Are You Operating at Maximum or Optimum?


Dr. Nido Qubein, President of High Point University, posed this question to an audience of high-level business professionals last week in North Carolina. I was speaking at the event and decided to stay and listen to Dr. Qubein dazzle the audience with his wisdom. This is a great question all of us in the mental toughness community should be asking ourselves on a regular basis. Watch this short video I taped today from San Diego and see what you think. I’ll look forward to your comments.   Steve Siebold   ( 3:50 )

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  1. Don Peterson says:

    What an awesome question Steve. Thank you for this post.

  2. EJ Topping says:

    Maximum?! Optimum?! How about Optimax?
    There are those in society who operate at optimax whereby their passion for life, art, and expression have little to do with income and more to do with the human experience. Yes, Financial requirements dictate that we each keep an eye on cashflow, and yes there are those of us who know how to direct our talents in a direction that secures cashflow.
    But if you look at the greatest contributors to the ocean of humanity, (see my blurb on this at ) many of them were not rich in a monetary sense, but they operated at optimax.
    My admiration for Napoleon Hill is in his adherence to Judeo/Christian values in the dissemination of personal development methodologies and, if so desired, wealth building.
    Life is too short not to operate, with great joy and attitude and personal satisfaction at OPTIMAX.
    EJ Topping

  3. Pam Hallberg says:

    Thank you so much for the explanation, Jaroslav. I was getting mixed up on the difference. Pam

  4. Longevity to accomplish more in a lifetime, avoid maxing out in a flash of Xtreme exertion is the answer. Great point, Jaroslav.


  5. Optimum is the most favorable condition or greatest degree or amount possible under given circumstances. It’s also the most desirable outcome possible under a restriction expressed or implied.

    Maximum is the largest possible quantity, the utmost, the greatest possible degree and it’s also the point on a curve where the tangent changes from positive on the left to negative on the right.

    It seems to me if you think things through completely and know what’s really important to you, then only one of these concepts makes sense as a sustainable operating system.

    Be Well,


  6. You imply a good question, Commander: how do we know? And deluding ourselves is always a face in the mirror:) Where’s the measuring stick? What’s thecross reference, the base line and when do we reach max?

    When I cycle mornings I know when I max out on the road and back home. I feel it the rest of the day. Of course I could have pushed to exhaustion and beyond – heart attack.

    Optimum leaves me with energy left over and able to move into the rest of the day able to get things done. The push doesn’t exhaust me to fatigue and immobility. Max is single minded; optimum is holistic. Singlemindness can inform optimum performance, though and visa versa. That’s the internal game, the decsion making and interface of passon and intellect – and imagination.

    In high school I was a track star until I fell off the wagon. I sprinted to the max and set local and regional records. I had a vision of myself being number one.,a winner, then I bombed all state – lost my momentum. Never went on to sprnt again. I was not inclined to become an optimum performer – I burned on natural talents, pushed myself in training enough to have a few glory years, then quit.

    I’m going to think about these things more critically because of this topic, thanks again Steve.



  7. Alex says:

    Hi Steve,

    great question. I think about that a lot and I know I am operating at a very small percentage of what could be possible. I am German and I spent 16 years in the US as a commoditiy broker in Chicago and New York. I had to come because only in the US you get an opportunity when you try and just do it. That s not really true but it seemed like that 20 years ago. I got a million dollars in debt when I was 24 years old. I came with money for 2 month…20k….which meant payments of 10k per month to keep erverybody quiet. I did this for over 10 years and couldn t do it any longer. In Germany there is no quapter 11. Here you owe for ever! I negotiated all my life and managed as much as I could. I never filed bancrupcy and I am still negotiating after starting all over…as an english teacher 4 years I know…I managed all that….which came naturally…but I realized I became a procrastinator too…..I get all my jobs done in time…but I know….I only do the minimum…..that is why I bought your book…

    So….I know it is possible to improve….and you inspire me a lot..

    All the best


  8. Thanks, Lisa – you add a lot to think about, to ponder:)


  9. When I’m truly honest with myself, my answer to your critical thinking question is “neither”.

    It’s easy for me to admit that I’m not performing optimally. But it’s also easy to delude myself into thinking that I’m performing at “maximum” when I’m really not.

    Maximum effort is like a muscle – it contracts when it’s not used, but expands when worked regularly.

  10. Lisa Gough says:

    The most successful people consistently ask themselves. “is this the best use of my attention at this moment?” ~ David Cottrell

    Are we operating at our maximum or at our optimum. Great mental toughness thinking question for us Steve. One that I grapple with every morning when I wake up.

    I started this post with a quote from David Cottrell because for me, I believe what makes the difference between having an optimal or maximal day comes down to my ability to practice a good time management system and staying focused.

    This is a humungous task for me because I am a dreamer. A butterfly chaser if you will. Often my best intentions of being task oriented with the goal of operating at my optimum can be changed with one single thought which promptly turns into several more thoughts and most often than not, I find myself operating on automatic pilot and doing many other things that I had not set out to do on that day, or in that moment just for the sake of getting them done.

    I have recently heard it said that if you are a list maker (which I am) and you live by your list, your list owns you. The best way to manage your time is to block off your day in realistic chunks of time that you are going to spend working on a specific project, (realistic ;-)) and then plug your list into your alloted blocks of time. i.e. if I have things on my list that pertain to marketing, make sure I do those things during the time I have allowed to do marketing. etc.

    I also believe the difference between operating at maximal or optimal comes down to a shift in ones thinking and awareness. I love, love, love when I’m operating at optimal. The high that I get is such an amazing feeling that I want to make every day an optimal day.

    Awesome post Steve!
    I’m off to have a very optimal day today thanks to your thought provoking question!

  11. Nishu says:

    thanks Steve for raising such an interesting yet complicated state of mind. All i can do i bow here and honor you for drawing a fine line between these two and reminding us of this known phenomenon which we tend to ignore…

    But Yes, life starts now….way to go dude!!!

  12. Mary Sell says:

    Great question, Steve!

    I personally believe any thought we think is possible just by having that thought.
    I have found that when I take time to plan my day and set an intention for how I would like my day to unfold, I accomplish so much more and also enjoy my day in the process.

    I used to work 24/7 operating at “maximum” and now choose to work “optimally” and as a result am now able to accomplish more with less effort and alot less stress.

    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Mary Sell, Law of Attraction Certified Coach
    Wichita, KS

  13. Tom Stenzel says:

    It occurred to me that the maximum might the “busy-ness” many individuals get caught in. Perhaps we’ve all heard the question, are you busy? Or when people ask us how we’re doing, we reply, I’m really busy… In another words must we look busy in order to operate at our optimum?
    Great question Steve. BTW, you look like you need a well deserved break.

  14. Leo says:

    I agree with all of the comments above. A somewhat simplistic example: Compare reading a novella of the finest fiction with reading some pulp fiction volume on hundreds of pages. Which one of these reads will add the most quality to your life?

  15. Waldo Waldman says:

    Good one Steve…Nicely put.

    Push it up….Waldo

  16. Mo Bailey says:

    Wow – I agree. I also innately know when I am working at MAXIMUM (aka ‘sometimes meaning’ BURNOUT – for me) and when I am working at OPTIMUM (aka “CHANNELED” through me). The issue with you bringing it up is now I will recognize my state of being much clearer and sooner. So glad you brought this up and to a new level. THANKS MUCH!!!

    Mo Bailey

  17. Is it possible to accomplish more, to do more and work less? That’s the lead in to a conversation with lots of definitions and perspectives – that’s quite a comparison Dr. Nido Quebin made and isn’t it mind opening when someone comes up with something like that and you wonder why you didn’t:)

    A lot of people work in some kind of frenzy or just hyper active busy cluttered long hours long days long months long years and as much as they accomplish never seem to get a grip on it all, never seem to find satisfaction in their lives, and never take it to a higher level of success. What gives?

    It could be many things.

    Here’s one of my perspectives. Learning how to be balanced and relaxed is work. Learning how to focus in a concentrated way on the right things deleting the wrong things the cluttering up things is work. Doing less and less of the long hours into long years of busy work that never gives you satisfaction or takes your work to a higher level of success is work. All of that work can lead to optimum living.

    Optimum’s also going to mean different things to different people and temperment, passion, available time, urgency of goals, definitions to name a few things factor into the equation – one man’s one woman’s optimum is another’s way over the top and too far gone.

    For me optimum means finding my balance and focus that produces the results I want in my business and the satisfaction I want in all the other areas of my life. It means consistently looking at my goals and actions to see if I’m focused on the right things.

    Avoiding external pressures is work. Keeping your study and creative thinking time intact and uninterrupted is work. Deleting, throwing away, shredding unnecessary energy spent on things that won’t improve your life and business is work. Learning the difference among all these things I’m describing is work.

    All this work I’m talking about is internal, perceptual, and analytical so it doesn’t show or it’s subtle or the way it shows is difficult to recognize. It may appear that less is being done and maybe more is being accomplished – answering the question this began with, Steve.

    Optimum used in this context implies striking the perfect balance. Ultimately without stress, with no resistance, with a fully integrated body, mind and spirit in all of your activities in life, optimum is reached and becomes a kind of status quo but a status quo that’s not static – a status quo that continually adapts and adjusts itself to the external world in a way that’s perfect to its own momentum and energy.

    It’s a kinetic, dynamic status quo.

    Am I operating on max or opt? Definitely NOT max – I pace myself and sometimes to the point of doing too little AND optimum is my goal and how I consider myself to wake up and live my days. For the most part I live in an optimum kind of way:)

    Since my outlook is long term – I just turned 65 and Life Begins at Sixty-Five [I say that every year adding a year] – and I expect decades more of life, I take super care of my health, get the 8 hours of sleep, exercise a couple of hours every day, study, work my business, make long lists of short and long term goals, and spend time with my family and other interests. To me all of that can lead to longevity.

    Balanced, focused, centered, integrated have been some of the words I’ve used in the past to talk about these things, but in this context optimum’s a good one too.

    Thanks for another chance to think at the key board about these things in a new way and to tap off a few reflections, Steve.



  18. Peter Arnold says:

    Dear Steve:

    Absolutely LOVE your stuff!

    I also love your style – including any “snickering” you may do. :>)

    Please don’t stop that – it’s “who you are” – it’s a part of your “personality” – your “enthusiasm” – your “passion” – your “enjoyment” of what you DO!

    And WE are the grateful beneficiaries.

    Just stay the way you are – it’s very special.

    Warmly / Peter A.

    Peter Arnold, CLU, CFC / Founder
    Business Achievers Academy / Canada

  19. Steve, wish you would use something other than Flash! Can’t watch you on my IPAD!

  20. JT says:

    What a great question! There is a fine line between pushing too hard and pushing right to the optimum level. I’m impressed that you are still pushing! Tell Bruce to let you have some down time during the holidays! Best to you and Dawn.

  21. John says:

    Steve, I love your work. Mad respect! But, why do you snicker every time you introduce yourself. It’s weird. I’d think a seasoned speaker such as yourself would have a more polished intro. Not hatin’, just sayin’.