This week’s newsletter is a bit of a deviation from our regularly scheduled programming, which will resume next week. But for now, we’re excited to share an exclusive interview with Alex Hutchinson, whose new book, Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, comes out in less than two weeks.
If you enjoyed Peak Performance (the book) and enjoy this newsletter, you’ll love Endure. It’s a fascinating exploration of the limits of the human body—and, to a large extent, the human mind—that is not only intellectually stimulating, interesting, and entertaining, but also very helpful in how you think about your own limits and performance. It’s a must-read for athletes, coaches, and sports fans, but there’s also a lot in this book that is highly relevant for those looking to better understand and improve their performance off the playing field, too. Here’s our interview with Alex.
Brad and Steve: What was the biggest surprise to you in researching and reporting on Endure?
Alex: I was really surprised to see how much brain-related performance advice that felt very woo-woo to me could actually be validated in the lab. Stuff like motivational self-talk, which I laughed at as a young athlete, controlling your facial expression, and even subliminal messages, turn out to be pretty robust and “real.”
Bonus surprising detail: Alberto Salazar’s body temperature when he collapsed after the 1982 Boston Marathon was 88 F, ten degrees below normal. Try to reconcile that with the usual theories on dehydration and heat stroke!
Brad and Steve: What are three practical takeaways that people of all fitness levels—from elite athlete to someone just trying to lose weight—can use to get more out of their bodies?
Alex: The most important thing is simply to understand that limits that feel purely physical to you are, almost without exception, mediated by the brain. There are people on this earth who can hold their breath, with no trickery, for more than 11 minutes. You’ve always got more in reserve.
Second, you can change your relationship with pain. Great athletes feel pain exactly the same as the rest of us, but they respond differently. To them, discomfort is information instead of a panic signal.
Third, you can learn to control your internal narrative. Practicing self-talk so that you’re encouraging yourself instead of predicting failure makes a measurable difference in performance.
Brad and Steve: What do you see as the "next big thing" in mind-body-performance research and application?
Alex: Maybe this is too pessimistic, but I’m worried that the next big thing is techniques like transcranial direct-current stimulation. The evidence is building that you can enhance performance by running weak electric signals through your brain, but I have serious misgivings about the safety and ethics of this kind of “instant” brain boost approach. I hope I’m wrong.
Brad and Steve: What are 1-3 principles you came across in researching and reporting Endure that might apply to non-physical pursuits, like better performance in the traditional workplace or classroom?
Alex: To me, the big one is the recognition that mental fatigue is a real physiological thing. Nobody would expect to race their best after a 100-mile training week. But somehow people expect to keep their brain on overdrive and still do their best creative or cognitive work.
I also think self-talk, which I mentioned above, is as applicable to non-physical challenges as it is to physical ones. Your internal monologue impacts pretty much everything you do.
Brad and Steve: If you had to leave readers of the Peak Performance newsletter with one piece of advice, what would it be?
Alex: Endurance isn’t like a “tallest person” competition, where the outcome is predetermined. Your limits on any given day depend on how deep you’re able to dig—which is a great incentive to keep digging.
We couldn’t recommend Endure more highly. If you’re going to buy the book, please considering doing so now. We’ve learned from our own book the importance of pre-orders, and, more importantly, if you pre-order now you’ll be guaranteed to have Endure on your doorstep the day it comes out. You can pre-order from Amazon here, Barnes and Nobles here, and your local independent bookstore here.
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