What is the key to long-term sustainable growth? How can you up your game without becoming a victim of burnout? This book summary of Peak Performance offers evidence-based methods for growing as a performer and a person. By learning to understand and harness stress, rather than be overwhelmed by it, and getting smarter about rest, you can achieve your peak performance and maintain that level of excellence for the long haul.
How to push yourself to new heights without crashing and burning.
READ THIS BOOK SUMMARY IF YOU:
- Need to recover from burnout
- Want evidence-based, practical strategies to improve performance
- Are interested in sustainable, healthy ways to work better and smarter
Table of Contents
Virtually everyone has felt the pressure to perform. Whether in school, at work, or in sports, some outside force is always pushing us to up our game. This is a good thing — especially in the modern world. Minds like Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO of Gallup, believe that we are on the verge of a worldwide war for good jobs. We’re not just competing against one another but against machines as well.
To keep up, people are increasingly turning to less-than-ideal solutions — like taking Adderall. This drug, intended to help people with ADHD focus, has found its way into the daily lives of students and workers who need to perform above and beyond the level they would otherwise be capable of. Such solutions may lead to a short-term boost in performance, but the long-term costs can be devastating. Burnout grinds people down, giving them anxiety, depression, and diminished cardiac and muscular health. Indeed, the cost of high performance can sometimes be life itself, as was the case for Moritz Erhardt: The Merrill Lynch intern was found dead in his shower after working 72 hours straight. It’s likely that exhaustion was a factor in the seizure that caused his death.
But scientifically based techniques can provide safe, ethical, and legal ways to increase performance, without burn-out or using illegal substances. In this summary, you’ll learn the best evidence-based practices to boost your performance.
The Growth Equation
The key to sustainable growth can be found in the physical discipline of weight training. If you’ve ever looked into beginning weight training, you’ve certainly been warned about the dangers of overtraining. Lifting with the same muscles every day, multiple times a day, leads to burnout and produces worse results than taking rest days and working different muscle groups. The same applies to your cognitive and emotional life. The key to growth — whether in your thinking, your body, or your heart — is to find a balance between stress and rest. The plan for growth is a fourpart cycle: Isolate what you want to work on, stress it, rest it and recover, and repeat with a little more stress than the previous time. This proven process can help you grow into your goal.
When poorly managed and overly abundant, stress is not only unpleasant but also unhealthy. But stress is not inherently negative. Constructive stress can be good for you. Sometimes achieving something difficult is worth all the stress involved. Even something as simple as solving a tricky puzzle shows that stress is not always a negative. Growth comes from struggle; you gain new skills by pushing your abilities. The key is to seek out manageable challenges, ones that lie on the threshold of your skills. The stress of tackling a problem you have no hope of solving at your current skill level is not productive, but the stress that comes with considerable effort pushes you a level up. If you feel entirely confident, you aren’t pushing yourself. If you’re too nervous to focus, it’s a sign that it’s time to dial things back.
The dangers of complacency are verified in a study conducted by K. Anders Ericsson at UC Berkeley. Ericsson paradoxically found that doctors’ ability to read radiographs actually decreased with experience. The reason was that many doctors spent their practice time merely going through the motions. The key to mastering a skill is not simply passive experience but deliberate practice. Practice doesn’t make perfect — perfect practice makes perfect. Perfect practice involves seeking out manageable challenges at the threshold of your skill level. If you’re a violinist, for example, playing Pachelbel’s Canon in D will not make you an excellent instrumentalist. Rather, seeking out new and increasingly difficult pieces, adapting them to different meters, or practicing difficult bowing patterns will increase your skill.
Another key is being fully present while practicing. If you are writing, it’s not enough to spend three hours in front of a computer screen. Breaking the time into chunks and spending time on specific, concrete tasks (such as reviewing the previous day’s writing, looking up an important historical fact, or tackling a specific section of a project) is a more deliberate way to write.
The biggest enemy to presence in your practice is your smartphone. Although everyone somehow managed to live without these devices 15 years ago, it’s almost impossible to imagine getting by without one now. Smartphones are addictive for the same reason gambling is: They trigger your brain’s dopamine reward system. If you want to break this habit, “out of sight, out of mind” is the best practice. Turn your phone on silent and set it facedown. Better yet, put it somewhere you can’t see it (or feel it), since even the presence of the phone on your person is a source of distraction.
The best way to incorporate productive stress into your life is to add it in manageable blocks. The goal is to stay at the point where stress is present but not overwhelming. Instead of marathon sessions, working in blocks of 50 to 90 minutes, with seven to 20 minutes for recovery, helps prevent your mind and body from getting overwhelmed. Most people fall into the pattern of doing too little work and then overworking to make up for it, but a steady pattern of stress and rest leads to better long-term performance and a greater sense of control over the challenges in your life. Since the overall stress is lower, you can gradually begin to take on larger challenges without feeling overwhelmed.
Stress can generally be managed by changing your mindset: Learn to view stress not as something to be dreaded but as part of your body’s natural preparation for challenges. If you think of stress as the opening chords to “Eye of the Tiger” instead of the “Imperial March,” it becomes a bit more manageable.
While managing stress is an important part of performing well, it’s equally crucial to manage rest. This means getting true rest periods. Often, when we are supposedly resting, our minds are still racing and trying to deal with the source of our stress. Meditation and mindfulness can help you achieve a relaxed state of mind.
To meditate, simply sit in a comfortable position somewhere quiet, breath slowly through your nose, and focus on attaining a natural and calm breathing rhythm.
Anyone who’s had a brilliant idea lying in bed in the middle of the night knows how well rest can help productivity. Rest and distraction are not impediments to performance but are keys to unlocking the paths to your creative and subconscious thinking.
One of the best ways to make your rest time rewarding is to take up walking. Research has found that people who walk regularly come up with 40% more creative ideas than people who don’t walk.
Spending time in nature is another effective way to relax. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, a children’s TV show informed by cognitive science and psychology, often showed Mr. Rogers’ fish tank so that children watching at home could observe the fish moving around. This programming decision was backed up by scientific evidence showing that merely looking at images of the natural world improves mood and focus.
Of course, the most important component of rest is sleep. Try to get an adequate amount of high-quality sleep. Most Americans are woefully sleep-deprived; we tend to prioritize virtually everything else in our lives over sleep. Digital devices also have a negative effect on rest, because the blue light they emit interferes with your natural rhythms, depriving your brain of the signals that tell your body it’s bedtime. When you sleep, your body and mind repair themselves, and you build resilience and self-control. People who get adequate sleep think more clearly, are more emotionally stable, and get sick less often.
Making and taking advantage of rest time is a key part of working smarter rather than harder, and of performing at a high level without burning out.
If you’ve ever seen a musician or an athlete prepare for a performance, you’ve probably noticed that they have a routine, and it probably has little to do directly with the meat of the performance. A drummer might do jumping jacks to elevate his heart rate before stepping on stage. A runner might do a light jog before a marathon. Cyclist Megan Guarnier does yoga before big rides to get her body ready for racing. People who perform at their highest level set up a situation that enables high performance. This is called priming. Just as you have to prime a pump to get it working, you need to prepare for difficult tasks.
What works for athletes works just as well for everyone else. Just as athletes warm up their bodies, you can warm up your mind, voice, and mood. Putting yourself in a good mood before doing difficult or important work makes the task less daunting and improves your performance. Even something as simple as watching a cat video can improve performance. Similarly, eliminating sources of negative emotions can improve performance.
Finding an ideal priming routine is a process of trial and error. Take note of your environment, mood, and habits, and see which routines coincide with your good days and which ones accompany bad days.
Creating a routine specifically related to your work will help you get it done. Simple rituals such as sitting down to work at a certain time or using your favorite coffee mug will help you prepare for the activity ahead. This kind of conditioning has a biological as well as a psychological effect.
Identifying the right time of day, environment, social network, and routine can increase performance, but there is one factor common to all the best performers that we haven’t yet mentioned: They show up. Consistency is the most important part of any routine — not just doing the work that you enjoy but regularly getting down to it, even when you’re tired and uninspired.
People truly reach their highest potential when they strive to transcend the self. Research conducted by University of Michigan public health professor Victor Stretcher shows how we can draw on our strength in moments of great stress. Inspired by the experience of losing his daughter, Stretcher discovered a vast historical precedent of people who found a purpose greater than themselves. Focusing on helping others rather than simply on personal goals helps banish pain, fatigue, and fear. When you face difficult challenges, your ego is programmed to shut down out of self-preservation, but by focusing on a transcendent purpose, you can break through those limits. Finding a greater purpose in your work helps you overcome the barriers that stand in your way. Paradoxically, the less you think of yourself, the more you can improve yourself.
How do you develop a purpose? And when you have one, how do you stay focused on it? The first step is to dispel some common myths. A purpose does not need to be religious, mystical, or all-consuming. Some people have one purpose that drives everything they do; some have different purposes that apply to different areas of their lives. It’s possible to have a self-centered purpose — but a selftranscending one can improve not only your own performance but also the world around you. Finally, a purpose can (and should) change over time.
A purpose should be built out of core values such as community, creativity, efficiency, kindness, and loyalty. Define each core value in your own terms. Remember, these values are not abstract concepts but concrete principles to which you can aspire. Next, rank these values and write a purpose statement that reflects them. For example, the purpose statement of a geologist who values education and community might read: “Study the natural world and communicate my findings to my students and the nonacademic community.”
Once you have a purpose, you’re ready to harness its power. It’s important to keep your purpose fresh in your mind on a daily basis. You can put visual cues like Post-it Notes in important locations and link ritual actions to thoughts. For example, if you see a Post-it with your purpose written on it every time you stir your coffee, you’ll be better able to focus on that purpose. Self-talk is also important. Self-talk in the form of nightly reflection and expressive writing — journaling about important issues in your life — has been shown to improve not only mood but also blood pressure and immune health. Taking the time to evaluate your values in the evening helps keep your life in line with your purpose.
Setting and achieving a goal that is just on the threshold of your abilities is one of the most gratifying feelings in the world. The challenge and the drive to meet that goal can bring out the best in you. By using optimal routines, staying focused on your purpose, and understanding how to harness both stress and rest into growth, you can achieve healthy, sustainable peak performance throughout your life. The key is to seek out “just manageable” challenges so that stress is constructive rather than overwhelming and to tackle them with consistency and regular breaks. You can achieve this by getting more sleep and building your mindfulness muscles — meditation and self-talk help people stay in control even as they tackle difficult situations. Finally, developing and staying in touch with a self-transcending purpose can help you overcome self-imposed limits and achieve truly remarkable things.
Brad Stulberg is a columnist for Outside magazine and New York magazine, where he writes about the health and science of performance.
Steve Magness is distance running coach at the University of Houston. Magness has coached numerous athletes to world championship teams and the Olympics. He has been featured as an expert in Runner’s World, on the BBC, and in The New York Times.
Motivational, Nonfiction, Self Help, Psychology, Productivity, Personal Development, Business, Sports, Science, Leadership, Success, Self-Esteem, Relationships, Personal Growth, Health, Counseling, Popular Applied Psychology, Personal Finance
Table of Contents
Foreword: Is Healthy, Sustainable Peak Performance Possible? 1
Introduction: Great Expectations 9
Section 1 The Growth Equation
1 The Secret to Sustainable Success 27
2 Rethinking Stress 41
3 Stress Yourself 53
4 The Paradox of Rest 75
5 Rest Like the Best 95
Section 2 Priming
6 Optimize Your Routine 123
7 Minimalist to Be a Maximalist 139
Section 3 Purpose
8 Transcend Your”self” 157
9 Develop Your Purpose 181
Bibliography and Source Notes 203
About the Authors 221
“Peak Performance” by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness is a book that explores the science and practices behind achieving and sustaining peak performance in various aspects of life, including sports, work, and personal pursuits. Drawing on their experiences as writers, coaches, and athletes, the authors delve into the key principles that drive excellence while preventing burnout and stress.
The book is organized into chapters that cover topics such as stress and recovery, the importance of purpose and passion, deliberate practice, and the role of rest and downtime. Stulberg and Magness present a holistic approach to peak performance, integrating insights from psychology, neuroscience, and sports science. They emphasize the need for balancing intense effort with adequate rest and recovery to avoid burnout.
- Stress and Recovery: Achieving peak performance involves cycles of stress and recovery. Intense effort should be followed by adequate rest and relaxation to optimize growth and performance.
- Purpose and Passion: Finding a deep sense of purpose and passion in what you do can be a powerful driver of peak performance and motivation.
- Deliberate Practice: The concept of deliberate practice, which involves focused and intentional effort to improve specific skills, is a cornerstone of peak performance.
- Rest and Downtime: Taking regular breaks, prioritizing sleep, and embracing downtime are essential for sustaining high performance and preventing burnout.
- Mind-Body Connection: The book explores the connection between physical and mental well-being, highlighting the importance of holistic self-care.
“Peak Performance” is a well-researched and practical guide to achieving and maintaining peak performance in various aspects of life. Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness bring a wealth of knowledge from their backgrounds in writing, coaching, and athletics to offer a balanced and evidence-based approach to success.
One of the book’s strengths is its emphasis on the need for recovery and downtime as essential components of high performance. The authors dispel the myth of constant hustle and advocate for a more sustainable approach that integrates periods of rest and relaxation. This perspective is particularly relevant in a world where burnout is a common concern.
The book also stands out for its well-rounded exploration of the science behind peak performance, covering topics ranging from psychology and neuroscience to sports science. The real-life examples and stories of athletes, artists, and professionals add depth and relatability to the concepts presented.
However, some readers may find that the book’s content is relatively broad, covering a wide range of topics in peak performance, which may result in less depth in certain areas. Additionally, the book primarily focuses on individual performance and may not delve deeply into team dynamics or leadership aspects.
In conclusion, “Peak Performance” is a valuable resource for individuals seeking to elevate their performance and avoid burnout. Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness provide actionable insights and a holistic approach that can benefit athletes, professionals, and anyone striving for excellence while prioritizing their well-being.