20 minutes on it. So the rewards were also very high and very I'm sure dopamine drew. That as I persisted and pursue things, when I liked the end result, I really liked it, but I also bled for it.
And I think that's characteristic of a lot of, um, driven high striving people. So I do work with a lot of people who persistently pursue the next thing, the next thing, the next thing, even professionally. Who are getting better and better and better at their sport. And at no point, do they feel like they're done?
They're satisfied. Like, okay, that's it. That was what I wanted to do. And I'm done now, you know, they get to that level and then they want to go to the next level and the next one and the next one and the next one. And so there, there can be, you know, a burdened sense of. Not enoughness that drives high achieving people, that they don't have an inherent sense of self value.
They only feel self value through concrete accomplishments. And so sometimes for those people, we have to actually untrain that actually see if they can feel their enoughness fully and completely. While still pursuing their goals. And it's, it's quite a delicate balance to thread that needle. I was talking with another therapist lately about the Enneagram.
It's a personality assessment. I'm a number one. And one of the core things that motivates a reformer or perfectionist number one is, you know, am I good? Am. I like a good person. Am I good enough? And I don't know if I ever, like, I, I think there was always, probably like, uh, am I good enough?
Cause I. I always felt like slightly outside of everything, even though I was doing things that achieved, you know, like in theater, I was getting the leads in high school or I was being, noticed for my artwork or other things like that. So there, there was positive feedback, but I don't know if with my peers or, you know, within my family system, if I, or even just within myself, had like, Confidence.
And, you know, even remember in my young adult years, I didn't go to college right away. And then when I went, then it became like a, it's always this question of what else? What can I do next? Like, what is something I never thought I could do that?
That I can actually achieve like some, at some point it clicked that there are no rules. There are. And I don't say that in a flip way. I understand I have a lot of privilege, in many different ways than other people.
And yet there was like this belief that I couldn't. And then when I believed I could, again, sounds like a cliche. It was like, what's next? What's next? What's next? And the hustle started and that has been really hard to set down so it's, it's been a process for me
And again, a lot of my motivators are from my childhood, for sure. Right? For sure. Sensorimotor psychotherapy. One of the systems I practice in has this concept of character strategies.
They're essentially adaptive strategies that we build. To survive our attachment environment, you know, to survive and navigate whatever family and home environment we are raised in. And the character strategy that predominates for me is one that sensorimotor calls industrious over-focused. I also have kind of sitting under that a character strategy that they call self-reliant.
So it's a lot of, um, it's a lot of doing it's a lot of. Having goals being focused, executing on those goals. And it can be a bit, um, a bit much it's a bit intense. And one of the, one of the pieces of social feedback that I've gotten my whole life was always very confusing to me, especially when I was young was like, just take it easy, you know, like, just relax, just take it easy.
Like, can you just not push so hard? And I could say that the answer is no. Although I have a sort of work hard, play hard, you know, I do rest very well when I rest. Um, so I feel that I'm able to sustain myself through. Mostly because I have the buy-in that rest enhances performance, you know, that is a really good strategy for a lot of y'all.
I'll tell you that in time you will achieve more if you slow down. Okay. Maybe, maybe I will now. Okay. Would that industrious ever focused strategy, really? You know, I'm working with it all the time and it's definitely gotten softer over the years and I can see how it was incredibly adaptive for the pursuit of performance or achievement.
And I just don't know that many high performers are really unpacking the suffering side of it often until they retire or they're in their post post peak of their athletic career. Or their professional career. And they really reflect on the experience and they think, wow, I was pursuing all of that with such fixated intensity, which was what made me good.
That's what made me win, you know, what drove my success and wow. Was there a lot on the sacrifice pile? And so the, the social feedback, anytime you're a person who's an outlier. Is always wanting to pull you more towards the middle of the bell curve. So if you're a person who's really driven, really pushing, really achieving the social feedback you're going to get is, are you sure you need to do that much?
Maybe you should take it easy. Maybe you should rest more. And in the psychotherapy world, right, were chasing this idea of balance and high performance is not balanced. I wouldn't be really clear about that. It it's its own particular kind of imbalance and anyone who's ever really one knows that, you know, and then they know that they bled for that it's table stakes for them.
You know? So I think that when we talk about childhood and we talk about unburdening child parts, We have to recognize that our therapeutic agendas are social agendas of making someone balanced or healthy might run contrary to the parts of them that are performing at the highest level. Uh, it's not balanced.
And, and it's not to say that you can't have success and also have a love, lovely relationship with your family members and have other areas of your life besides your success lane. Uh, but if you, you know, watch people performing at the highest level. Well, balanced is not the first descriptor you would use for them.
And so. Performance often comes at the expense of other things.
And we have to talk about that. I wish there were more people and I wish there were more high performers talking about what that cost is because it can be really great and really lonely at the top. And so. When I talk about the control dial of working with high performers and really working with anybody, you don't even have to identify as a high performer.
You might identify as somebody who's not really wired up that way. Um, but you would maybe would like to do a little bit better at your job, or you like, maybe would like to, uh, work on a project with a friend or whatever you want to do. Right. And I'd like to give people a sense of. What high performance is made of so that they can decide if they want more of it or less of it.
And if we understand the, the fabric of high-performance and what it requires and understand that it is unpleasant at times, it is effortful. It is imbalanced. It can be lonely. It can require a lot of sacrifice from other areas of life. And if we understand the fabric of that and you want in, okay, like there is a way to make you perform higher, but if you learn all of that or you start to evaluate your own life and you want out, okay, let's talk about how to start enjoying your life a little bit more, feeling more connected to yourself and others.
Um, Literally smelling the roses instead of looking at your watch, making sure that your last mile split was under six minutes, right? Yeah. So jogging with that friend and talking versus continually looking down and click, click the watch. Right. Cause I know y'all, I know how some he work. Right. And so I think when we unpack the ingredients of high-performance and.
Then we can also talk about, okay, well, what do you want? You want more of that? Or do you want less of that? And not all parts of you might agree about that. So we might have to talk to more than one part of a person who can come to that table and that conversation and weigh in on how that's going to go for them for their life.
When they're on their deathbed, looking back, are they happy that they cranked the dial on perform? Or is it going to involve so much sacrifice that they're going to be in a lot of emotional pain?
So that's kind of how I view it. You know, I view it as I want to liberate people to be able to crank that dial up if they want to and crank it down, if they want to, according to their stage of life and circumstances, definitely doesn't have to stay fixed over time. There can be times when you want to.
Push the accelerator to the floor and go as hard as you can towards something. And there can be other times where the cost is simply too great. And you would rather be at home with your pregnant wife and making sure that, you know, she is content and happy and feel supported by you. And maybe you train 10 hours a week less during that time.
So. You know, it's really comes down to core values and priorities, but my goal is always to help people move in the direction that is most authentic to their inner majority, with a full understanding that that can change over time. Well, and that's what I appreciate so much, but what you do, it's, really brave of you to go out there and speak to a bunch of high performers and ask them to slow down or to check in, to, create that awareness and develop that insight.
And not everyone will talk about that with them or with anyone who's on a path to achievement. And I just really appreciate that about you.
our society often, , epitomise is worships the high achievers. That's, you know, , what a lot people decide is their inspiration is this form of imbalance. I mean, what do you think about that? Oh, that's a loaded one. It said a lot of time thinking about what is it in us that, that watches high-achievers and we can't get enough.
And some of it, I think is that it's novelty quite simply, our brains are attracted to novelty. Maybe we get dopamine center stimulated in our brains when we. See something that's different or outside of the norm, it attracts us and draws our attention. And so there may just be a way in which anytime there's an exceptional outlier or an amazing player on the court or someone who is just stacking gold medals, we're watching them going well, I want to watch you more.
I want to watch you more. Uh, and it's just, I think on a more humanistic level, not to be so mechanical about it, it's quite beautiful because it's almost this echo of what's possible in all of us. When we see people living close to the edges of human potential. And so I think at an, a more humanistic level, I could say it's inspiring to see what is possible.
And, you know, as social creatures, we humans get to watch and learn from each other. And so we're able to do this thing. That's quite amazing as mammals, as evolved mammals, where we don't have to make mistakes ourselves. We don't have to succeed at everything ourselves. We can do social learning, where we look around and we watch what's possible by watching other people.
And we watch, oh yeah, like Frank gate, those berries off of that Bush, and now Frank is throwing up. I'm not gonna eat those berries Bush. Right? Like do that thing where you don't have to make the mistakes ourselves. And we don't have to have the success ourselves. We can watch other people and draw conclusions about.
So there's something about high-performance individuals, I think, which stir us to go, huh? What's possible for me. Hmm. What kind of greatness do I have in me that could be brought out and high-performers do that.
Thank you for being here. Thank you for spending your time with us yeah. Thank you so much for having me, Jess. It's always great conversing with you and I just love the way your brain works and the things that you think about. So I'm always so, so drawn to walk through whatever conversational doors you open.
So thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you again for joining us on Insight Mind Body Talk, a body-centered mental health podcast. We hope today's episode was empowering and supported you in strengthening your mind-body connection We're your hosts Jeanne and Jess. Please join us again as we continue to explore integrative approaches to wellbeing. Until then, take care.