Eight Characteristics of High-Functioning PeopleFeb 05, 2024
What does it mean to be “high-functioning”? The term applies to people who set and achieve their goals at a very high level. These people do not necessarily have less challenges than the “average” person. In some cases they face obstacles that would make most folks give up, because big goals frequently bring big challenges. How can we adopt the skills and habits that separate high-functioning people from those who wish they were?
I have identified eight primary characteristics that my high-functioning friends and clients share. If you know what they are, you can work towards acquiring them yourself:
The ability to quickly regain a positive outlook and deal with changing situations while you continue to move forward. High functioning individuals possess a robust set of coping strategies that enable them to deal with life’s challenges and stresses. This resilience allows them to bounce back from setbacks and stay the course. This is where “Fall down seven times, get up eight,” and countless other clichés, maxims and memes come from.
Things are always going to go sideways for everyone, eventually. The question is, “How will you deal with it?”
The capacity to clearly imagine and visualize your goals. High-functioning individuals are generally very goal-oriented, with a clear vision of what they want to achieve. They are able to set realistic goals and devise strategies to achieve them.
Vague “someday” fantasies differ from concrete goals. Goal-setters create measurable plans that enable them to be actualized, which brings us to:
You can develop project management methods and skills that bring your clearly envisioned goals to fruition. (See my article entitled, “Start Again” for a more in-depth discussion.) There is a plethora of software to help you with your Gantt charts and milestones, but it all starts with a mindset. When you adopt the mindset of project management and see the dividends that organizational skills will pay, you will become a fan.
This includes higher-order cognitive processes such as planning, decision-making, working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control. High-functioning individuals usually excel in these areas, which enables them to manage and organize their lives effectively and achieve their goals efficiently.
Yes, some of these abilities are genetically “gifted.” Yes, you can always improve upon your inherited baseline abilities with a number of proven strategies, no matter who you are.
“Winners ship.” This old business saw recognizes the necessity for you to be able to organize, prioritize, and execute tasks efficiently. Mastery of these skills often results in high levels of productivity in academic, professional, and personal projects. One of the reasons employers may look for a bachelor’s degree is to indicate that candidates have the ability to complete a complex, long-term project. I have worked with many students who want to “be a nurse,” for instance, but can’t get through the training. Learn how to finish the job.
This is a measurable level of “can do” that differentiates dreams from achievements.
Professionals have careers, workers have jobs. Professionals continue to study in their chosen field, no matter how long they have been practicing. They seek out others with more developed or different desired skill sets and experience, and then learn from them. Professionals develop and then hold themselves to a high standard of performance. They stay abreast of the latest developments, trends and people in their space.
The best way to become a professional is to begin to act like one. That means you must surround yourself with others whose traits and abilities you seek to emulate.
High-performers often exhibit an advanced degree of flexibility in thought and action and can quickly adapt to changes and new information. This is crucial in today’s fast-paced and constantly-changing world. To succeed and excel, you must become a quick learner who can synthesize complex information quickly and effectively.
The best way to master this skill is to immerse yourself in a fast-paced environment, ideally but not necessarily related to your chosen goals, and watch how people deal with changes. You will soon learn how to pick up the pace and maintain your own efficiency. This is a skill that will be of benefit to you regardless of the environment in which you compete.
And if you don’t already, you should quickly realize that life in general and business specifically are competitive endeavors. To thrive in an competitive - sometimes brutal - environment, you must understand yourself and the way you react. Which is the topic of our final desired characteristic.
Social Skills and Emotional Intelligence
High-functioning individuals understand their own emotions as well as the emotions of others. They regulate their emotional responses to stress and challenges effectively, which contributes to better mental health and well-being and an advantage in a competitive environment. Advanced social skills and high emotional intelligence allow these individuals to navigate nuanced social situations - like networking and negotiation - more adeptly. It its important to become more attuned to social cues to communicate effectively, and build strong relationships.
If this sounds like a lot, it is. It takes time to develop these abilities and build the areas in which you may need improvement. This is a great reason to learn from someone who has been “in the trenches” for a long period of time and who has a proven track record as a high-functioning individual.
There is only so much information that I can cover in a short article format such as this. Let me know if you want to learn more.
I am a creator (musician, writer, live-streamer and podcaster), entrepreneur, educator and counselor. To learn more about how to use these concepts or to inquire about working with me, you can contact me through my website, the comments section on my Substack or Medium accounts or The Authentic Life Blog page. If you have found value in this article, consider following my Instagram and X (formerly Twitter) accounts. To support this community, you can Buy Me A Coffee or donate through my Patreon account. Subscribe to my River of Creation podcast - The Podcast for Creators, and my associated YouTube channel, coming later this year, wherever you download your podcasts.
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