Peak Performance - Notes

Aim of the book is to look at the principles of healthy sustainable success.

Scientific cycle behind growth and development

How to prime for peak performance and daily productivity

Power of purpose as a performance enhancer

Jim Clifton The Coming Jobs War – we are on the precipice of an all-out global war for good jobs.

Michaele Joyner MD and expert on human performance at the Mayo Clinic ‘we live in a world where all exceptional performances are suspect’.

Burnout and stress increasingly common.

Growth equation – physical, emotional or congnitive:


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (chick-sent-mi-hi) pioneering researcher in the field of positive psychology in particular flow states and creativity.

With the latter he consistently found that the brightest minds are either pusuing an activity with ferocious intensity or engaging in complete restoration and recovery. The 2nd phase often being when real insights and breakthroughs occur as the sub-conscious synthesises the problem. Common pattern amongst these performers:


  • Deep focus in the topic
  • A period of rest and recovery – not actively thinking about the problem
  • Insight – the emergence of new ideas and approaches

Rest and recovery should happen on macro and micro scale to maximize performance and productivity. Longer breaks for example in an annual cycle – the off season or annual holiday v.important for longer term sustainment of effort and performance.

Mind and body are linked. If your mentally fatigued your physical performance suffers. The tired brain acts in peculiar ways emotional control is far harder as the pre-frontal cortex which is responsible for conscious thought, reason and the inhibition of impulse is hugely diminished. Impulsive actions, giving in too temptation and struggling with problem solving all increase in a fatigued state.

Hans Selye was an endocrinologist at McGill University in 1934 he was attempting to find a new hormone. He discovered through the course of his research the stress response.

Now know that the bodies stress response is rooted in inflammatory proteins and the hormone cortisol which prepares the body for stress (actual or perceived threat)

Stress in manageable doses is quite positive as adaptive changes occur but if it is chronic it becomes debilitating.

Growth comes at the point of resistence. – Josh Waitzkin

School researchers find that students who were forced to struggle with complex problems on their own before receiving help outperform those who are given immediate assistance. The most effective tutoring systems all delay instruction until students have reached the point of failure.

Productive failure = the opportunity to develop learning and insight

Just manageable challenges at the tip of our fingers v important. Have to embrace the doubt.

Csikszentmihalyi – model for where challenge should aim to be

Summary of Anders Ericsson work on deliberate practice. Experience and expertise are not necessarily correlated at all. Top performers not distinguished by their experience (volume of practice) but by the very specific way in which they design and conduct practice; Out of comfort zone, specific and focused, expert feedback.

Single-tasking. You can multi task but if you do everything suffers. To do something well it must be the sole focus. Intense effort should be cycled in blocks with recovery 50-90 mins of work with 7 – 20 minutes disengagement / rest is typical of high performers.

Mindset – ‘The lens through which we view the world affects everything from learning to health to longevity’.

A 2010 study in the US found that the small proportion of Americans who view stress as facilitative have a 43% lower chance of premature death than those who perceive it as destructive.

DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) is the neurotransmitter helps create the feeling of positive mood effectively the opposite of cortisol (the body cant produce both at the same time)

Most effective performers are very deliberate about the use of rest. Matt Dixon preeminent coach of elite triatheletes states that the attitude towards and use of rest is the factor that separates the very best. He is sometimes known as the recovery coach. Rest becomes an active part of his programmes not simply an off period.

Meditation, being outdoors in nature, social connection all well proven in research to enable better recovery and inhibit stress.

Sleep is critical. Research has moved on from the idea that sleep was to cure us of sleepiness.

People who don’t get enough sleep perform worse at anything that requires effort or attention. Most key benefits of sleep occur in the later stages during REM which is only about 25% of our total sleep time. Best performers prioritize sleep.

Once we have been asleep for about an hour anabolic hormones are released, testosterone and human growth hormone these increase protein synthesis for physical repair.

NASA study on asrtonauts found a 25-minute nap improved judgement by 35% and vigilance by 16%

Sleep is productive.

Dopamine is produced for the act of seeking a reward rather than achieving it – great evolutionary survival adaptation but gives us an attention and concentration problem now in the era of smart phones.

Priming for performance

Critical importance of recognizing the impact mood plays on performance.

Environment for performance should be designed and built to enhance both mood and key behaviours (or inhibit unhelpful behaviours, eg cutting of wi-fi connectivity when trying to focus on writing.)

David Hamilton coach in charge of US women’s field hockey recruited from the UK. Tracked multiple variables impacting performance and focused particularly on testosterone as the hormone most directly linked to performance. As well as profound effects on physiology it is linked to enhanced creativity, confidence and memory. Therefore looked to design training that optimized natural production of testosterone.

No 1-thing impacted, athletes responded differently to different testosterone stimuli. But pre-game individualized routines were developed prior to UK team competing in 2012 Olympics. Testosterone levels are highest when athlestes ‘feel’ good.

Motivation in groups is contagious. In military training research finds the group performance improved most in relationship to the motivation of the least fit member of the group.

‘What is honoured in a country will be cultivated there’ Plato – v.important when thinking about culture.

Purpose beyond self v important impact as it minimizes the influence of ego.

Tim Noakes research on the idea of a ‘central governor’ suggests that fatigue and endurance tasks are deeply impacted by the mind – fatigue is essentially a neurological condition – an emotion as much if not more than a physiological state.

When perception of effort is greater than motivation we slow down or give up. The more motivated we are the greater the effort we tolerate.

The best way to increase motivation is to link our work to a greater purpose or cause.

Self-talk best when it is short specific and consistent. Especially useful in situations where the mind wants to quit.

Conclusion is a good summary of the overall book.

Angela Duckworth’s research indicates that grit is not innate but rather cultivated.