Taking a Peek at Performance

By Mario Fraioli

If you’ve been reading the morning shakeout long enough then you’ve likely come across at least a few links I’ve shared to articles written by Brad Stulberg or Steve Magness—and with good reason. These two guys are at the forefront of writing about the science of performance: Brad for Outside, New York and Runner’s World magazines, amongst other publications; and Steve mostly for his own wildly popular blog, The Science of Running (as well as appearing as a featured source on the topic for places like the New Yorker, ESPN the Magazine, the New York Times, and others). Well, Brad and Steve teamed up to write a book called Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout and Thrive with the New Science of Success, and I was lucky enough to get an early copy of it a few weeks ago. Heck, to be totally transparent, I was asked to read a very early draft of the book’s detailed table of contents back in August of 2015 and knew then that it would be a home run. The finished product definitely knocks it out of the park.

The book, which officially comes out today (June 6, 2017), isn’t a running book, although it does contain numerous stories and strategies—backed by scientific research—that reveal how top runners such as Olympic medalists Bernard Lagat and Leo Manzano have reached the pinnacle of the sport (spoiler: they take planned long breaks at the end of their competitive seasons). Examples like these contribute to the book’s theme of uncovering, exploring and explaining the common principles and practices that have helped various types of top performers achieve success in their respective domains.

Personally, I was deeply interested in the book from the moment Brad first told me about the idea for it almost two years ago. As a coach, writer and self-confessed workaholic, I’m constantly looking for ways to take my “game” to the next level—and help my athletes elevate their own—without burning out. I found myself nodding in agreement as I made my way through the various sections of Peak Performance—from deconstructing “the growth equation” of stress + rest = growth, to hammering home the importance of routine and environment as it relates to performance, to uncovering the power of purpose—as the stories, insights and scientific evidence presented in the book validated many of the things I already understood somewhat intuitively, while also reinforcing the lessons I’ve learned through my own experiences and observations. I highlighted many of the “Performance Practices” found throughout the book, as these valuable nuggets of wisdom and advice—e.g. “Challenge yourself to view stress productively, and even to welcome it.” and “Only use your bed for sleep and sex. Not for eating, watching television, working on your laptop, etc.” and “Find opportunities to give back in the context of your work.”—will no doubt help keep me on the path to peak performance in various areas of my life.

Whether you’re an athlete, artist, business person, or someone who is just feeling fried in your current situation, I can’t recommend this book enough. There are no life hacks or quick fixes that will make you an instant winner within your domain—there are, however, real-life examples, legitimate research and actionable practices that will help you become more effective at whatever it is you do.

+ Want a primer on what you’ll find in the book? Brad provided one recently by outlining nine things that great performers do differently. Check it out.

+ Rich Roll sat down with Brad and Steve for a couple hours to talk about peak performance—what it is, the core principles that define it, strategies for sustaining it and more—on episode 293 of his consistently excellent podcast. It’s a great conversation. Listen in. “The message we’re given is that in order to reach our maximum potential, we need to be all in, forget everything else in the world, forget everybody else, and that’s all we have to do,” Magness explains. “And I think these examples—they’re great examples of people who are at the top of their game, have been for a while and have these diverse other activities and things going on in their life, so it’s not about sacrificing necessarily, it’s figuring out how to prioritize and getting the most out of yourself given those priorities.”

A version of this post first appeared in the morning shakeout, my weekly email newsletter covering running, writing, media and other topics that interest me. If you’d like for it to land in your inbox first thing on Tuesday mornings, subscribe here.