Book Summary: Peak Performance

This book is a great guide for understanding the strategies and tactics you can apply to elicit and sustain a state of peak performance in your personal and professional life.

Peak Performance Book Cover

The following are the passages I most enjoyed from the book Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve MagnessAll content credit goes to the author(s).


The Growth Equation

Growth = Stress + Rest (Recovery)

The Concept(s)

  • The brightest minds spend their time either pursuing an activity with ferocious intensity or engaging in complete restoration and recovery.
  • Growth Cycle
    • Immersion = Total engagement in an activity with deep focus
    • Incubation = Period of rest and recovery with zero work
    • Insight = An aha, eureka moment, which brings on the emergence of new ideas

Performance Practices

  • Alternate between cycles of stress and rest.
  • Insert short breaks throughout the day in your work.
  • Strategically time rest to follow periods of heavy stress.

Rethinking Stress

Skill comes from struggle and productive failure.

The Concept(s)

  • Stress can be positive, triggering desirable adaptations in the body. Or stress can be negative, causing grave damage and harm. The effects depend almost entirely on the dose.

Performance Practices

  • Think of a skill you want to grow.
  • Assess your current ability to perform.
  • Seek out challenges that just barely exceed your ability.

Perfect (Deliberate) Practice

What differentiates deliberate practice is deep focus and concentration.

The Concept(s)

  • Multitasking results in high switching costs, as well as reduces the brain’s cognitive capacity per task. Engaging a task with single focus is how we grow from stress.

Performance Practices

  • Define a purpose and concrete objectives each time you set out to do meaningful work.
  • Ask yourself, “What do I want to learn and get done?”
  • Do only one thing at a time. Remind yourself that multitasking is ineffective.
  • Work in discrete blocks, 50 to 90 minutes. Start smaller if you need to.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness is about being completely present in the moment, fully aware of yourself and your surroundings.

The Concept(s)

  • Meditation increases grey matter in the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex serves as the brain’s command and control center. It allows us to respond thoughtfully to situations instead of instinctively reacting.
  • Mindfulness allows us to identify that we are having a stress response and helps us choose how to respond to stress. The ability to reduce the amygdala hijack.

Performance Practices

  • Choose a time. Sit in a comfortable position. Set a timer. Begin breathing deeply in and out of your nose. Focus on the sensation of breathing. Direct your thoughts back to the sensation of your breathing.
  • Frequency trumps duration. Start with just one minute and gradually increase duration.
  • Apply your mindfulness abilities in everyday life. Have calm conversations during stressful periods.

Rest like the Best

The Courage to Rest. Resting hard often takes guts.

The Concept(s)

  • By framing rest as something that supports growth and adaptation; athletes stop viewing rest as passive and not training.

Performance Practices

  • Take smart breaks and let your subconscious go to work.
  • Step away from the work. Go on a short walk. Sit in nature. Meditate. Recover socially. Listen to music. Take a shower.
  • Reframe sleep as something that is productive. Aim for at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.
  • Exercise. Vigorous physical activity makes us tired.
  • Take extended time off. Take at least 1 off-day every week.

On Priming – Routines

Great performers never just hope they’ll be on top of their game. Rather, they actively create the specific conditions that will elicit their personal best, priming themselves for performance.

The Concept(s)

  • There is no universal best routine. It’s up to you to determine the ideal state of body and mind for the demands of your event and to figure out the best way to put yourself in or very close to that state from the onset.

Performance Practices

  • Develop warm up regimens for important activities and performances.
  • Determine what state of mind your performance demands.
  • Develop a sequence of activities that puts your mind and body in that state.
  • Be consistent. Use the same routine every time you engage in the activity to which it is linked.
  • Remember the impact of mood. Positivity goes a long way.

On Priming – Environment

“Most of us do our best work in a place of our own.” – Stephen King

The Concept(s)

  • Ecological psychology suggests that the objects around us influence us and invite specific behaviours.
  • Experiments show that the mere sight of an object elicits brain activity associated with particular actions.

Performance Practices

  • Create a place of your own in which you do your most important work.
  • Surround yourself with objects that invite your desired behaviours.
  • Consistently work in that same place using the same materials.

On Priming – Conditioning

Don’t wait for the muse. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day…” – Stephen King

The Concept(s)

  • At its core, behaviourism suggests that certain actions can be triggered or conditioned by external cues.

Performance Practices

  • Link key behaviours to specific cues and/or routines.
  • Be consistent and frequent. Execute the same cue/routine every time.
  • If necessary, develop portable cues and routines that can be executed anywhere.

On Priming – Chronotypes & Energy

Great performers don’t fight their bodies’ natural rhythm. They take advantage of it.

The Concept(s)

  • Great performers are highly aware of their unique chronotypes and align their activities with their energy levels.

Performance Practices

  • Be very intentional about when you schedule certain activities, matching the demands of the activity with your energy level.
  • Protect the time during which you are most alert and use it for your most important work. Schedule less demanding tasks during periods in which you are less alert.
  • Don’t fight fatigue. Rather use this time for recovery and to generate creative ideas you can act on during your next cycle of high energy and focus.

On Priming – Culture

The makeup of your social circle has profound implications for your behaviour.

The Concept(s)

  • When we see someone else express happiness or sadness, the neural networks associated with those emotions become activated in our brains. This explains why we cry, smile, or cringe in reaction to external events. We are wired for empathy.

Performance Practices

  • Recognize the power of the people with whom you surround yourself.
  • Surround yourself with a culture of performance.
  • Positivity, motivation and drive are contagious.
  • Don’t put up with too much negativity or pessimism.

Purpose & Motivation

When we concentrate deeply on something beyond ourselves, our ego is minimized.

The Concept(s)

  • Overcome your ego. Remember that your ego or self serves as a protective mechanism that holds you back from reaching your true limits. When faced with great challenges your ego is biologically programmed to shut you down.
  • We are constantly balancing perception of effort or how hard something feels with motivation. If we want to endure more effort, we may need to increase our motivation.
  • Focus on helping others. Helping others activates reward and pleasure centers in the brain. This makes you feel better and associates positive emotions with your pursuit. Giving back, often results in renewed energy and motivation.

Performance Practices

  • To increase motivation, link your work to a greater purpose or cause.
  • Think about “why” you are doing what you are doing; especially when you are feeling fatigued, tired or worn out.
  • Find opportunities to give back in the context of your work; such as coaching, mentoring, etc.

I greatly enjoyed this book. The authors provide a complete set of performance practices we can apply to achieve peak performance in our everyday lives.

All content credit goes to the authors. I’ve simply shared the bits I’ve enjoyed the most and found most useful.

Cheers ’till next time!

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