Book Review: Peak Performance

In a previous post titled, Stress + Rest = Growth, I wrote about the core tenet from the book, Peak Performance.  Since that post, I have finished reading the book and have begun implementing several recommendations and key findings with immediate success (with help from one of the author’s twitter page and one of my favorite follows, @bstulberg)

The most important tenet besides Stress + Rest = Growth is a reminder of the positives that come from struggle.  I like to think of this as cultivating a brain similar to a child and embracing the mind of a beginner or non-expert.

“In a series of studies involving middle school and high school math classes, students who were forced to struggle on complex problems before receiving help from teachers outperformed students who received immediate assistance. The authors of these studies summarized their findings in a simple yet elegant statement.  They delayed instruction until students reached the point of failure. Growth comes at the point of resistance. Skills come from struggle.“”

     It’s not supposed to be easy.  It is important to push yourself beyond your immediate comfort zone and the only way to experience growth is by pushing through your limitations.     The key isn’t to go full Jim Carrey and kick your own ass but to find something that you would consider a just-manageable challenge.

“Just-manageable challenges manifest when you take on something that makes you feel a little out of control but not quite anxious or overly aroused.  When the task at hand is a bit beyond your skills you’re in the sweet spot. Any less of a challenge and you’d feel like “I’ve got this in the bag.” It’d be too easy and not stressful enough to serve as a stimulus for growth. Any more of a challenge, however, and the unnerving feeling of your heartbeat pounding in your ears would make it hard to focus. What you’re after is the sweet spot: when the challenge at hand is on the outer edge of, or perhaps just beyond, your current skills.”

The next key insight was the importance of single tasking.  Everyone thinks they have the ability to multitask (you don’t) and wear it as a badge of honor (you shouldn’t).  All people are terrible at multitasking and the vast majority are much worse than they wish to admit.  It’s not a matter of multitasking making a part of your life or work suffer, it’s that all aspects suffer.  Just look at Dr. Bob:

“He compartmentalizes his day down to the hour. Each compartment has a concrete objective. These objectives range from, for example: write 500 words for a paper; learn enough about a company to make an investment decision; have a free-flowing conversation with an interesting person; keep his heart rate at 80 percent of its maximum in a fitness class; influence a decision maker in a highly political meeting; enjoy dinner with his wife and kids. This type of compartmentalization ensures he follows his governing rule: “Do only one thing at a time.” Dr. Bob’s secret to doing so much is doing so little. He is the ultimate single-tasker.”

     Single tasking allows you to fully focus on one thing and get the maximum from your time.  You will perform better and also feel less anxious and a deeper connection to the work.

(Just imagine if a runner doing intervals on the track came to a complete stop to check her phone after each and every notification. The constant start-and-stop would certainly impair her performance.)

     Speaking of phones, turn them off and put them in the other room.  Simply having the phone in the same room, even if it’s off, lowers your brain’s ability to function and focus by 10-20%.  Lose the phone (maybe get a flip-phone), put it in another room, and compartmentalize each task.

Lastly, be a minimalist to be a maximalist.  This has always been a huge problem for me.  I like to take on too much and am marginally interested in a lot of different things.  The last sentence reminds me of the old interview question, “What’s your biggest weakness?  “I care too much and work too hard.”  But these are true weaknesses and limit your chances of becoming an expert and greatly increase your own level of stress.

I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in enhancing their performance in any aspect of their life.  It wasn’t like most self-help books and, similar to my review of Barking Up the Wrong Tree, came from an angle that was very different from the majority of current self-improvement advice.  If you want a few more articles from Brad, please check them out below.

The 5 Most Basic Health and Fitness Advice

Weight-loss and fitness goals often Backfire: Here’s What to do Instead

To Get Better at Managing Your Time, Borrow a Training Strategy from Elite Athletes





One thought on “Book Review: Peak Performance

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