Brad Stulberg: Greatness doesn't come from a few heroic efforts

Interview by Ruaidhri Marshall @Ruary_M

There has always been motivational public speakers and writers within the sports industry that persist with their message of striving for greatness, giving 100% no matter what and mantras preaching on how to reach your ultimate goal in life.  In this article, I interview Brad Stulberg, researcher, writer, and life coach specialising in the science of human performance.

Brad Stulberg is a current columnist for Outside Magazine’s Do it better column. He has also written for other distinguished publications including The New York Times, Wired, Sports illustrated and The Huffington Post to name a few. He is also the co-writer for the acclaimed self-help book Peak Performance, a book made in conjunction with Steve Magness, author of Science of Running.

Brad is well known for his ability to integrate the latest research in sports science with his own personal stories to help readers reach their own peak performance.

In this interview, he talks: how to reach a high level of success without burning yourself out, world class performers and future projects…

Your book Peak Performance is a real eye opener when it comes to the idea of burnout and overworking. Why is it important to unplug from work, and what can people do to effectively reset and rest?

Stress + Rest = Growth, whether physical, psychological, or spiritual. We often think that taking on a challenge is where growth occurs. But that's not true. Growth occurs during the period of rest, recovery, and reflection that follows a challenge. If we just go from challenge to challenge without these periods in between, we miss a key ingredient to growth, or worse yet, we risk burning out. Especially in western cultures, people tend to view rest as passive or as a sacrifice from doing more work. But rest is very active. It is during rest that the mind-body system undergoes all sorts of processes to grow. Rest isn't separate from the work. Rest IS the work.

Reading some of your work online, I can’t help but notice some interesting, slightly unconventional talking points. Could you expand on what you mean by, ‘it isn’t about being consistently great; it’s about being great at being consistent’ and how that ties into the idea of how striving for great might be what holds people back?

 Greatness doesn't come from a few heroic efforts. It comes from showing up and being good enough day in and day out over a long period of time.This mindset lessens the risk of injury—emotional and physical—since there isn’t a perceived need to put forth heroic efforts every day. The result is more consistent performance that compounds over time. Research shows that sustainable progress, in everything from diet to fitness to creativity, isn’t about being consistently great; it’s about being great at being consistent. It’s about being good enough over and over again. This is why showing up and taking a long view are two really important inputs to growth and great performance.

‘‘Greatness doesn't come from a few heroic efforts.’’

During your career, you’ve been in discussion with some world class athletes at the top of their game, from big wave surfers to Olympians to record holding free hand climbers. To reach their level of peak performance, their level of success, I wonder if there is one sticking point or aspect of their mindset that they all share. Is there a key factor that people overlook or underrate?

Community. That's the secret sauce. No one who is great is great alone. They are great because they are supported by a community. World-class performers also tend to be what I've come to call "pushers." They struggle to be content. This is a gift and a curse: a gift because it can fuel incredible, world-class performance; a curse because it's kind of nice to just be happy with where you are, and lots of world-class performers struggle with this. They are always working toward or thinking about the next thing. This isn't good or bad. It just is.

If you could recommend one book (other than your own!) for people to read before you die what would it be and why?

 I love reading so it's very hard for me to narrow this down to a single book, especially because every book I read is -- at least in my head -- connected to all the books that came before it and those that will come after it. But if I had to, I'd probably say, at least right now, The Art of Living by Thich Nhat Hanh. He is such a wise soul. His teachings are timeless and applicable to everyone in every situation.


Being a performance coach for a range of clients, from athletes to entrepreneurs. Where do you start when trying to help them reach their full potential?

 Acceptance of where someone is. Not where they think they should be. Not where they want to be. Not where others want them to be. But where they truly are. It's wild how many people don't start from here. But you can't make real progress if you don't start from where you really, truly are.


In an age where mental illness is thankfully is less stigmatised and more openly talked about, it was sincere to read your article for Outside Magazine on your battle with mental illness. How does your experience with coaching mental toughness and writing on human performance correspond with your own battle with anxiety?

I know have a whole new understanding of what anxiety and depression mean. I used to think anxiety was what I felt before a big event, or that depression was a string of sad days. But man was I wrong. A close friend who has bipolar disorder told me that having a serious mental health disorder can feel like being on one side of a river when everyone else is on the other side. I used to be on the other side. I thought I knew what anxiety was and could look across the river and see it, but it wasn’t until I crossed for myself and experienced the worst of it that I had any real idea of just how debilitating it can be. All of this has led me to be much less judgmental: toward others and toward myself. I also think therapists do great work. I'm so thankful to mine. One year after the stark onset of my OCD it's amazing to look back and think where I was -- basically scared to be alone -- and where I am now, much, much better. None of this would have been possible without my therapist. 


Have you got any projects for the future lined up, maybe another book you are working on that you would like to shed light on?

 I've got a new book coming out in March 2019, also co-written with Steve Magness. It's called The Passion Paradox and it's about how passion is a gift and a curse and how there are skillful and unskillful ways to harness and manage passion. Also, it calls bullshit on the whole "strive for balance" movement. I think balance is an illusion. The key to living a good life is to find passion and follow it but also -- and this is just as important -- have enough self-awareness to know when to pull back and experience some ease and joy too. This is a big challenge but one worth undertaking. Steve and I wrote the book to try and figure out the best way to go about it.

Many Thanks to Brad Stulberg, to purchase his award winning book, Peak Preformance on Amazon visit:

Make sure to follow him at @BStulberg on Twitter!