Life is fast and seemingly getting faster by the day. Sustaining “Peak Performance” over a period of time without burning out is a real challenge faced by many. Written by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, “Peak Performance” is full of evidence based recommendations on how anyone, in any field, can do just that.

Most of the evidence comes from research carried out with elite sports teams and performers. Magness is a former runner turned running coach too so the book definitely has a bias towards those interested in top level sports performance, or just improving your sports performance whatever your current level.

It’s worth saying from the outset that like any self-improvement book, some of what is in here is just common sense. Also, like most books in this genre, you can’t help reading it and thinking it probably could have been edited a bit more brutally and be about half the length it actually is.

Despite these common flaws I found it a compelling read. It’s got 6 key messages, though in most cases each area links closely to at least one other area covered by the book. They’re all backed up with interesting anecdotes and a nice smattering of neuroscience which is surprisingly accessible throughout. The key messages are:

1. Stress + Rest = Growth

It’s okay to stress your body or mind over a time limited period. If you follow it with a period of true rest then whatever it is that you are stressing learns to cope with the extra stress and can deal with it better the next time you face a similar stress. Chronic stress, or stress that continues over a long period of time without rest, is very bad for you in a whole range of ways. The rest period has to truly be rest, completely free from whatever  the cause of the stress is.

2. Engage fully and 100% in whatever it is you’re doing

If you’re working, focus on your work fully. If you’re resting, ignore your work or anything else that might interrupt your rest.

Don’t multitask. Whatever some people might tell you about their ability to multitask, they can’t. They might be able to quickly switch from one task to another but this is a really inefficient way of getting things done. Get one thing done with full focus, then do the next thing (probably after a period of rest) with the same level of focus and attention

3. Sleep lots

Most people don’t sleep enough. We need 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. If you don’t get enough sleep then all your other efforts to improve your performance are likely to be wasted.

4. Establish positive routines and habits

Create routines so you don’t have to think about what you are going to do and when you are going to do it. If you start to get into a routine where, for example, you always get up at 6am and do 30 minutes exercise then you start to forget about the question of how and when you are going to fit it into the day.

Pre-match or pre-run routines are also important. I particularly appreciated this section as it gave some rational credibility to what others would call my “superstitions”. It really is important to make sure you wear the same socks each race day or make sure you always use an even numbered locker at the gym (I’m not sure the evidence supports that last one, but it doesn’t do anything to disprove it so I’m going to keep doing it for now).

5. Surround yourself with positive influences

Positive and negative moods and attitudes of people in a close knit group or team are like a disease that spreads quickly and infects all the other members. I don’t want to go into more detail for anyone who intends to read the book but I found this bit particularly fascinating.

6. Find a purpose outside of yourself

If you’re struggling to do what you know you can, or even what you think you maybe could, the key could be in your motivation. The best motivators are those which come from without us. This could be spiritual or religious in nature but it really doesn’t have to be. It could be that you do something for charity or just that you recognise that if you don’t achieve your goal you could be letting down your husband or wife who do such a great job of tolerating your obsession for running every minute of every day.

If you’ve ever thought about but, for whatever reason, never really got around to picking up a self-improvement title, this is definitely a good place to start. It’s helpful and motivational without being preachy. The claims made in the book are all backed up with scientific research but the anecdotes and personal experiences help to avoid it being just a giant meta-study of other’s research. Well worth a read, just make sure you don’t stay up too late reading it and missing out on your 7 hours sleep!

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