Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success is a book supporting the idea that achieving success does not have to come at the cost of your health, sanity, relationships with people close to you, reputation, and dignity.
Brad Stulberg, a former McKinsey and Company consultant and writer who on health and human performance, and Steve Magness, a performance scientist and coach of Olympic athletes, share with their readers insights and life lessons backed with scientific research into what allows elite performers to excel across a broad spectrum of disciplines.
This book illustrates how the means, methods, and habits of elite performers across realms as different as powerlifting and academia, surfing and philosophy, are startlingly similar.
The Secret to Sustainable Success
The most powerful key to strengthen your physical, cognitive, or emotional growth is balancing the right amount of stress with the right amount of rest. Stress demands rest, and rest supports stress.
“Stress + rest = growth. This equation holds true regardless of what you’re trying to grow” Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness
According to research, the elite athletes in cycling, skiing, running, and swimming during their training routines, all alternated between periods when they did intense training and easier training and recovery.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., is a pioneer in the field of positive psychology and in his study on creativity he was able to document a common process across almost all great intellectuals and creative performers, regardless of their field:
Immersion: total engagement in their work with deep, unremitting focus.
Incubation: a period of rest and recovery when they are not at all thinking about their work.
Insight: the occurrence of “aha” or “eureka” moments – the emergence of new ideas and growth in their thinking.
On the other hand we should be aware that our brainpower is limited is used for all cognitive actions and self-control, as well as unrelated tasks. We struggle with self-control and complex problems when we are mentally drained, opting for comfort instead.
Stress can be positive, triggering desirable adaptations in the body; or stress can be negative, causing grave damage and harm. When applied in the right dose, stress does not only stimulate physiological adaptations, but also psychological ones.
“Stress isn’t just harmful; it can also serve as a stimulus for growth and adaptation.” Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness
According to Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, Ph.D., the human mind is divided into two types of thinking:
System 1: operates automatically and quickly, and is often driven by instinct or intuition. It is our default mode of thinking because it requires less energy.
System 2: is more thoughtful and analytical and addresses effortful mental activities. By working hard and struggling to figure something out, we can efficiently take in new information into our web of knowledge.
For the capabilities that you wish to grow, regularly seek just-manageable challenges: activities that take you out of your comfort zone and force you to push at the point of resistance for growth. Being uncomfortable is the path to personal development and growth.
Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, a behavioral scientist, discovered that experience and expertise did not necessarily go hand-in-hand.
Experience does not set the top performers apart but the amount of deliberate practice they put in.
Expertise is not about a certain number of hours practiced, but the type of work that fills those hours. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
The essence of deliberate practice is deep concentration. Great performers are fully engaged in the moment, with their minds and bodies being 100 percent present.
On the other side, while the invention of smartphones has benefited many people all over the world, excessive use of it can be very distractive. Expertly designed smartphone apps lead to smartphone addiction due to the dopamine-releasing effect in the form of likes, comments and messages.
The best solution for beating smartphone distraction is applying the principle “out of sight, out of mind”. Do not keep your smartphone in the same space where you are working.
According to DR. BOB KOCHER, MD, the governing rule for Peak Performance is: do only one thing at a time.
During multitasking, our brains either constantly switch between tasks or allot small portions of our cognitive capacity to specific tasks, which causes a drop in both the quality and quantity of our work.
More research shows that chronic multitaskers are:
– Worse at filtering out irrelevant information
– Slower at identifying patterns
– Have worse long-term memories
“For 99 percent of us, effective multi-tasking is nothing more than effective delusional thinking.” Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness
Allotting about 50 to 90 minutes of intense, concentrated work and recovery breaks of 7 to 20 minutes enables people to sustain the physical, cognitive, and emotional energy required for peak performance.
Our mindset, or the lens through which we view the world, affects everything from learning to health and longevity. Our mindset towards stress not only determines if we’ll expose ourselves to it, but also how we’ll respond to it.
Two hormones are released during times of stress:
- cortisol – in high levels causes health risks, such as impaired immune function, inflammation, and depression.
- dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) – has a hand in the reduction of risks of neurodegeneration, heart disease, anxiety, and depression.
The research shows that people with a mindset of challenge response in the face of stress have increased DHEA production and reduced cortisol production, giving them more health benefits than impairments.
The Paradox of Rest
Mindfulness is about being completely present in the moment, fully aware of yourself, and your surroundings. It can help you remain calm and collected while you are facing a challenge and be able to effectively rest afterwards.
Meditation helps to develop mindfulness and it encourages deliberate thought in responding to situations rather than instinctive ones.
Neurologist Marcus Raichle, MD, found that our brains remained active even while we are resting, daydream and zone out, and he referred to it as the default-mode network. The research now shows that the default-mode system is the one that increases the chance of creative insights and breakthroughs.
Researchers have discovered that over 40 percent of our creative ideas manifest during breaks. New and good ideas come when one is resting.
In a society that glorifies pushing oneself to the extreme, it takes courage to rest. Rest is an active process which enables physical and psychological growth.
Rest Like the Best
Previously we learned the importance of balancing stress and rest. Now will be presented different types of rest which you may choose from that fits your needs.
While walking does help us stop thinking and worrying about working tasks, it does not prevent our minds from wandering. Greek philosophers believed that a sound mind and sound body go hand in hand, and considered physical and intellectual education equally important.
Experiencing nature inherently makes us feel good and improves our mood, thereby hastening our transition from the stress of hard work to a more restful state and promoting mind-wandering and subsequent creativity.
Mindfulness meditation can strengthen the prefrontal cortex and can help your brain choose how to respond to stress. Meditating daily is recommended to train your mind muscles.
Research suggests that social interaction is very effective in expediting recovery from stressful situations. However, this is only effective if you hang out with your friends, not colleagues at work.
More people today are sleeping less than the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep. Sleep is important, and it is the most productive thing you can do.
“One of sleep’s foremost benefits is the role it plays in how we consolidate and storeâ€Š—â€Šthat is, how we rememberâ€Š—â€Šnew information.” Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness
1. Sleep and Our Growing Mind
Sleep has a critical role in remembering and learning new information. Aside from processing intellectual knowledge, sleep also processes emotional experiences, such as self-control.
2. Sleep and Our Growing Body
Sleep not only benefits the mind, but the body as well through the release of anabolic hormones, most of which are released by sleeping longer.
The research shows that napping can improve performance, alertness, concentration, and judgment. Because of its benefits, NASA, Google, and Apple encourage napping and even have nap rooms.
Taking extended breaks and vacations can be beneficial for individuals who experience stress over longer periods of time. Studies show that vigor and performance increase following a rest day.
The Courage to Rest
Resting helps make hard work become smart and sustainable. However, it is ironic that resting hard requires more guts than working hard.
Optimizing Your Routine
The combination of developing a routine that suits you and doing it over and over again serves as a gateway to peak performance. The elements of an effective routine are:
1. Get in the Zone
You have to figure out the best way to put yourself in or very close to “the zone”, the ideal state of body and mind for the demands of your event. A warm up routine helps to foster a clear and relaxed mind.
2. Warm Up Your Mind
You can improve your performance by harboring a positive mood, for it is beneficial for work involving problem solving, and creative thinking. Before starting your work, go and do the things that can encourage a positive mood.
3. Environment Matters
According to a study about ecological psychology, the objects around us influence and invite specific behaviors. Also, by consistently and repeatedly working in the same environment, the bond between us and our surroundings strengthen.
Conditioning can elicit certain behaviors as long as they are paired and are positively reinforced. By consistently linking our work to the same routine, great performance starts to become more automatic.
“Be kind to yourself and others who are going through challenging times, and recognize that disconnecting “work” from “life” is an illusion.” Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness
Minimalist to be a Maximalist
This means that you should identify and strive to cut off all the superficial things in your life. Being a maximalist in our field while being a minimalist in nearly everything else.
We should recognize the fact that we have limited energy and that our minds get tired, so eliminating the need to make trivial decisions such as deciding what clothes to wear or what to eat can help improve our mental state.
Great performers don’t go against their body’s natural rhythm. They schedule their most demanding tasks whenever they are most alert, and when their alertness levels dwindle, they shift to tasks requiring less attention.
Also the people we interact with have a profound impact on our feelings and emotions. There is a strong evidence that we have socially contagious emotions and behaviors.
If we surround ourselves with people that can support, challenge, and motivate us, we could achieve more than we could have by ourselves.
“If we are constantly working against the mindset of those who surround us, it’s only a matter of time before we too, will get dragged down.” Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness
When people focus on a purpose greater than themselves, they become capable of more than they ever thought was possible. One way to do this is to minimize our ego, through harnessing the power of purpose. Then we can overcome our fears, anxieties as well as the physiological boundaries that hold us back from achieving major breakthroughs.
Purpose fosters motivation, and motivation helps us to endure a greater perception of effort, which leads to a better performance.
Grit is accompanied by a strong sense of purpose, and people with grit draw upon a greater cause in order to make highly aversive experiences more bearable as they believe that these have positive consequences that transcend their selves.
Helping others through volunteering and mentoring activates reward and pleasure centers in the brain, making you feel better and resulting in renewed energy and motivation in your work.
“In a paradoxical twist, the less we think about ourselves, the better we become.” Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness
Your self-transcending purpose comes from within yourself. You can create your own self-transcending purpose based on your core values. Once you have created one, go back to it regularly especially at times when you are discouraged, tired or scared.
Develop Your Purpose
1. Select Your Core Values – Your core values are the things that matter to you the most, and are your fundamental beliefs and guiding principles. They help dictate your behavior and actions. Select a set of words that describe what your purpose is.
2. Personalize Your Core Values – To make your core values more personal, you may write a sentence about them and their relation to you.
3. Rank Your Core Values – After personalizing your core values, rank them, with the most important one at the first place.
4. Write Your Purpose Statement – Your purpose statement should be reminiscent of your customized core values and may include one to three sentences.
5. Harnessing the Power of Your Purpose – This time, you should put your purpose to use. Some practical ways in which you can remind yourself of your purpose and harness its power are through visual clues, self-talk by creating a mantra and nightly reflections by writing down every night your purpose.
6. A Purpose-driven Life – Once you have determined your purpose, you can then build a life that allows you to fulfill it. The closer you move towards living your purpose can make you a better, happier and healthier person.
The strength and the importance of this book lies not just in the smart and effective exploitation of the authors’ own personal anecdotes, but also along with those of other high performers. The impact of this powerful book is also rooted in the fact that the principles discussed are applicable to most people around the globe, which they can connect or empathize with.
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