14 Lessons on Peak Performance

We all want to be peak performers. A worthy addition to the literature in this genre is Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness. It is a concise practical take on peak performance which all of us can benefit from. There will be some similarities if you have already red Peak by Anders Ericsson or Grit by Angela Duckworth. I still found this to be insightful. The book is broken into 3 sections based on their key principles of:
  1. The Growth Equation (stress + rest = growth)
  2. Priming - It consists of developing optimal routines and designing your day
  3. Purpose - This ensures you are focused and motivated
Here are the 14 lessons I gleaned with my take as well.

Creativity – You are generally creative not when you are doing the work but when you are doing something totally different. For example you might be playing with your kid and suddenly something comes to your mind. Most masters keep a notepad near their bedside to jot down ideas. It is not that we don’t get ideas but capturing it is the key.  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is famous for flow but he has also contributed to the field of creativity. The steps are Immersion – This is where you totally immerse yourself in the work, Incubation – This is when you do something different like going for a walk and forget the issue. Past masters all loved walks in nature. Science also shows that walking allows you to forget what you were working on but still allows brilliant ideas to come through and Insight – Finally you get the insight.
Challenging goals – You should set goals that are just above your reach. All peak performers set goals that are just out of reach but attainable.
Single Handling – Do only one thing at a time. All peak performers are totally present to the task at hand. For example if you have to speak to someone have no distractions. While we all love to say we are great at multitasking what research shows is you should work on only one thing at a time to get the most benefit.
Do difficult things - Why do peak performers do difficult things. This is because there is myelin which gets enhanced whenever you do something difficult. There are two types of thinking as defined by Daniel Kahneman System 1 is the unconscious immediate thinking like brushing your teeth and system 2 is deliberate slow thinking. Whenever you do something difficult you give up because it requires slow thinking but if you persist and learn it then it becomes system 1. For example we all struggled to learn driving but once we learned it was automatic. All difficult skills can be learned with perfect practice.
Work in Sprints – If you cannot put away your smartphone for a long time. Try putting it away for 30 min and then get back to it. Work intensely for 90 min and then take a 10 min break and keep repeating that cycle.
Get enough sleep – This topic has been beaten to death but you should get 8 hours of sleep and sometimes even more. The point is all great performers slept more than average. So try not to short change your sleep. It takes courage to take rest.
Take a different route – Roger Bannister two weeks before the race where he broke the four minute barrier for a mile actually went for a hike with his friend. Even two days before the race he only did minimal workouts. The point is to try something different and not always go full out as you will get worn out.
Take one day off every week – This is a good suggestion. Take one complete day off where you don’t do any work related activities and engage in some hobbies. It is counter intuitive but when you do that you do come back to your work with more vigor, energy and passion. For example Bernard Lagat takes five weeks off every year to renew and the thing is he competed in in fifth Olympics in 2016 at the age of 41. The secret of his longevity is he takes a complete day off every week and five weeks in the fall every year. Of course we can do what works for us but the bottom line is taking time off is what will make you more productive.
Positive mindset is important – Having a positive mindset does work. For example runners who were shown happy faces during a race performed better than those who were shown a negative emotion. It is so important to surround yourself with a positive environment if you want to bulletproof your mindset. Of course we all know about the growth mindset advocated by Carol Dweck. This ensures that you are always learning and pushing the envelope.
Show up every day – This is the key that separates the best from the rest. The peak performers show up every day irrespective of how they feel. If you want to work on your craft you have to show up daily vigor.
Be a minimalist – The basic thesis you have a limited supply of willpower so use it only to make few decisions. For example Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t spend time on making decisions on what to wear because he is using his decision making capabilities on important tasks. Even President Obama wears only two or three colors of suits. Steve Jobs is also famous for wearing the same color. The point is to not waste a minute of your decision making capabilities on rudimentary tasks then you will have the available willpower for important decisions.
Have rituals – Stephen King has the same ritual every day. He writes every day whether he feels like it or not. The example sighted in the book is celebrated author Haruki Murakami who wakes up at 4:30 am writes for 5 to 6 hours then goes for a 4 km run or swim, then comes back to read or listen to music and sleeps at 9 pm. He does this for six months to one year to produce novels. The main point is if you have specific things you do daily it is automatic and you do it without thinking.
Transcend beyond self – Athletes performed better when they did something because of someone else. For example Ashton Eaton made an amazing push to beat his own record. He had to beat his own world record for the 1500 m chase. This is what he said on why he went for it “Really, I was just thinking about sitting on the couch when I was little, watching somebody like Michael Johnson, Carl Lewis, jump and run, That’s like, the reason I’m here today. So I thought, maybe there’s a kid on a couch somewhere, and if I break this world record, they may be inspired to do something or get excited. So, yeah, I did it for them.” So find someone for whom you are working and you might be more motivated.
Find your purpose – This is not new but unless you find the purpose of your life you will not be excited to persist. Here are some suggestions to find your purpose. Write down your core values, write a story on why those core values are important, rank the core values and finally write your purpose. As I have mentioned before my purpose which I defined in 2010 is to maximize my potential and help others maximize theirs. This has led me to read a lot of books listen to podcasts and share everything I have learned. Since there is always something new to learn I feel quite energized every day.
This was a wonderful book and there are so many examples you will enjoy.
The views expressed here are my own and do not represent my organization.
Thanks for reading this post.


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