High Hopes for Performance

Science has identified (Orlick & Partington, Collins & MacNamara) the key psychological characteristics or mental skills required for developing excellence in individuals, teams and organisations across different performance domains.

We received this excellent review of how PCDEs (Psychological Characteristics of Developing Excellence) can be applied to elite performance from Michelle Rushmere, who completed our IOSH Certificated Performance Psychology for Safety, Health & Wellbeing Program in Feb 21.

Psychological characteristics of developing excellence (PCDEs) are a set of skills required to perform at an elite level. David Gilmour (frontman of rock band Pink Floyd) is a great example of how personal performance excellence is a continual process in which you can develop and constantly improve.


Over the years, Gilmour had his fair share of adversity; he possessed a level of self-belief (a key characteristic of PCDEs) that gave him the ability to overcome these challenges to become one of the most successful rock guitarists of all time.


Our perception of David Gilmour is one of mastery and excellence, yet Gilmour’s perception of himself sees a need for continued development. Personal excellence does not mean you strive for perfection, nor is it a destination. It is a journey to being the best that you can be in all aspects of your life. The lyrics from one of his songs, High Hopes, from the album The Division Bell, maybe a glimpse of Gilmour’s personal excellence journey.


“Beyond the horizon of the place, we lived when we were young

In a world of magnets and miracles

Our thoughts strayed constantly and without boundary

The ringing of the division bell had begun”


Music always filled Gilmour’s childhood home. His father would sing around the house, and his mother played the piano. They had a stereo system in the living room where the radio was always on, or records were playing. This was where Gilmour was introduced to a vast range of music styles, but it was Billy Hayley’s rock around the Clock and Elvis Presley’s heartbreak hotel that truly captivated him. The bass guitar, piano, the voice, with very little else going on, he says, “was absolutely magnetic”.

This was a turning point, and he knew then he wanted to captivate people like that. By the age of 13, Gilmour had fallen in love with the sound of the guitar. While at boarding school, his parents sent him a guitar tutor record by Pete Seeger, which came with a thick book. It showed basic chords and related them to a simple song. After borrowing a guitar, learning to tune it and had mastered just three chords, he was ready to put it all together. The sound produced and the way the song came alive, was magical to him. Nothing else mattered as his mind wandered and dreamt of what could be.

The division bell begins to ring, is the divide between childhood and becoming an adult. The dreams he had would remain a dream if he were to become weighed down with school directed career choices and the responsibilities that come with adulthood. At this point, we start to fight with the world, trying to keep our dreams alive. Gilmour decided then to quit his A levels and pursue his ambition. He knew that if he passed his exams, he would be forced onto a path of further academic studies, which would leave his dreams just that.


“Along the Long Road and on down the Causeway

Do they still meet there by the Cut?

There was a ragged band that followed in our footsteps

Running before time took our dreams away

Leaving the myriad small creatures trying to tie us to the ground

To a life consumed by slow decay”


Gilmour has a studio boat moored in Surrey, where the band spent hours practising and recording songs. The ragged band was the couple of bands he joined briefly but did not challenge him enough musically, so he moved on and was asked to join the band Pink Floyd. It was five years of dedication, trial, and error, before the band became a success. The ambition and desire they all had was so strong. Nevertheless, the ideologies of what a young adult should be doing to fit into society were still trying to tie them down and take the enjoyment out of life. Gilmour knew that if he wanted to pursue his dream, he had to make it work; otherwise, he felt life would consume him with the daily grind. Rather than having a fulfilling life with purpose and direction, it would feel like a slow decay.


“Looking beyond the embers of bridges glowing behind us

To a glimpse of how green it was on the other side

Steps taken forwards but sleepwalking back again

Dragged by the force of some inner tide

At a higher altitude with flag unfurled

We reached the dizzy heights of that dreamed of world”


Bridges were burned along the way, and friendships were lost. In April 1968, the founder of the band, Syd Barrett, was excluded from his position in the band amid speculation of severe depression and excessive use of psychedelic drugs. It was said that the spark had gone out in Syd’s eyes, and he was never the same again. Gilmour had maintained his early friendship with Rick Wright and Nick Mason, which was fundamental to him being invited to join the band.

Looking back, you glimpse of how good it used to be and how things may have been so different. As life goes on and our dreams continue, we are free to do what we want, but the freedom we had in our youth was different, it was an innocence, a naivety that nothing could stop us, and the world was ours for the taking. However, as we grow older, adult life’s responsibilities and pressures begin to weigh us down. Gilmour knew he needed to accomplish something soon; otherwise, he would have to leave the life he imagined behind.

Sometimes our vision is not always the same as other people’s. The ideas we have and the choices we make can impact the direction we want to go. This was the case between Roger Waters and Gilmour. Waters was the main lyricist and bass guitarist of the band, considered the leader, even by Gilmour. Both had very different ideas on how the band should progress. Waters was said to have megalomania tendencies, obsessed with power and his own self-importance. This resulted in years of constant battling between them, which eventually drained their friendship and artistic creativity within the band.

Waters left the band in 1985 to pursue his own interests and believed that the band would be no more once he had left. Gilmour, however, still had the support of the other band members who could see his vision, so the band continued and began working on a new track. In 1986, Waters tried to sue Gilmour and Mason the drummer to prevent them from using Pink Floyd’s name, claiming the group was “a spent force creatively.”

The dispute was eventually settled after two years, with Waters being defeated. Three more successful albums followed under the name Pink Floyd. It was indeed a combination of total commitment, self-belief and a vision of what it takes that enabled Gilmour’s dream. The commitment and sacrifices he made to practice and make a success of it finally paid off.


“Encumbered forever by desire and ambition

There’s a hunger still unsatisfied

Our weary eyes still stray to the horizon

Though down this road we’ve been so many times”


When the band first started out, artists such as The Beatles became their inspiration. As soon as a new song came out, Gilmour and his band would go to the local record store, listen to the song a couple of times, write down notes, and then go back to the studio. They would then spend hours upon hours trying to replicate the music the best they could, to play that night to a small group of fans.  For Gilmour, it was not about money or fame; it was about being his best self. He looked beyond the materialistic side of what fame could give them to seek a deeper meaning. Fans loved the music, but what was it about the music? At that moment, Gilmour realised it was the relatability of emotions within it that had captured their hearts.

The Chorus


“The grass was greener

The light was brighter

The taste was sweeter

The nights of wonder

With friends surrounded

The dawn mist glowing

The water flowing

The endless river

Forever and ever”


Friends back then were so important. They were essentially the members of the band, who had the same dreams and aspirations, who supported each other and collectively had a clear purpose. The grass seemed greener, and the light in their eyes was brighter, and there was no bitterness within the band. The possibilities of what could be achieved were such a driving force that they saw the dawn mist glowing on many occasions. Life is like flowing water with obstacles you must face along the way. There were Disagreements and a legal battle that could have ended the journey. Yet continued determination and an abundance of self-belief prove you can achieve anything you want. Gilmore felt this was his purpose in life, and like the endless river that goes on forever and ever, he will always strive to improve and become better.

Gilmour's pathway to excellence is a fine example of how the application of PCDEs can lead to sustainable success.  Michelle has identified three core PCDE's here in this article, commitment, self-belief, and a vision of what it takes, perhaps goal setting too.

What can we learn from this to become better leaders or better safety professionals?

6 thoughts on “High Hopes for Performance”

  1. Incredibly insightful work that I will use with my psychology students to develop their commitment and self belief. Knowing that you can always strive for more is certainly a trait that I believe in.

  2. Im not one to normally read articles likes this, mainly because I don’t get them or understand what the writer is trying to say. The way this article is written though has made it easier for me to understand and I can see what the writer is getting at. I look forward to seeing more of Michelle’s work.
    We should all be striving to better ourselves especially in the world we live in right now.

  3. Fantastic piece of comparative writing. Some people struggle with analogy’s however this is not the case with Michelle’s writing.
    Michelle has created a great presentation that does not make me feel stupid and dumb.

    Well done Michelle!!!

  4. Michelle

    Thank you for the opportunity to read this article, so well researched, thought out and laid out. It did resonate with myself, I recognise the vision and commitment, and passion and drive needed to be successful in our profession, and yet also conversely I have often struggled with self belief.

    The rock reference is great, I often look to messages in lyrics to help with inspiration too.

    Well done with this, keep going!

    Stay safe, Neil

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