The Often Overlooked Ingredient for Winning at Life

UPDATED: May 13, 2016
PUBLISHED: May 3, 2016

Everyone wants to win at life. And usually we have a pretty good vision of what that would look like: Meaningful work where we are using our gifts and talents to knock it out of the park and reach goals and dreams, and relationships that are enriching, stimulating, fulfilling and functional.

But the reality is that in both our pursuit of dreams and in our relationships, we all, at some point, hit a limit—it’s inevitable that where we are and what we know right now will reach its limit. That is normal.

Related: How to Exponentially Improve Your Performance

Everyone hits their limit at some point—even Navy SEALs, Olympic athletes, global CEOs, any other high performers. We all hit our limit in our abilities, to get through a conflict or an impasse. So what do we do then? We keep improving.

We work on gaining knowledge, upping our skills, getting more committed, freeing ourselves of distractions, holding ourselves accountable and the like—or said another way, we work hard on improvement. And that is totally necessary. Except something—the most important something—is missing from this path.

If Michael Phelps wants to cut his best time by a few seconds to break another world record, there is more training and technical mastery that must occur. No doubt. But here is the problem: That path, of gaining skills, knowledge and competencies, although valid, leaves out the most important ingredient to getting to the next level: relationship. What I like to call “the power of the other.”

Why is “relationship” important? We could point to the path of every super high achiever to illustrate the reasons. Here are a few:

  • Richard Branson had Freddie Laker
  • Michael Phelps had Bob Bowman
  • Henry Ford had Thomas Edison
  • Mark Zukerberg was mentored by Steve Jobs
  • Bill Gates by Warren Buffet and Ed Roberts
  • Michael Jordan by Phil Jackson

Talk to any high performer and they will point to the “power of the other” in their path to success. As Branson says, “I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere in the airline industry without Freddie’s down-to-earth wisdom.”

Research shows that who you surround yourself with will determine almost everything:

  • How long you live
  • How much money you make
  • Whether or not you reach your goals
  • How well your kids do in school
  • How much you trust people
  • How you cope with stress and failure
  • What kind of mood you are in
  • How much physical pain you experience
  • How and what you think

The research on thriving in every area of life tells us one thing: We need the “power of the other” to get past our own limits, and fulfill our dreams and aspirations. There is no disputing what the research in all areas of life tells us.

But why? Why is this the case? Can’t we make it on our own?

Simply stated, no. Unless you want to remain at the level you have already attained with your own abilities as they are. To gain new ones and surpass your limits, it requires relationship.

Related: 8 Traits of Healthy Relationships

Basically, we do not exist in a vacuum. We used to think we were just body and mind—our physical brains and body, plus our talent and personality and heart and soul (or whatever you want to call that “immaterial” part of us). But now neuroscience has shown us that there is another role in our performance. It is the “other.”

The development of your brain and the growth of your heart, mind and soul—we need other people to increase their capacities to perform. Science shows us that relational connection is what fuels us to be able to grow new circuitry in our brains, change our brain chemistry, and rewrite the software that powers the performance of our hearts, mind and soul. How can this be?

It is the old “mind/body dilemma.” For centuries, philosophers, psychologists, medical experts and others have labored over this question: How is it that something invisible, such as a connection with another person, has an effect on something material, such as our bodies and our brains? It all has to do with two ingredients: energy and information.

A human connection imparts energy and information to us. Just like a computer downloads updates and fixes through a “connection” to a network, we “download” energy and information—coding—from our interactions with others.

Through support, challenge, confrontation, accountability, dealing with failure, loss and pain, observing our performance and giving actionable feedback, relationship imparts the energy of connection to get to the next level and the informational coding that the software needs in order to get it done. When that happens, new circuitry grows in our brains to get us to the next level of performance. Think “You 2.0,” the upgraded version. We all need the next upgrade, and we can get it from relational connection.

So, do not try to reach the next level alone—but do not think just any relationship will do, because there is malicious software, viruses, out there that you can download, too. The “power of the other” is not only positive, but it can also be disastrously negative.

So choose wisely, but do choose. Choose to get better by not only upping your skills, knowledge and competencies, but realizing that to do that, you are going to need the right mentors, coaches, teachers and support network to get you there. If you do both, I am confident that you will get to your next level, whatever that might be.

Related: 5 Things Your Future Mentor Will Love You For

Dr. Henry Cloud is a psychologist, leadership consultant and New York Times best-selling author. His newest book is called The Power of the Other: The Startling Effect Other People Have on You, From the Boardroom to the Bedroom and Beyond—and What to Do About It.