Peak Performance: Book Summary

Elevate your game, avoid burnout, and thrive with the new science of success

Why You Need Peak Performance?

There’s a lot of pressure. We are living in a competitive world. The internet has made the world within the reach of hands. This makes the market extremely competitive. You are not just competing with fellow humans but with supercomputers and robots soon.

To succeed in a competitive field, one needs an edge. You can’t be a sluggish one. People are desperate for that edge even when science shows no such edge exists.

Research says more than 40% of elite athletes are using banned substances to enhance their performance. This is not only true for sports but prevalent in most fields.

We are living in a world where any form of exceptional performance is suspected. In a world where one is pressurized from all directions to perform better, there is a need of a alternative better way. That’s what this book is about. It uses stories and science with concrete evidences to help you enhance your performance in whatever field you are in. This book answers the following three question:

  • The scientific cycle behind growth and development
  • How to prime for peak performance and daily productivity
  • The power of purpose as a performance enhancer

Peak Performance: Book Summary

The Growth Equation

You grow your muscles by adding stress over them with weights. When you lift weights close to failure, your arms almost become useless. But when the muscles get time for rest and recover, they grow back stronger. This allows you to lift more in the next sessions. Irrespective of the sport, every elite performer follows the same intense work with a periods of easy training and recovery.

Intellectual & creative development

Similar to the body, the minds follows the same pattern. The brightest mind spend their time ferociously on one task followed by a recovery period. The three processes in creative field are:

  • Immersion
  • Incubation
  • Insight

Our muscles and mind are more alike than we think. After all mind is made of the same things as the muscles are.

Mind as Muscle

Your mind acts a muscle. Instead of lifting weights, it is a resorvior of cogintion and self-control. Research shows that when your mental muscles are used before hand, it can result in poor physical performance, even when the body is fresh.

When you are mentally drained, you struggle with self-control and making logical choices. You can’t continuously use your mind without experiencing fatigue.

This means you can make your mental muscles stronger by stressing and allowing it to recover.

When you resist temptations, think deeply, or focus deeply, you become better at doing so. Using small challenges can help you build the strength to complete the larger one in the future.

The rhythm of stress and rest

Josh Waitzkin attributes his success in martial arts as well as chess to alternating between stress and rest.

There was more than one occasion that I got up from the board four or five hours into a hugely tense chess game, walked outside the playing hall and sprinted fifty yards or up six flights of stairs. Then I’d walk back, wash my face, and be completely renewed. To this day, virtually every element of my physical training also revolves around one form or another of stress and recovery . . . If you are interested in really improving as a performer, I would suggest incorporating the rhythm of stress and recovery into all aspects of your life. –

Josh Waitzkin

Rethinking stress

Stress helps you grow. Stress makes you stronger, both mentally and physically. But the limit of stress should be readily known. Stress if taken more than necessary acts as a poison. After stress, the body recovers and makes you stronger.

But if the stress is too large or lasts too long, the body fails to adapt. This causes your body to deteriorate instead of getting stronger. This is what chronic stress is called. Your body goes under breakdown due to chronic stress. This causes a series of mental as well as physical failures in a person.

Skill comes from struggle

You grow when you push yourself slightly above your abilities. When you force yourself to struggle, that’s when you learn the real skill. The point of exhaustion is where there are new connections being formed in the brain.

System 2 learning

We have two systems. System 1 and system 2. System 1 is fast, lazy and automatic. System 2 however is slow and works hard to solve problems.

True learning only happens when you are using the system 2. System 2 has to work hard, struggle and go through discomfort. Only when you endure the struggle, you create new connections in your brain cells. Eventually, your former struggle becomes your second nature.

You have to view stress as a positive stimulus. Stressing for long-time can be dangerous but the right amount of stress serves as a powerful stimulus for growth.

Just-manageable challenges

The best kind of stress is the one that’s at the upper limit of your potential. Pushing beyond your current capability. Challenges that make you feel a little out of control but not quite anxious and overly aroused.

Stress Yourself

Most people think practice makes perfect. But. its only the perfect practice that makes perfect. Perfect practice differentiates itself from regular practice with deep concentration. During a perfect practice, both your mind and bodies are 100% present.


Multi-taksking feels good because it gives you a sense of accomplishment even when there’s no significant work done. Our brains are not computers. Multitasking is a delusional thinking. Quality and quantity both suffers when we multi-task.

Smartphone addiction

Technology, especially smartphones are hard to resist. We have become addicted to the chase of dopamine released by hundreds of apps fighting for our attention. Smartphone and the apps that we install on them are carefully designed by scientists, doctors and engineers so that they can hack our dopamine systems. They are designed with one aim, to flood our brain with dopamine.

Among the many solution to cure smartphone addiction is the out of sight, out of mind method. Having a phone within your reach is like having a loaded syringe in plain sight for a drug addict. Therefore, the best solution is to remove it from sight and move it out of view.

Blocks of stress

Working in chunks especially 60-90 minutes sprints filled by short breaks produces the best results among most individuals.

How the best view stress

Everyone feels stress. But what differentiates normal people from the elite performers? It’s their perception of stress. The elites are not immune to stress. They just know how to channel it properly.

Instead of viewing stress as dangerous, they know that they have to be stressed to grow. They feel the sensation of stress and pain and channel it for a more focused state of mind.

The Paradox of Rest

The prefrontal cortex is one of the most evolved parts of our brains; its complexity separates us from more primitive animals. But amygdala, the ’emotional center’ also called as “the governor” controls our most basic instincts, such as hunger and fear.

Brain scan shows that whenever novice’s continued to struggle with pain and discomfort, they experienced emotional hijack- an emotional takeover of the brain. This would cause their brains to turn off and withdraw from the stress. But the elites, even when they were feeling the pain and discomfort reacted differently. They didn’t resist pain, rather they choose to have calm conversations to turn off stress.


Our brains at rest are not completely resting. They are always working. They are forming different connections between information in your brain. That’s why new ideas emerge in the state of rest or relaxation.

Rest is not passive, rather it is something that supports growth and adaptation. In a society that glorifies grinding, short-term gains and pushing to extremes, it takes guts to rest.

Rest like the best

Not all types of rest can help you produce your best work. Some kind of rests like browsing the web can be detrimental to your performance. Here are types of rest you should include in between your sessions:

  • Walking breaks: Walking makes it easier to tap into our creative engine. Sitting is the new smoking.
  • Go in nature: Nature is a powerful being. It inherently makes us feel good and improves our mood.
  • Meditation: Who doesn’t know about this. Meditation can help you transition from stress to rest in only a couple of minutes.
  • Social recovery: We are social beings. Social connection with others can improve your mood as well as recovery.
  • Sleep: Its the most important factor responsible for performance. Sleep is the most productive thing you can do. If you don’t sleep enough, much of what you learn is lost. Sleep processes the information we gather when we are awake. It keeps what are important and discards what are not.
  • Naps: Naps are a quick way to restore your energy during the days. Naps less than 30 minutes can yield great benefits. But anything more than that may be counterproductive.
  • Extended breaks: Work smart not hard. Instead of working every day, give yourself rest. Take a day off. Disconnect from your work and similar stress.

The courage to rest

We live in a hustle culture which glorifies grinding and non-stop working, even if science says it doesn’t make sense. Guilt and anxiety can creep into your work life. But remember, you don’t have to work every hour. You can design your life to get the most out of yourself without burnout.

Optimizing your routine

Elite performers never just hope to be on the top of their game. They know hope is not a best strategy. They actively create an environment that will help them give their best performance.

Getting in the zone

Instead of doing more work before performance, elite performers use their warmup time to get into a state of physical and psychological zone that improves their performance.

Warm up your mind

A positive mood before performance can be beneficial. Prime yourself to a positive mood before your important work. Avoid people, places, and things that may put you in a negative mood. Design a preperformance routine that can help you deliver your best.

Your Environment matters

The specific places in which we work matter. The objects that surrounds us are not static rather they influence and invite specific behaviors in us.

When we see the image of chair, the part of our brains that are responsible for coordinating sitting fires up even we have not moved physically at all. It’s as if the chair is saying to us, “Come, and Sit”. Our brains listen to them and act accordingly.

Our brains are not much separate from our surroundings.

When creating your work space to practice your craft, surround yourself with objects that are necessary and eliminate the ones that do not.

To give your best, you have to be intentional about how you surround yourself. Use the same environment and same routine. This creates an automatic link in your brain for doing the work.

Minimalist to be maximalist

To get the best result out of your work, you have to minimize distractions and eliminate activities that are unnecessary to your work. Don’t let anyone interrupt you between your deep work sessions. Don’t spend energy on things that are not critical for your mission.

You have to be willing to say no and sacrifice a lot of mediocre things so that you can do the important work with all your energy. Eliminate distractions and decisions that don’t matter.

To be a maximalist in your field, you have to be a minimalist in everything else.

Decision fatigue

There’s a reason why people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, & Mark Zuckerberg use the same outfit everyday. They don’t want to spend their decision making power on deciding what to wear. Now you might be wondering, how will such a small decision impact anything.

We all have limited mental reservoir. Every time we make a deliberate decision, our brain processes different scenarios and evaluates all options. It spends energy. It also becomes depleted as the day goes on. And when its the time to make decisions that matter, we may not be as efficient as we could be.

Instead of making the right decisions, we might end up opting to the easier default choice.

The more decisions you make automatice the more energy you will have to make important decisions

Showing up

The best performers are not consistently great, but they are great at being consistent. They show up and they do the work.

Having a routine helps you to show up for what’s important. The secret of world class performers is not the daily routines they develop rather that they stick to them.


Transcend yourself

We can get superhuman strengths in life-or-death situations. Fear, fatigue, and pain all act as a protective mechanisms. Only in extra-ordinary situations we can override these defense mechansims. But other than extra-ordinary situations, there are ways in which you can harness these superhuman powers:

  • Have a purpose greater than yourself: Throughout history, people who focused on self-transcending purpose were capable of more than anyone of us would even think is possible. A self-transcending purpose can help you overcome pain, fear, and fatigue to accomplish something that seems impossible. By focusing on something beyond ourselves and reflecting on our core values, we can confront challenges and improve our performances. Being motivated by a self-transcending purpose allows an individual to endure even the toughest-the most horrific-of situations.
  • Purpose and Motivation: Linking your work with a greater purpose not only enhances everyday performance, but also on mundane tasks. Our motivation increases. And increased motivation makes us willing to tolerate more pain and discomfort. Doing something for others is a far effective than traditional incentives like money or reputation.
  • Fatigue is all in the head: Physical fatigue occurs not in the body but in the mind. Its our brains that shuts down before we still have the efforts to give. This is defense mechanism acting in our support. When you have a purpose, you can overcome this defense mechanism easily.

There is nothing that enhances the performance, vitality, and health like living on purpose. Once you have developed a purpose, you can do whatever it is you can to build a life that allows you fulfil it.

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