Peak Performance by Brad Stulburg and Steve Magness [Book Summary & PDF]

Peak Performance by Brad Stulburg and Steve Magness is a great, inspirational read. There is a heavy focus on sport but this book is not just for athletes. All of the messages are relevant to anyone who wants to succeed in life, no matter what their path.





Who is this book for?

This is a great little book, quite inspirational in parts, but who is it for? Although the majority of examples in the book are taken from the world of sport, there is much in the work that can successfully be applied to any sphere of human activity. The book is definitely not only for sports people but also for anyone who wants to succeed in literally- anything.

About the authors

The authors are Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness. Brad is a very successful writer and Steve is a talented, professional sports coach. Brad entered the world of business believing that he was unstoppable and regarded as a wunderkind. Steve started as a dedicated athlete who believed, like so many young sports people, that he could conquer the world. Both got success by the principles revealed in this book.

However fast forward a few years, the success that both young men aimed for in business and athletics eluded them, but as writer and coach, for that's what they became, they were very successful. Together, they pondered and wrote this book about what can assist in the quest for success.

In this summary

In this book, there are three sections covered: the first is called, The Growth Equation, and is divided into five chapters: 1. The secret to sustainable success 2. Rethinking stress 3. Stress yourself 4. The paradox of rest 5. Rest like the best. The second section, Priming, has two chapters: 6. Optimize your routine 7. Minimalist to be a maximalist And the final section, Purpose, also has two chapters: 8. Transcend yourself 9. Develop your purpose



The secret to sustainable success

This entire chapter is devoted to the following idea, ” The key to strengthening any muscle, be it physical, mental or emotional is balancing the right amount of stress with the right amount of rest. Stress plus rest equals growth. This equation always is true irrespective of what it is that you are trying to achieve.”

Rethinking stress

Stress is the body's reaction to challenge. The human mind is divided into two systems of thinking. System 1 covers tasks that are automatically done and ordinary people doing ordinary things only use this system. System 2 is the part of the mind we use to get improvement. Those who aspire to higher things and places must work System 2 frequently. They must push themselves to the limits, and sometimes even further.

Here are the key points those who desire peak performance must adhere to:

• Embrace stress-it stimulates growth

• Developing a new skill requires effort and this skill comes from struggle

• When you struggle, system two works and true development is happening

• Fail productively and only seek support after you have allowed yourself to struggle

• No matter what activity you do you must seek challenges that just exceed your ability to do it

• If you are in complete control then make the next challenge a little bit harder

• If you feel anxious or are so excited that you are unable to focus then you are attempting too much and you should tone things down a bit.


This chapter follows on from its predecessor and develops the idea that stress properly handled is the hallmark of the great performer. Experts use practice sessions to go beyond where they have been. It is not the hours they put into their skill, it's what they put in the hours.

• They focus

• They are not distracted

• They avoid multitasking

The paradox of rest

An important component of peak performance is rest. When we rest, not only do we recover, but problems, which were insoluble, while working are often solved. We have eureka moments. Examples are given in the book from technology, mathematics, and sport among others to confirm this.

A particularly beneficial type of rest is that gained through mindfulness meditation. The performance of this is very simple the benefits though are massive, to the extent that many companies and organizations such as Google are establishing in-house mindful meditation courses and sessions for the employees.

Here is how the book recommends doing this.

  • Find a time when you are not distracted or likely to be
  • Sit comfortably in a quiet place
  • Use a timer so that you do not have to worry about time
  • Start by breathing deeply in and out using your nose
  • Let your breath settle into its natural rhythm and let your focus be on nothing except the sensation of breathing, noticing the fall and the rise of your stomach with each breath. If thoughts arise then notice them but don't dwell on them
  • Keep your focus on the sensation of the breath
  • Start with a meditation of only one minute and gradually increase the length that you are doing this
  • Practice this often.

Rest like the best

The previous chapter examined the importance of rest generally and the benefits of mindfulness meditation, as a form of rest which is greatly beneficial. This chapter builds on this and describes other important rests.

There is an abundance of research, which shows that bursts of activity, either mental or physical, are ideally followed by intervals of rest. These intervals of rest are best if they involve mild exercise outdoors, preferably in natural surroundings. As well as this, sleep and plenty of it is essential for good health. In addition to sleep, naps during the day are of great benefit. In addition, holidays should always be taken and not worked through. Complete breaks from competition, hard exercise or demanding work are of great importance.


Optimize your routine

Most people are familiar with the warm-ups that athletes go through in order to maximize their bodies' output. As well as sports people, top performers in other fields from music to teaching often have routines they go through in order to achieve maximum return. Often these warm-ups do not involve the activity in which the person is going to perform. Pre-activity routines could be as mundane as drinking a certain sort of coffee or listening to a certain type of music, however, these things assume great importance and the important thing is that these routines must be adhered to. Sometimes a coach will find that his or her team will require individualized routines in order to prepare the team for the best performance later on.

  • Prime your self for peak performance by finding what works for you, as you get ready to compete, perform or work
  • Once you have found this ideal warm-up then you must do it consistently
  • Be positive-mood affects outcome


This chapter is in many ways the most important in the book. It touches on four distinct ideas, which are of great importance to anyone desirous of maximum success. The first idea is the realization that brains are muscles and they should not use energy in unimportant or peripheral tasks. The second is that some people work best in the morning; they are often called larks. Others work best in the evenings; they are called owls. It is important that you know, which category you fit into and perform your important work either in the morning or in the evening. The third is to choose your friends and associates wisely and to be a very positive person. If you want to be a loser then hang around with losers and don't let your bad mood rub off on others. Although the book does not say this, it certainly implies it. The final one is that top performers show up. They don't only do the easy tasks; they do everything. They have iron wills and great self-discipline.


Transcend yourself

In this chapter, a number of examples are given of people who found powers they should not have had and been able to do what can only be called superhuman feats. Such people experience a moment of what the book calls transcendence.

Unlike previous chapters that provided recipes and advice, this chapter simply observes that a person is more likely to have a transcendent experience if they believe that what they are doing is more important than their own themselves and wishes. When this happens often they are able to dig within themselves and find what is required.

The words of Victor Frankel, a Holocaust survivor, are very appropriate,” The more one forgets himself–by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love–the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side effect of self-transcendence. ”


In this final chapter, the reader is helped to develop his or her own purpose. The steps that the book suggests and gives advice on are:

• Selecting core values

• Personalizing the core values

• Ranking the core values

• Writing a purpose statement

• Harnessing the power of your purpose

• Visual Cues

• Self-talk

• Daily reflection

• A purpose-driven life

The final sentence in the book comes from Ryan Hall, America's best ever a marathon runner,

” Living out your purpose is the best feeling in the world.”


Key Takeaways

• Stress plus rest equals growth

• The power of developing optimal routines and designing your day

• We can all succeed. There are rules by which it can be done, but where you succeed may not be where you first thought you would.

• Top performers show up. They have iron-will and great self-discipline.

• Bursts of concentrated activity alternated by short breaks are ideal for achieving peak performance

• The short breaks should be outdoors in as natural a condition as possible

• The correct amount of sleep is essential

• Napping is beneficial

• Holidays should be taken

Further Reading

Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson is another excellent read and contribution to the new era of work. Remote: Office Not Required is an examination of the emerging trend of remote working. They discuss the benefits of working remotely for both the employer and employee while examining common excuses. Remote offers plenty of advice on how to get your company started on having remote employees and also advice on how to manage your work if you are a remote employee. A great all-around guide to the new way to work!

Tim Ferriss’ The 4 Hour Work Week gives you a perspective on creating a lifestyle where you work less and have an automated, passive income.

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