At age 18, Steve Magness ran the Prefontaine Classic, and became the then fastest high school runner in the United States, the fifth fastest junior in the world, and the sixth fastest high school miler ever. His training regimen bordered on obsessive, leaving no room for the typical high school social life, or even hobbies.
Just two years out of college, Brad Stulberg was a rising young star at the prestigious consulting firm McKinsey & Company. His rigid commitment to academics in college naturally morphed into 70-hour work weeks, and led in 2010 to being tasked with forecasting the effects of United States health care reform.
Two promising young men with nothing but higher achievement ahead. And yet, Steve never ran a step faster than at the Prefontaine Classic, and Brad never got another promotion or became a partner in the firm.
Both men had peaked young, despite ridiculously rigorous training and work regimens. What went wrong?
Magness and Stulberg are now co-authors of the newly released book Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success. Their goal with the book is to answer that very question, while also setting the rest of us on the right path for optimal performance in our own pursuits.
The introduction sets the stage:
The process of setting a goal on the outer boundaries of what we think is possible, and then systematically pursuing it, is one of the most fulfilling parts about being human. It’s also a good thing that we want to take our game to the next level because, more than ever, we have no other choice.
No argument on the first point. But it’s the second sentence that shows how we’re screwing up a beneficial aspect of human nature in the pursuit of external rewards — and still getting it wrong.
The authors explore the effects of illegal performance-enhancing drugs in sports. Likewise, the prevalence of Adderall (basically prescription speed) on college campuses drives students to study longer and harder, which naturally spills into the ultra-competitive employment arena for ambitious young people.
Harder. Longer. More.
That’s what it takes to get ahead, right? Well, it didn’t work for Magness and Stulberg, just like it hasn’t worked for many others who instead greatly endanger their health and well-being in the hope of getting an edge.
So what’s the correct formula for peak performance? Turns out it’s:
Stress + Rest = Growth
Stress is what we think of as the training, or the work. And yet, rest is an equally important element of the equation that is the missing link in the quest for peak performance.
The most obvious example is weight training. If you don’t stress the muscle sufficiently, you can’t gain mass. Stress the muscle enough without proper rest, and you also don’t experience growth, while instead risking significant injury.
It’s the same with your career. Working long hours actually decreases your productivity, while those who take breaks, go for walks during the workday, and take weekends off often report creative breakthroughs.
In other words, rest is an essential part of the work, not its opposite. You can only stress yourself so much before returns diminish. More than that, the combination of stress and rest is what allows you to hit your next level, as opposed to piling on more stress.
Peak Performance is an excellent overview of many of the things we talk about here at Further. While each of the areas covered has multiple books about that individual topic, this may be the blueprint you need to get to the next best version of you.
Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success (Amazon Associates link)
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10,000 (Special) Hours
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You Really Like Me?
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