Issue #12- Performance, Patience, and Purpose
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Issue #12- Performance, Patience, and Purpose

A few weeks back, Brad wrote for New York Magazine an essay on the importance of patience and stick-to-itiveness in the service of growth and the pursuit of excellence. The full piece is here, but in short:
  • Getting good at something is generally really hard and requires lots of time.
  • Any long-term progression contains inevitable periods of boredom.
  • We are hard-wired to seek novelty and stimulation, which is why “quick fixes” and “hacks” can be so appealing even though they rarely, if ever, work.
  • Elite performance, the path of mastery, just getting the most out of yourself requires patience.
But patience – which we should probably stop considering as an innate given and start considering as a valuable skill – is under an unprecedented attack.  Even though we may not realize it, modern technology (in particular our smartphones and the apps they deliver) is conditioning us to expect immediate gratification; what we want, exactly when we want it.  We can answer an obscure question (google), contact someone across the world (direct-messaging), and even land a date (tinder) instantaneously and without effort. 
While there is much about this technology that is wonderful, a significant downfall is that we are becoming less comfortable with stillness, with time and space in which seemingly nothing is happening.  One recent study showed that people would rather shock themselves electrically than sit alone without a mobile device for even just a few minutes. Shocking, we know.
This is a problem because, in the words of the late and great author George Leonard, “To learn anything significant, to make any lasting change in yourself, you must be willing to spend most of your time on the plateau.” 
Take, for example, the development of the world-class runners that Steve coaches. Their progress is almost never linear.  Rather, the norm is spending a lot of time stuck at the same level, putting in months and sometimes years of training before achieving a significant breakthrough.  The same holds true for great artists and intellects. The last 20 percent, the gap between good and great, generally takes a long time to close. (There are a number of physiological and neurological reasons as to why this is the case.)  
It’s easy to say that the moral of the story is to have patience and stick with something. But that doesn’t mean it is easy to do. Brett Bartholomew, a world-class strength and conditioning coach to many of the NFL’s best players, told us at times when he senses an athlete’s persistence and discipline is waning, he encourages them to reflect on their purpose. This is a great approach, and one we recommend everyone use. 
  • It’s quick to do: just ask yourself “why” you’re putting in the work toward a goal. (And if you can’t answer the question, then perhaps you should move on.)
  • It’s backed by science: studies show that when people reflect on their core values, they are more likely to stick with hard-to-change behaviors.
Reflecting on our purpose is so powerful not only because it gives us a boost in motivation, but also because it creates space between impulse (i.e., the desire to quit what is hard and tiresome for something easier, newer, and more exciting) and action. It reminds us that there is much about a years-long marriage – be it to a sport, a sculpture, an idea, or a person – that is better than the latest and greatest temptation. Choosing long-term growth and mastery over immediate gratification is not easy, but it’s far more fulfilling.
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“The number-one reason people don’t get results is that they don’t have the attention span to stick with something.” – Brett Bartholomew
That’s it for this edition of Peak Performance.  We hope you learned something new.  Don’t hesitate to send us your questions or comments or to reach out on Twitter @SteveMagness and @Bstulberg.
Finally, if you find this newsletter interesting and useful, please share with your friends and colleagues.
Brad and Steve

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