Peak Performance: What’s Stopping Us?
Peak performance: we all want to get there, across the board, right? Have great race results, crush it at work, meditate on the regular, have a fantastic social life and great relationships with loved ones, journal every day, be at that goal weight and eat super clean and feel amazing… The list is sort of endless.
So, what’s stopping us?
Before I open with more rambling, I’ll start by saying that I titled this when I first drafted it a full year ago (!), before I heard about the book, Peak Performance and before we had those rad authors—Brad Stuhlberg and Steve Magness—on The Consummate Athlete Podcast. But that’s not really what this post is about, though that book and interview gave me a lot to think about in terms of actually reaching said peak performance.
But why aren’t I at peak performance right now?
Because donuts are delicious and I love a good mystery novel or episode of Once Upon a Time, that’s why.
My habits, in general, are solid. (They’d better be, since we do have a guide to healthy athlete-friendly habits!) I do my yoga every morning, eat reasonably clean, train on the daily and meet article deadlines. Where I do start floundering, though, is self-imposed projects and deadlines (up to and including this blog). Things that aren’t necessarily going to pay off right now (in a decade of writing this blog, I can very honestly say that it’s my major loss-leader, even though it brings me a massive amount of satisfaction / serves as my personal form of therapy). Stuff like working on a new book project, even one that I’m super excited about, can be tough when it’s around 4 PM and I’ve been working/training for 8 or 9 hours already and everything that needs to be done to assuage other people’s agendas for me is done.
Umm… As someone who’s read the Four Tendencies book from Gretchen Rubin and for years considered herself to be an Upholder, I’m realizing I am much more in the Obliger camp. But I *want* to be an Upholder, and in plenty of areas, I am. At least, until that 4PM slump hits and my productivity—my peak performance, if you will—comes to a screeching halt.
Remember last summer when I wrote about being overwhelmed while simultaneously being underwhelmed? Yeah, that feeling keeps rearing its ugly head.
I told Peter last week that I felt like I was losing my mojo… and, to be honest, last week was a pretty chill week in terms of what I had actually due. So I started thinking…. Now that cyclocross is over and I’m not working with Aspire Racing anymore, I’m not spending hours every week booking flights/hotels/logistics, and while I don’t miss it, I realized that my productivity was so high during the racing season because whenever I was creatively exhausted and couldn’t handle the thought of working on more articles/books/etc., I could switch over to logistics and much more right-brain activities that didn’t involve as much brainpower, and, after three seasons, were pretty routine. Now, more of my work is creative, and the logistical stuff that I still have to handle is, like planning clinics and talks and doing things like newsletter design (not just the writing, the actual links/images/html) is a lot more brainpower-heavy. As in, I need to actually focus hard.
So really, I’m feeling like I’m being less productive partially because I lost some of the work that made being productive and ticking off a to-do list easy.
In the past couple weeks, I’ve being trying some new ways to kickstart my creative juices, and a few more things are coming.
Structuring My Day SMART
Since this slump at 4PM is happening a lot lately, I’ve started to try to shift my day to accomodate it. In addition to the daily habits like morning yoga, HRV monitoring, etc., I’ve started using the mornings for 2 key work things. (I should note that I use ToDoIst to keep my daily to-dos, my assignments, and broken down notes on projects, so most days, I have 20-30 tasks on there.) First, I hit the 2-5 minute tasks, like sending an email or making a super-quick set of notes for article research needs. (I really do break my task list down THAT much.) Once that’s done, I hit the due-that-day assignments, followed quickly by whatever heavy-lifting I want to do for this site, Shred Girls, or my other book projects. After that, it’s usually around noon, so I head out for whatever the day’s training is (if it’s a long workout planned, I’ll have a snack around 11). When I’m back from that, lunch, and then I have a bit more push-time before that slump will hit. And… piece de resistance, I’ve been booking more calls in the late afternoon. Honestly, once I’m interviewing someone, I tend to perk back up, and having the scheduled call makes it hard to bail and just stay in my slump.
Committing to Yoga Teacher Training
This sounds like a weird one but I wanted to drop it in because it’s been really helpful in two major ways. One is that obviously, my personal yoga practice is getting a lot better/deeper and I’m learning a ton as I go through it, and I am SO excited about it. But two is that it’s a 10-week weekend course that runs all day Saturday and Sunday. And I’m not half-assing it, so it’s getting my full attention. I’ve still been working a bit on weekend mornings, but having the course has forced me to close the laptop after an hour or two on Saturday and Sunday and go be fully immersed in the class. It’s been a really good off-switch for me. (Similar to working at /racing cyclocross and MTB races, actually!)
Giving Myself a Break
You know what? Even when I don’t feel crazy-productive, my output doesn’t suck. I’m not missing deadlines and pissing off editors. I’m not angering friends or bailing on workouts. I’m doing OK. Could I be better? Hell, yes. But it’s not the end of the world that I’m not feeling like I’m at peak performance. And you know what? Donuts ARE delicious and Once Upon a Time is a great show. Chilling out on the regular doesn’t make you a bad person, you just can’t go overboard.
Working on Anxiety Levels
I think a lot of my ennui/slump comes when I get so anxious about stuff that I actually turn off, rather than crank it up. You know when you get so anxious that you want to hide under your covers (or under the bed)? That’s how 4PM feels for me a lot of these days. So I’m trying to be more in tune with my anxiety and deal with it in the healthiest ways possible. Actually, the author of Peak Performance, Brad Stuhlberg, just wrote an AMAZING essay for Outside about his struggle with panic attacks and anxiety and it struck such a chord with me (and many others!). I’ve been lucky that my anxiety has been pretty tame comparatively (thus far) but it’s something I’m really starting to be aware of and trying to stay on top of, because I know firsthand how bad it can get.
I find that when I’m slumped, I really want to eat a ton of $hitty food, exercise seems a lot harder, and despite being tired, it’s not as easy to fall asleep. And I think this is where people get screwed, because they give in to those habits and end up making matters so much worse, compounding a mental slump with a physical one. So I’m constantly reminding myself to stay hydrated, eat more healthy meals (big salads are key!), and really stay on my training schedule. And honestly, once you start your hour of exercise, you feel better almost immediately. Ditto eating decent food, skipping that second drink, and getting to bed early. It might not feel as satisfying immediately, but it will very very soon.
Taking a Real Break
Internet fasts are HUGE right now. And I admit, I haven’t done one since last New Year’s, where I went a whole 24 hours sans phone (OK, from 5PM to 5PM, and it was on New Year’s Eve. I am BAD at this!). But I have a SICK bikepacking trip coming up next week where I’m not sure I’ll have any service for 2 days. So I’m actively planning to just get off the grid. I’ll bring a notebook and get to work on some novel outline stuff, but I’m really going to try to recharge my batteries, as opposed to my phone’s batteries, while I’m there. I’ll report back if this does any good, but I think it will. And Peter and I are in constant talks about planning a legit vacation, since while we travel a ton, we’ve never gone more than a day (and that day is always a Saturday or Sunday!) without working.
Understanding That Even a Sweet Job is a Job
Hey, don’t get me wrong. I freaking love everything that I do. But there is a stigma in the outdoor industry that makes us all feel like if we’re stressed about work or feeling at all tired of working, we’re bad people because we have the best jobs in the world. And yeah, it’s true. I freaking LOVE writing this, I love writing articles, I love writing books. But it is still work. And to be honest, it’s emotionally hard to take a break or a day away from work when you know that you’re so damn lucky to be doing it. But if you’re going to be good at writing, good at coaching, good at whatever you do, you DO need that vacation every so often.
OK, that’s enough for me for today! Let me know in the comments if this is something you’ve ever dealt with, and if so, any tips you have for getting through it!
Before you go, are you subscribed to the newsletter?