The world’s best performers—in domains as varied as sport, art, and business—follow a common pathway to continual growth, at least that's what I learned in researching and reporting my new book, Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success. They take on challenges and make themselves uncomfortable (stress) and then follow those challenges with recovery and reflection (rest). Then they rinse and repeat, with a slightly greater challenge. Too much stress, not enough rest and the result is injury, illness, or burnout. Not enough stress, too much rest and the result is complacency.
Seek Out Stress
Whether it is physical, intellectual, or emotional growth, research suggests that skills from struggle. If we wish to get better at anything, we need stress ourselves, pushing beyond our current limits. Studies show that both the body and...
It’s important to know how to put your head down and work hard. In an increasingly globalized economy—in which we are competing not just with each other, but also with human-replacing technologies—those who embody grit and grind will have an undeniable edge.
But that’s only half the battle. If we ceaselessly push ourselves without ever taking breaks, the quality of our work will suffer in the short term. And in the long term, we’ll be liable to burnout. For hard work to become valuable and sustainable, it must be followed by rest and recovery.
There is no shortage of products that promise to help us “hack” our way to sustainable peak performance. Unfortunately, every quick fix that I’ve ever evaluated has one thing in common: they all fade quickly. The vast majority of scientific evidence suggests that the best...
Over the past two years, I, along with a co-author who is a performance scientist and coach of Olympians, have been researching and reporting for a new book, Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive With the New Science of Success.
We set out to answer a simple question: What makes great? What are the principles that underlie mastery across fields and capabilities?
To find the answer, we spoke with world-class athletes, artists, entrepreneurs, and intellects, and we poured over literature from diverse fields including psychology, neuroscience, biology, physiology, and even philosophy. We learned enough to fill a book (that’s why we wrote one!), and what follows are some of the highlights. Each of the principles below is supported by both science and the experience of individuals who are on top of their respective fields. And best of all, each principle can be...
Wings of Dreams
As a young boy, Jeb Corliss would look at birds taking off from trees near his house in wonder as they flew. “I’m gonna do that one day,” he recalls declaring to his grandmother.
Years later, as a world class BASE jumper and wingsuit diver with massive sponsorships from the likes of Red Bull and GoPro, Jeb would live this dream so often that he forgot something.
“It all started when…” he trails off as he tries to recount his epic crash, one that almost killed him as he flew from Table Mountain in South Africa.
“No, we can go back before that,” he catches himself. “I made a massive mistake. My biggest mistake, for sure, was I’d lost the fear. I thought it wasn’t useful.”
In the 6 months it took him to learn to walk, jump and fly again, that fear came back with a fury - but he overcame it, and is still jumping to this day. Is it really possible to actively build up the...
Motivation: It’s the golden ticket, in business, sport, and life in general.
But how do we overcome the natural human urges to rest, to fit in, to cruise – when we know we need to be more locked in, more driven to achieve extraordinary results? Well first, let’s clear one thing up – the treasure this map leads to has nothing to do with money!
For instance, one study compared two new sets of employees, both equally qualified for the same role who started on around the same wage (one $34k, one $36k). Their engagement levels were tested and evaluated against their peers at the time.
Counter-intuitively, the new employees making $34k ended up happier. Why?
For them, the average starting salary for their role was 30k – as opposed to the newbies on $36k, who were comparing their cut to other employees average starting salary of $40k. The numbers game is all relative (and hard for us to change anyway!)
So what IS...
FBI = Four Big Intentions.
As the head of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program within the Counterintelligence Division, Robin Dreeke was often in charge of getting information from people who had a good reason not to give it to him.
Over 15 years of experience in getting unsavory characters to reveal important information to him, and subsequent research into a topic he was super curious about, he drilled it down to a very simple question that people often asked him:
How can you build rapport quickly, and make it easier for people to trust you?
It’s not about you.
You read right. The simplest way to think about it is to make the conversation all about the other person. From sales situations, to management discussions, to marriage counseling, all sorts of research points to the same thing.
The FBI uses four basic aims throughout an entire operation, all focused on making the target of the questioning feel like they are the ones getting something...
“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”
-Will Rogers (attributed)
My phone rang just after midnight. It was my buddy, Chris. “I screwed up dude—I think it’s over.”
Groggy, and a little bugged that I he was calling me so late, I tried to collect my thoughts. I spent an hour earlier that evening telling Chris that he should give his girlfriend some space. They were fighting quite a bit, and it was clear that he needed to give the relationship some time to breathe. Apparently, my advice didn’t sink in. “Why did you call her?” I asked.
“I called her because I was missing her, and I was hoping that she was missing me, too.”
“So, what happened?”
“Dude, she just was so cold. I tried to just be warm and loving—like we used to be—but she was just giving me one word answers and staying really distant. That’s...
“What my true passion?” “Do I need to follow my passion to find fulfillment at work?” “Should I chase my dreams, or be satisfied with my current career path?” Are these the kinds of questions you’ve been asking yourself lately?
Perhaps you’ve been given the increasingly common advice to “follow your bliss” or “do work you love.” Or maybe you’re out of your mind working at a job where you feel miserable, and are drawn to the idea of finding fulfilling work. There’s a lot of contradictory advice about following our passion. For example, Steve Jobs encouraged Stanford graduates in 2005 to find what they love. But, others argue that “following your passion” is bad advice. And, still others propose a middle path, which says that you can find fulfillment in almost any job. What should you make of all these perspectives? Should you, or should you not,...
What does leadership look like to you? Take a second to create an image in your mind. Who is leading? What are they doing? What are their characteristics?
Here’s the thing: Leadership looks like you. Just as you are, and in the position you are currently in. Yet many of us, especially women, may struggle to picture ourselves as leaders. We have fewer examples of women with leadership titles (in the United States, only about 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women; less than 20% of congress members are women; and exactly 0% of Presidents have been women). We are told that women should be more aggressive, take more risks, stop talking about feelings, and be more like men. That leaves us at risk of being perceived as cold and mean, or worse, to begin to feel inauthentic to ourselves.
Given the staggering realities about women in traditional leadership roles, women’s confidence can take a hit. Wiebke Bleidorn, researcher at UC-Davis, found that across...
If you are reading this you’re probably like me, a high achieving perfectionist, juggling multiple balls and wearing many hats. If that’s true, then there is also a decent chance that you struggle with procrastination. Over the years, I’ve tried all types of tips and tricks to overcome this unhelpful habit. I have found however, that following all the latest productivity “hacks” is not a sustainable approach. During my time in grad school at the University of Pennsylvania, I shifted my focus from trying out the latest trends to adopting evidence-based approaches to conquering procrastination.
Studying the scientific literature about productivity taught me two important things: 1) Conquering procrastination has as much to do with our beliefs as it does our strategies, and 2) Not all strategies are created equal. To save you the thousand-plus hours it took me to learn this stuff in grad school, I’ve made a list of the four...
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