I recently read “Peak Performance” by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness. Both know a little bit about high performance as well as burnout. Brad is a former McKinsey consultant and analyst for the White House, who focused on the modeling and analysis of the Affordable Care Act. Steve is a coach and trainer for Olympic athletes and successful runner. They teamed to write this book to find out what makes high performers attain and sustain peak performance. Whether athletes, musicians, or corporate employees, each peak performer follows the basis formula: Stress + Rest = Growth. If there is anything you remember from the book, this formula is key.
Stress, as it relates to the formula, is the amount of effort put into a task. This section focuses on exerting enough stress on the body or mind to make you uncomfortable. Yes, it touches on the cliché of “stepping outside of your comfort zone” to achieve success. I remember having to read “Danger in the Comfort Zone” 20 years ago for my first job. But what does that really mean?
While that mantra is a bit tiresome and overused, I like how the authors define this. They call it, “just-manageable challenges.” These challenges are those “that barely exceed your current abilities.” Seeing this definition may raise a few eyebrows. Shouldn’t I be taking on those tasks that really push me? Shouldn’t I feel the pain in order to grow? Yes, to an extent. But by taking on challenges or projects that are way out of your league, you cause the body and brain more anxiety. This leads to a lack of focus and eventual burnout. By stressing slightly above your comfort zone, you are able to focus, stretch your abilities, and succeed.
This section was the most impactful for me. In the workplace, we glorify “the hustle.” There’s no better badge of honor than that dude who’s always “grinding.” First in the office, last one to leave. Cranking out work and emails at all hours of the day. There’s no weekend for this warrior. Jacked up on high-octane coffee and statements-of-work, this bro brings it. The more he produces, the more assignments he gets. That PTO balance is always at its cap and there is no time off in sight for this fella.
Sound familiar? We love these guys and gals. And we are pushing them to burnout and failure.
Pushing the limits without proper rest and recovery is the kryptonite to every Superman and Wonder Woman. The body and the mind need adequate time to recharge and recover. Our brains become more active, and our creative juices more flowing, when we are at rest. The book recommends no more than 2 hours of focused, intense work on a task before taking a break. This focused time in distraction free. No phones, emails, or interruptions.
Yet, with all of the science and research to back this up, we still push ourselves to exhaustion. We don’t plan our vacations or time off at the end of a huge project. We don’t get enough sleep. 7-9 hours is optimal. Anything less and our behaviors and decision-making skills are diminished. Throw in a little booze to take the edge off, plenty of blue light screen time before bed, and you’re on the road to failure and burnout. I’ve been on that road and it’s not pretty. I’m steering toward a new road.
With balanced stress and rest, we can achieve growth. Athletes are able to push the limits of their bodies by taking time off. Employees can accomplish great things for themselves and others when taking enough time to recharge. And a big way to do this is by having a purpose. The authors touch on the importance of a “self-transcending purpose” to avoid burnout and achieve growth. To go all Simon Sinek, what is your “why?” When stuck, figure out the purpose of your task. Why do you show up everyday? Is it just for you or do you see the value and purpose in your work that transcends you? Having a purpose to your work helps you avoid burnout.
Overall, I loved this book. I like the summary points at the end of each section and the tools provided to develop a purpose. The research and scientific examples are excellent. And I like how they provide examples in all areas such as athletics, music, and the corporate world.
This post doesn’t do the book justice. So, if you’re looking to improve your performance, or help improve the performance of your team, this book is for you.