#95: Peak Performance And The Formula For Growth With Brad Stulberg
Dave Gerhardt: On this episode of Seeking Wisdom, we sat down with Brad Stulberg. Brad is the author of a new book called Peak Performance, which Arianna Huffington called an essential playbook for success, happiness and getting the most out of ourselves. Pretty good, right? Brad was a consultant at McKinsey before diving into the world of personal and professional growth. Now, he has a business where he coaches top CEOs when he's not busy writing for New York Magazine, The New York Times, Outside Magazine and a bunch of other places. Brad actually caught DC's attention when he wrote an article about work- life balance and the myth of work- life balance at the end of the summer for The New York Times. We tweeted at Brad and said, " Hey, it'd be awesome to have you come on the podcast. We think this would be a great topic." He said, " Let's do it," and so we met up with Brad a couple weeks ago when we were out in San Francisco. We went over to Brad's apartment in Oakland to record this episode. I think you're going to love it. It's a little different take. It's all about personal and professional growth, not really a marketing and sales conversation, but that's what Seeking Wisdom is all about. I think you're going to love it. In particular, the thing that I love with Brad's formula which is stress plus rest equals growth and we talked a lot about that on this episode. Don't forget to subscribe on Apple Podcasts if you haven't already and say hey on Twitter. I'm @ davegerhardt and David aka DC is @ dcancel. All right, let's get into this episode of Seeking Wisdom, Episode Number 95 with Brad Stulberg. All right, this is cool.
Brad Stulberg: Let's roll.
Dave Gerhardt: A bunch of them.
David Cancel: All right.
Dave Gerhardt: We have-
David Cancel: That's true.
Dave Gerhardt: We got a special guest. We have the same haircut.
Brad Stulberg: Lack of hair.
Dave Gerhardt: Lack of haircut. We have a special guest today on Seeking Wisdom. We're live in Oakland. This a new location.
David Cancel: Oakland, California.
Dave Gerhardt: A new location for us, so we're live in Oakland. I'd pull together a couple notes, we got a couple of things, but I was just reading-
David Cancel: You're the notetaker of the crosstalk.
Dave Gerhardt: I'm the notetaker. He just rants. This is going to be my intro, which is like, this guy that we're about to talk to, I'm about to introduce, you have raving, you might call them five- star reviews, I think, which we get a lot of on this podcast. People like Arianna Huffington, Dick Costolo, Ryan Holiday, Daniel Pink, Adam Grant, our boy Rich Roll, these are all people crosstalk. You're an author of a new book, frequent writer for New York Magazine, Outside magazine and Human Performance. You're a coach, former McKinsey consultant, Brad Stolberg, thank you for being here in your apartment.
Brad Stulberg: Thank you for joining me and having me on the show. I really like you guys' show, so I'm stoked to be on it.
David Cancel: I'm super excited. I ran into... Do you want to talk about the article about crosstalk?
Dave Gerhardt: I want you to talk about the article because I thought you wrote it. crosstalk.
Brad Stulberg: We're kindred spirits here.
Dave Gerhardt: I was sitting on the couch looking at Twitter. I'm like, " DC, he's in my Snapchat, Instagram, email, Slack, text message and now he's writing ghostwritten articles in The New York Times?" and sent them to me.
David Cancel: I didn't know how I came across the article. It might have been through Twitter. I see this article about work- life balance. Of course, I have to click on it immediately because this is a hot topic I talk about all the time or rant about all the time. Then I read this article, I'm like, " Holy shit, this guy is, one, so much smarter because he was able to eloquently put this in something that I always rant about." I sent that off to Dave and it did look like something that I had written. Totally kindred spirits.
Dave Gerhardt: It was funny because we had just talked about something similar on Seeking Wisdom and it's funny because we've probably done 15 episodes on work- life balance. There's so many things we can talk about, but let's start there. This is how we got connected. About a month ago, you wrote this thing for The New York Times, right?
Brad Stulberg: Yup.
Dave Gerhardt: What was it?
Brad Stulberg: It was a story about work- life balance, but it actually made the point that this notion of balance that is so commonly talked about in the culture is, I think, an illusion or maybe not an illusion but not something that we ought to strive for.
David Cancel: Love it.
Brad Stulberg: To me, work- life balance is it's generally spoken about it's like going through the motions, right? You clock in, you clock out, you have your hobby, you have your family time, you go to sleep, you wake up, you repeat. That's very, very different from going all in on something and being super passionate about what you're doing. I started thinking, the times in my life when I've been most happy and alive have been the times when I've been the least balanced. When I was writing a book, the only thing on my mind, I'd wake up in the middle of the night, jot down notes, my runs were dedicated to writing a book. That was it. I couldn't really even be in public. It's like I developed a social disorder because of my book which is, "That was it." It was all consuming. I spent a summer hiking in the Himalayas during that time period. That was the only thing I was focused on, right? No devices, no, nothing, super happy. I'm falling in love with my wife. At least in my relationship, there's a six- month period where you just know that she's the one. I wasn't thinking about anything else. During these times in my life, I had no balance. I was completely consumed. I was thinking, " Work- life balance, maybe it's the wrong thing. Maybe what we should be striving for is to find the things that we're passionate about and to go all in," but then I started thinking, " Well, wait a minute. That can be dangerous too because if you go all in without the awareness of what you're going all in on or what you're sacrificing as a result, you can come out the other end of it with all kinds of regrets." In a nutshell, the essay was just me dumping my brain for The New York Times which is wild in and of itself, but where I came out is like that, " We shouldn't strive for balance. We should strive to pursue things that we're passionate about, but to do it with the self- awareness to evaluate the tradeoffs along the way.
Dave Gerhardt: Why could we have a podcast called Work- Life Balance and talk about every day? Why do you think this is something that-
David Cancel: Why do you think it's such a hot topic?
Dave Gerhardt: It's such a hot topic, it's always come up, it's always been a thing and people still can't figure it out. Why do you think that always comes up?
David Cancel: I have no idea why we have this need to always harp on this thing, but I think my view on it, and I love one thing that Brad said at the very end which is this important footnote which is having this being aware of when you're in and out of bounds because I think for a lot of people that's the missing part and I'd love to talk more about that. I think in terms of why people bring it up all the time is I think people have been sold some Hollywood story about, " That my life is supposed to be some 1950s. I work exactly eight hours a day, never 8: 01 hours per day and then I go home and I play with the kids for exactly one hour."
Dave Gerhardt: It's like a script.
David Cancel: It's like a script. " Then I talk to my wife for 30 minutes and then I go to sleep for exactly eight hours and then I get up and exactly work out for 43 minutes." I don't know. Everyone's been sold this story and then no one can live up to that story.
Brad Stulberg: Right. People think that that's the path to happiness, but then they're not happy because they're failing to live up to that story.
Dave Gerhardt: Then like, God forbid, one of those things get thrown out of balance. They'd be like, " Oh, my god, what am I supposed to do today? This was supposed to be my 43 minutes to work out and do whatever."
David Cancel: I only had 40 minutes to work out now.
Dave Gerhardt: I wish we could play this video right now. We work in this building and there's a huge company that is next to ours. We have roughly 50 employees. We're early stage company. This company, huge, publicly traded company and every day at 5: 01, we have two escalators outside, the whole company just pours out of there. Every time like I've gone for a walk with him or he'll just text me or I'll see him out, I know that drives him insane because-
David Cancel: Hundreds if not thousands of people.
Dave Gerhardt: Hundreds, just literally 5: 01, " Boop," time to go.
Brad Stulberg: Which to me means like, " What's going through their minds at 4: 50?"
David Cancel: Exactly.
Brad Stulberg: Forget for the company, for themselves. That, again, to each their own, I really try to be values neutral in having these conversations, but sorry, that's my water crosstalk...
Dave Gerhardt: No you're good.
Brad Stulberg: ...was going to do that.
David Cancel: These are great.
Brad Stulberg: The try to be values neutral in having these conversations because maybe that lifestyle is better. Where I find myself struggling personally is someone that I call it pusher, is I struggle to be content. Sometimes, I have envy for people they can just have that balance and be content and not want to push to the next thing, but yeah, in my opinion, coming back to those times I felt most alive, it's when you're not looking at the clock to see when 4: 45, 4:50 rolls around, but when you're engrossed in what you're doing and someone's actually having to pull you away from it.
David Cancel: Totally, I'm in such a similar personality because to me when I see them and teach their own, the only thought that goes through my head is, " Wow, how?" That seems like they're working in a jail, right? This is a prison sentence that they have, and every day, they have to wait until 4: 53, " I must get on the elevator by 4: 53 to make it down because it takes me seven minutes to get downstairs and I need to be going on this escalator at 5: 01. If not, things are not going to be great."
Dave Gerhardt: How did you get into this? How did you get into this world? You were at McKinsey, you were a consultant?
Brad Stulberg: Yeah.
Dave Gerhardt: So you went to Michigan?
Brad Stulberg: I went to Michigan. I was a consultant at McKinsey. Went back to Michigan for graduate school. Studied public health and became really interested in just wellness. Not necessarily fixing disease but making people healthy and thrive. If I had more patients, I would have probably done some research and may be pursued a PhD, but instead, I became a writer which is like the PhD without the research...
David Cancel: Without the research.
Brad Stulberg: ...and without the degree. Since that, I've covered pretty extensively psychology, health and science and then based on just personal interest and the circles that I've been in through my life. It's gotten more narrow into what I call human performance, which again, if you're not healthy, you can't perform at the top of your game. If you are performing at the top of your game, you generally feel pretty good. To me that there's tons of overlap between the two.
David Cancel: Where are you in the spectrum on mindset and human performance? Are you just on the pure mindset nonphysical part of it or are you all the way on the other side, Ben Greenfield like-
Brad Stulberg: I'm not all the way on the other side. I know enough physiologically to be dangerous, but my wheelhouse is more mindset. I also coach a handful of athletes, entrepreneurs and some executives. That's all mindset stuff. Would I feel comfortable writing a training plan for a runner? Yeah, but that's not my expertise.
David Cancel: How did you zero in on the mindset part of things?
Brad Stulberg: It's just what interests me. I've always followed my interests. I think that there hasn't been that much focus on the mindset side of things, so there's some more fertile ground to explore. I think there's more novelty there versus the physiology. That said, like I say, there's novelty there and so many of my principles of how I think about mindset go back to the stoics which is just like 2, 000 years ago. How much novelty really is-
Dave Gerhardt: Let's go into this mindset thing because we talked about this a lot, but we haven't done an episode when we talk a lot about mindset. I saw you reading, you got some stoicism that you're following now back. What is your philosophy on mindset if you had to start there?
Brad Stulberg: Stress plus rest equals growth, it's a section in my book and it's really how I try to live.
Dave Gerhardt: Stress plus rest equals growth.
Brad Stulberg: Which is, if you think about, I know we said we're not going to do physiology, we're going to do mindset, but let me just take a quick detour to physiology.
Dave Gerhardt: We can do both.
Brad Stulberg: If you think about how you make physiological muscles stronger like the bicep muscle on your arm, you have to stress it, right? You have to lift a weight, then breaks the muscle down and tears it, but if you lift way too heavy of a weight, what happens? You end up getting injured and you tear your bicep tendon. If you lift a two- pound weight, you could sit there all day and nothing's going to happen. You have to find a way that works your muscle just about to fatigue, embarrasses it but doesn't totally crush it. That's step one. That's the sweet spot weight. Step two is if you just lift that weight all day every day, you're going to end up literally burnt out. What you need to do is you need to find that weight that stresses the muscle to get a stimulus, but then rest and recover in between sessions, so the muscle gets stronger. I think that that is a pattern that holds true for everything, for how to grow cognitively, how to grow creatively, how to grow emotionally, how to grow in a relationship, even how to grow a company
Dave Gerhardt: What do you like? What do you love?
David Cancel: I love it because it's something that we were talking about before we started to record was that the fascinating thing to me is that all these patterns are the same, right? One of the things that we talked about at Drift, which is our company, is that our values, just us as the founding team, is this work hard, play harder, right? It's not about this false sense of balance, but it's like, " When we're here, we're going to work hard, we're going to go for it, but equally, we need to rest and recover and we need to do that hard.
Brad Stulberg: This is something that back to patterns, this is something that elite athletes have nailed and I feel like people that have more elite cerebral have not yet nailed. What happens with athletes is you keep your hard days really hard and your easy days really easy. Stress, rest, growth. Otherwise, you get stuck in this middle zone where your hard days are never that hard because they can't be because you didn't take your easy days easy and that middle zone is where careers are ruined and you stagnate. How I like to think about it, whether we're talking about athletes or a corporate athlete or a creative, someone that works with their mind is that too much stress without enough rest leads to injury, illness burnout. Not enough stress, too much rest is complacency stagnation. Again, I think that you could scale this all the way up to how organizations function.
David Cancel: I totally agree. What do you see is the commonality now that you have clients that are both athletes, elite athletes and entrepreneurs, CEOs? Is there 100% overlap? Is there just common patterns that you see?
Brad Stulberg: I think that the most common pattern is intrinsically motivated driven people. It's not about stressing more. It's about holding them back and making sure that they respect the rest.
David Cancel: So the rest part, right?
Brad Stulberg: Yeah.
David Cancel: They have the stress, they're good at the stress, the people that are coming to you.
Brad Stulberg: Right and helping them reframe rest is not being something that is separate from the work, but a part of the work.
Dave Gerhardt: This is like-
Brad Stulberg: I think that's a subtle shift because if you think of rest like, " I'm going to step away from work to go on a day hike in Yosemite," or, " I'm just tired, so I'm going to sleep 10 hours tonight even though I was supposed to do work," that is like you're sacrificing work to rest, but if you've shift your mindset and think of it in the stress plus rest equals growth, it's all a part of the same cycle and the same thing, so then that day hike in Yosemite isn't a luxury of missing work. It's like, " Odds are, I'm going to have 10 creative thoughts on that hike that are going to be the best thing for my work and I'm going to feel better. If I feel better, I'll do better work."
David Cancel: What a key part in there for me is that by flipping it, you're removing the guilt, right? You're removing this guilt factor that someone might have of like, "Oh, I'm skipping work to go to Yosemite," which guilt leads to more stress, so they're piling on the stress.
Brad Stulberg: Totally. I would just ask both of you and then I guess listeners, I know myself. I have had all of my best ideas not while I've been actively working on the thing. My best ideas come to me when I'm on vacation, when I'm out for a run, when I'm just chilling out. It's not like I'm actively trying to problem solve. When I go on a run, I just let my mind go, but I solve problems that I literally for three weeks had been thinking about and could not solve. I am so convinced of the value of stepping away and rest that to me not resting is sacrificing good work.
David Cancel: Totally. The way I think about that is that or the way I interpret that is that the stress was both were equally important, right? The stress was important because it was what got your brain thinking about this and that got you thinking about this, but then the recovery gave you the space away from it's actually process something that you had been going through, right? It's not if you only had rest and no active stress that you're coming up with these ideas.
Brad Stulberg: It's interesting that you go there. In the creativity research on the prevailing theory of how creativity works is exactly what you just said. It's three stages. You have immersion which is you're actively problem solving, thinking about what you're working on at the whiteboard, you have incubation, which is now you've primed your brain, so you let it sit and then you have insight which is that aha moment. In a very micro level. This is why people tend to have breakthrough thoughts in the shower because you've been working on something all day, there's a way your subconscious mind turns on, aha.
David Cancel: It wasn't the shower.
Brad Stulberg: No.
Dave Gerhardt: We talked about this a lot and one of the favorite... There's like this David Ogilvy, this old school copywriter, one of the best creative guys ever. He has this thing where he's like, " The secret to good ideas is you feed your brain with all that information and then you unhook your subconsciousness." That could be you're reading a ton of books, listen to podcast, writing a lot. You're not actively thinking about that problem. You're constantly doing work. Then when you're playing golf on a Saturday morning, riding your mountain bike, working out, going for a run, that's when that idea hits you because you've unhooked that subconsciousness but the stress part is feeding that brain. That's why we talk about like learning so much and just consuming the best people that we work with, and the smartest people are like the ones who are always learning and always consuming information because that's when that's when you unhook this ability to create ideas. I know, for me, personally, I never read books. I never cared about that stuff, but in the last couple years, I really doubled down on learning, he pushed me to read a lot and learn a lot, and now, it's never been easier for me. I feel like I have more good ideas now than I ever had and that's a competitive advantage. What I noticed is it's because I'm reading all the time and learning all the time that when we're in the Uber on the way over here, I'm like, " Oh, yeah, what if we did this thing?" That's a direct product of that, right?
Brad Stulberg: Yeah, totally. You're priming your brain, and then when you step away, it just does its thing does its thing.
David Cancel: Does its thing. What led you to write the book? What was the sequence?
Brad Stulberg: I burned out pretty hard at McKinsey before I knew about this stuff. I was one of those people that no one really held back and just became apathetic and physically wasn't in a great spot. I started-
Dave Gerhardt: How much were you working?
David Cancel: Tell him, he hasn't been around McKinsey people before.
Brad Stulberg: No, we have like a lot. I don't want to lionize it, probably 16 to 18 hours most days. If you were to exercise, you're not sleeping much. If you were to have some time on the phone, just it wasn't sustainable. Some of it was by choice. I can't blame McKinsey. McKinsey is actually a pretty great place. It was more me. You could always be doing more, so I was always doing more. I probably could have worked 10 hours a day. I feel like me now at age, how old am I, 31 is so much more mature than I was when I was right out of school and I thought like maybe had a fragile ego. It's like, "You got to work, work, work, work, work and prove myself, prove myself."
David Cancel: You're around other competitive people, other super smart.
Brad Stulberg: I was working a lot. I burnt out pretty hard. Then I started learning the stuff. I guess the real point of the book is to help people avoid the traps that I fell into and not only achieve peak performance, but do it in a way that's sustainable and that they can feel good about because if you can't feel good about it, then it's not going to be sustainable.
David Cancel: Your lowest point post- McKinsey, what was your journey? What was the hero's journey for you?
Brad Stulberg: I think my lowest point was probably, I had some physical symptoms. My hands and feet were always cold, just crazy cortisol response. It wasn't healthy and I knew that.
David Cancel: Sure, your body's saying stuff.
Dave Gerhardt: Was it hard for you to be... Because I'm assuming you didn't just discover working out now. I'm assuming you had been working out and running your whole life and then when you went to McKinsey, you just had to turn that off-
Brad Stulberg: No, I kept that on. It was probably sleep that I sacrificed.
Dave Gerhardt: You didn't sacrifice the working out part.
Brad Stulberg: Right, totally.
David Cancel: It was just all stress.
Brad Stulberg: Exactly.
David Cancel: No recover.
Brad Stulberg: No recovery. I went to graduate school and that was my pivot point and I wanted to study public health because at McKinsey, I worked on a lot of healthcare projects and I really like healthcare. Again, I have, I'm not just saying this to be politically correct, McKinsey is a great spot. I learned so much. I learned how to think. I learned how to problem solve. It was more me. I didn't have the tools to turn off the drive, but whatever is worth, I ended up pretty burnt out. Then when I went to public health school, I thought I'd study like healthcare economics and policy, but I became really interested, like I said, by more of the not disease fixing but thriving and wellness and started writing about that following graduate school and have built a little niche in that area.
David Cancel: What's your habits that you have every day to ensure that you are at peak performance? What's your-
Brad Stulberg: I try to practice what I preach. I shoot between 50% and 70% probably, which isn't terrible, but it could be better. I'm human. Exercise is just absolutely huge for me. I have a daily physical practice. Generally, it's running. If I don't run, I'll lift weights, but just some exercise.
Dave Gerhardt: For how long and when?
Brad Stulberg: I do it in the morning.
Dave Gerhardt: What'd you do this morning?
Brad Stulberg: This morning, I did a seven- mile run and then 20 minutes of just hamstring rehab, so just some weights after.
Dave Gerhardt: What time?
Brad Stulberg: Generally, and this morning was general like 7: 30 to 9: 00. I wake up really early, 5: 30 to 6: 00, that's when my thinking is the clearest. I'll putting an hour to an hour and a half of deep focus work. Then I'll go exercise which sets me up for the rest of the day.
Dave Gerhardt: 5: 30 alarm goes off, you roll out of bed, open up the laptop and start writing?
Brad Stulberg: No, not necessarily. It can be reading. It can be editing what I did the day before. Sometimes it's writing. When I wake up, my brain just starts and I follow it. Sometimes, it can just be even reading for pleasure, but in that hour, as a writer, reading for pleasure feeds into the work.
David Cancel: Totally.
Dave Gerhardt: But that's an intentional decision, is you know you're going to work out at 7: 00, you could wake up at 6: 30, stretch for 20 minutes and then go run, but you make the decision to get up at 5: 30 to have that extra-
Brad Stulberg: Yeah, it's when I feel about it, but I'm not forcing myself. That's just when I feel yesterday. Physical practice is one big thing. Sleep, I try to sleep eight hours a night. I think sleep is super important. That's the other thing. Then just recently, and I write about this a ton in my book and I haven't really had it stick, but just recently, I've started to meditate more frequently.
David Cancel: What form?
Brad Stulberg: Mindfulness meditation and using the Headspace app.
David Cancel: Headspace.
Brad Stulberg: Over the past month, I've had some very out of nowhere rise in blood pressure and it's probably I'm just like stress, stress, stress and-
Dave Gerhardt: You get a physical feeling?
Brad Stulberg: A little bit. I know that intellectually, mindfulness works because I've written about it and I've always told myself like, " Well, running is my meditation."
David Cancel: It's different.
Brad Stulberg: But it's different. I've started to now meditate two by 10 minutes a day, just over the last month, but I've been sticking with it.
David Cancel: Two times a day, 10 minutes.
Brad Stulberg: Two times a day, 10 minutes.
David Cancel: It's spaced out like morning- evening kind of thing-
Brad Stulberg: Yeah, at least a few hours between the two, morning and evening.
Dave Gerhardt: I was going to say I never believed in the meditation stuff, and this winter, I started to do it. I stopped doing it since, but just like my wife was pregnant, work was crazy, we're having a baby, trying to move into an apartment and I had this internal anxiety where you just feel like, " Oh, that's weird." I was like, "You know what? I'm going to download Headspace and I'm going to see what happens." I just was started starting my day with Andy and his pleasant voice-
Brad Stulberg: This gets turned into a plug for Headspace. You can just sit there and listen. The real app should just be Andy Puddicombe talking to you for 10 minutes.
Dave Gerhardt: I want him to narrate my life.
David Cancel: My wife does it. I do box breathing. I don't know if you've tried box breathing.
Brad Stulberg: No.
David Cancel: It's an app. I learned about it from, I forgot his last name, but he's got this thing called SEALFIT down in-
Brad Stulberg: Mark-
David Cancel: What's his last name? I can't remember.
Dave Gerhardt: Mark, we'll find it. We'll put it in the show notes.
David Cancel: Put it. I've read his book before. He's got like this mindfulness.
Brad Stulberg: Mark Sisson.
David Cancel: No, it's a different one.
Brad Stulberg: Anyways.
David Cancel: That's the paleo guy, but anyway, he's got this box breathing app and he had talked about it a lot. It's not his app. It's just a method. Basically what you do is it has progression built into it which is great for people probably like us and so who obsess around progress. Basically what you do, it's a breathing pattern that forms a box and you start out with, let's say, two seconds and you hold your breath for two seconds, you breathe out for two seconds, you breathe in for two seconds and you hold your breath again for two seconds and you keep completing the box. Then what you're doing over time is going longer. Now it's three seconds. Now it's four seconds. Now it's 10 seconds.
Brad Stulberg: crosstalk.
David Cancel: What I like about it for me is because I had tried Headspace and some other mindfulness apps like Ten Percent Happier and the act of listening and trying to process his voice which is amazing was too distracting for me and I needed something that was active.
Dave Gerhardt: Just totally in your breath.
David Cancel: Exactly. You're so in your breath because you're trying to follow the box pattern that you tune out everything, that you just lost in repeating the pattern over and over again. For me, that was good.
Dave Gerhardt: That other thing that you said that I liked about that too was that with Headspace, the hard part is to, let's say you're about to go on stage and speak or you're about to do something and that might get your heart rate up a little bit. It's harder to just sit down for 10 minutes. I haven't done as much of the boxing breathing, but I like the idea of like, " Oh, shit, I'm about to do something that's going to induce a lot of anxiety."
David Cancel: "Let's make like four boxes."
Dave Gerhardt: Exactly. I could do this for a minute or something like that.
David Cancel: You could do it anywhere. You could be standing on line somewhere.
Dave Gerhardt: Are you pulling it up?
David Cancel: Yeah, I'm going to pull it up.
Brad Stulberg: It's interesting you mentioned that because it's something that came up in the book. I think it depends on the level of anx. I think there's anx that can truly be debilitating like, " If I get up on the stage, I'm screwed," but then there's like the jitters. For the jitters, what I found in researching the book is that all the research says you actually shouldn't try to breathe that way. You should just reframe it as excitement. You should be like, " The reason that I'm jazzed up, the reason that my heart's beating a little bit fast, the reason my body temperature is up is because evolution has primed me to be completely ready and locked in for things that matter and this matters, so I'm going to go crush it." When researchers had people reframe their anxiety as excitement, they performed better in speaking and they had a better self- rated experience.
David Cancel: That's awesome.
Brad Stulberg: Remember that. I think it's interesting. I do that.
David Cancel: You do? You reframe it?
Brad Stulberg: Before I get on stage. I never got too nervous with public speaking, but I had some jitters and I'd always used to try to calm down. Then what you're doing when you try to calm down is a couple of things. First, you're telling yourself that something is wrong because I need to calm down. That's already bad. Then if you're not trained in box breathing, which I am, what ends up happening is you take four deep breaths and it doesn't work.
David Cancel: It doesn't work.
Brad Stulberg: Now something's wrong and I can't fix it. " Brad Stulberg, up on stage, author of this book," and stutter, stutter, stutter, fidget not excited. The flipside of that is just like, " Okay, like, the reason I'm feeling this way is because I'm about to speak to a hundred people. Let's nail it," and just that subtle shift can go a long way.
David Cancel: What I like about that too is that you're reframing it so that you're trying to amplify it, right? You're trying to be excited and you're trying to instead of going the opposite way and trying to calm yourself down and then being pushed out then having to get yourself back amped up, you're pushing yourself right in the same direction, right?
Brad Stulberg: Yeah.
David Cancel: This guy's name is Mark Divine.
Brad Stulberg: That's my guy.
David Cancel: Mark Divine. He's the guy who I've heard talked about the box breathing thing and-
Brad Stulberg: I'll check it out.
David Cancel: Check it out. I think you'll like it.
Dave Gerhardt: All right, you go to bed at 9: 00?
Brad Stulberg: Yeah, actually. How did you know? Right around 9: 00. Cool.
Dave Gerhardt: You said you slept... You said eight hours is really important.
Brad Stulberg: Then 5:30 to 6: 00.
Dave Gerhardt: I'm not good at math, but I know nine to five is eight hours roughly. All right, no, I didn't mean to grill you on time, but I think that's what a lot of people don't share is... I'm super interested in it personally and we try to make Seeking Wisdom like what we'd be personally. I love hearing like, " Oh, this is what time he goes to bed. This is when they work out," so I love hearing that type of stuff.
David Cancel: When you're working out beyond it, being part of your daily practice, are you always shooting for some goal, some end goal, some run or some triathlon?
Brad Stulberg: Yeah, it depends. I cycle.
Dave Gerhardt: How did you pick seven today? Where did seven miles come from?
Brad Stulberg: Right now, I'd probably run a marathon later this year. What I do is I cycle between very goal- focused measurable objectives and just walking in nature. What happens is I train for a marathon which for me is a three to four month because I have a base of running...
David Cancel: Block.
Brad Stulberg: ...like block. Exactly. Then I finish the marathon and I don't want to think about looking at a watch or my heart rate or weekly miles for three months. Then I go to here in Oakland, Redwood Regional Park, is a gorgeous park with just 30 miles of trails and huge redwood trees. My exercise will become spending an hour to an hour and a half moving in the park. Some days, I run. Some days, I run hard. Some days, I walk. Some days, I walk and I sit and I just breathe in the trees. Then after two months of that, I start to get antsy again and I'm like, " I want to start running fast and training for something." That's my cycle, but I do find it's really important to do something physical for me every day.
David Cancel: What I loved about when you were describing your cycle is that it follows the same pattern that we were talking about before the show which is the ebb and flow, right? It might take you three to four months cycle and then you went three to four months off and then you just-
Dave Gerhardt: Totally. You couldn't spend a year training for a marathon.
Brad Stulberg: Yeah, it's back to that, like before the show we're talking about, to come back to where we started for a minute, it's back to this notion of balance. To me, that's a balanced approach, but when I'm training for a marathon, I'm not balanced, I'm in the zone, right? I think that... It's kind of circuitous way to get there. In the end, we probably are actually after some kind of balance...
David Cancel: Totally.
Brad Stulberg: ...but the balance we're after is not going through the motions every single day. It's having periods of all in intensity, following my periods of reflection, recovery, recuperation and I think when you think about balance over a life, it can be six to 10 periods of being all in on something, spaced out with some white space in between, whatever it is and that's a really balanced life, even though at any given point that person was probably horribly unbalanced if you just met them.
David Cancel: What was the process? I'm curious about the book. Sorry if we're jumping all around, but-
Brad Stulberg: No, this is fine.
David Cancel: You went through this process of you wanted to write this book. You took some amount of time, I don't know how long it took you to actually put this book together. It sounds like there's a lot of research going into it.
Brad Stulberg: The writing itself happened really quickly. The first draft, and I wrote with a coauthor, so my coauthor, Steve Magness, he's elite sports guy, so really, he was able to bring in some more granular detail from that end of things. Four months to turn around the manuscript, but...
David Cancel: It's amazing.
Brad Stulberg: ...or and I've been thinking about this stuff and so had Steve for the last three years.
Dave Gerhardt: Did you have notes?
Brad Stulberg: It's like three years and four months.
Dave Gerhardt: Did you have stuff you've already written because you've been thinking about it?
Brad Stulberg: Yeah, I'd already written about some of the stuff in the book. I'm taking meticulous notes when I read, so I had all kinds of notes. It wasn't like, " This is an idea. Let's learn about it and write." It was more like, " We both are really interested in this idea of cross domain performance and we both have a pretty well versed take on it and a repository of notes to explore further, so let's test some of our hypotheses and try to write something that puts all of this together." Because what's new in the book is the connections across domains. We're not original researchers. There's no original research, but what's new is looking at how an athlete trains, how an artist produces great work and how an entrepreneur launches a company. Each of those things are studied very deeply, but they're studied in silos, so we try to look across the silos to pull out these patterns. We feel that those patterns that hold true across domains are closer to the actual truth.
David Cancel: When your client, let's say, an entrepreneur, I don't know what to say.
Dave Gerhardt: Let's just say a CEO.
David Cancel: A CEO.
Dave Gerhardt: A CEO with a strong attitude.
David Cancel: Well, tell me what does that look like. What does the initiation part look like? What is the day to day? What does the practice look like when you work with someone like that?
Dave Gerhardt: Let me translate, what the hell are you doing with the CEOs? That's what I want to know.
Brad Stulberg: Initiation is recently, especially since the book came out, people are reaching out to me which is super awesome and humbling and I thank you for those that maybe reached out to me.
David Cancel: Reach out to Brad.
Dave Gerhardt: Use the promo code, Seeking Wisdom.
Brad Stulberg: Right. You get Headspace protector set off.
David Cancel: Practice.
Brad Stulberg: No, we're just kidding.
Dave Gerhardt: But seriously.
Brad Stulberg: I tend to work with almost everyone with the exception of one client that likes to be in person and happens to live close by via Skype and generally is six to eight sessions. Some people do for four, four to eight sessions weekly or every other week, working on just developing mental skills that will help people in their unique situations. Then after that, I like to graduate people. I don't want there to be dependency, right? I'm coaching them and giving them skills and then they use those skills. I do have some clients...
David Cancel: That's different.
Brad Stulberg: ...that like to check in, I don't know, monthly, every two months.
Dave Gerhardt: Different because what? Most people-
David Cancel: Most people, most coaches would just want to just have that client forever and don't have this idea of graduating them, which I is really cool.
Brad Stulberg: Well, part of it too, is I am not a therapist. The things that I deal with are much more structured and concrete. I feel like if I do a good job, I can teach someone, give them the toolkit and then they can apply it. Like I said, some people do follow up five months later out of nowhere. I'm in this really interesting situation or maybe I've regressed a little. I haven't been practicing the tools like help bringing back up, but I just wouldn't have enough stuff to do if I met with someone weekly for perpetuity.
David Cancel: What would be an example of a project that you'd work on them? Like you said, it was structured.
Brad Stulberg: I guess when I mean structure, I mean it's helping folks develop a toolkit, right? One tool is like how to become self- aware, so you can evaluate the tradeoffs that you're making when you're going all in. There's all bunch, whole manner of ways to become more self- aware and different things work for different people. Another tool is just adopting this mindset of stress plus rest equals growth and really helping people think about, " What does that mean in your career? What does that mean in your personal life? Are you actually having that ebb and flow? If not, what's getting in the way?"
David Cancel: inaudible the accountability crosstalk.
Brad Stulberg: Yeah, exactly. Accountability and then trying to ask questions so that they can come to the answer themselves versus... Because I don't know their lives, I don't know their work, but hopefully I can ask the right questions to help them figure it out.
David Cancel: Have you ever run with clients?
Brad Stulberg: I have not run with clients.
David Cancel: I think that would be cool.
Dave Gerhardt: That would be cool. The workout.
David Cancel: "Do a run through Peak Performance." That would be amazing. Just pulled everything together, right?
Brad Stulberg: That's a good idea.
David Cancel: That's what people want, edit and film that.
Dave Gerhardt: You should film that. All right maybe-
David Cancel: I can't run seven miles with maybe Dave. Dave will run seven miles with you.
Dave Gerhardt: No, I'll do two.
David Cancel: Have you been a runner your whole life?
Brad Stulberg: No, I played team sports growing up. I started running in college. For the last 10- 12 years, I've run.
David Cancel: What's a good run for you? Is that seven miles, 10 miles?
Brad Stulberg: It so depends. If I were just to go out and do my perfect run, it's probably like eight to nine miles, which is an hour to an hour and 15 minutes, depending on the pace.
David Cancel: What's your pace?
Brad Stulberg: For a marathon or for that run?
David Cancel: For that run.
Brad Stulberg: Just like my cruise pace? 7. 30 to 8.
David Cancel: Cool.
Dave Gerhardt: That's safe.
David Cancel: Safe. Dave-
Dave Gerhardt: I don't have that for nine miles.
Brad Stulberg: I'm not placing six to 20 miles on my cruise pace.
David Cancel: Just cruising.
Dave Gerhardt: See some of those Strava or whatever, post on-
Brad Stulberg: Ryan Holiday has been running really fast.
Dave Gerhardt: I see. He's a Garmin watch guy.
Brad Stulberg: Dude's on fire. He and I are like pen pals. We're email buddies. I was always the runner expert in that relationship, but that's changing fast. Dude's flying.
David Cancel: You know what we need to put together?
Dave Gerhardt: I'm reading his book, It's a Small World.
David Cancel: It's everything. It's a Small World. We need to put together a Brad, Ryan Holiday and...
Dave Gerhardt: And Rich.
David Cancel: ...Rich Roll run and we will film that-
Dave Gerhardt: Breakfast.
Brad Stulberg: Let's make that happen.
Dave Gerhardt: I'd lay bets.
Brad Stulberg: I've emailed these guys about doing something just like that because Rich Roll is the man. I really like Rich. I've had the good fortune of now meeting him personally. I've gotten to spend some time on the phone with him in addition. I think that in the self- help personal development space, there are a lot of people with ideas, but they're not very authentic. Rich is so authentic.
David Cancel: Authentic.
Brad Stulberg: I have had a man crush on Rich for quite some time. I know you guys, you did.
David Cancel: Join the club.
Dave Gerhardt: He put me onto him and I think actually, the first time I saw was he was given a deck like a talk to a company. He always starts the deck like for a company meeting with inspirational quote or just something. It was like he had just listened to a new episode of Rich's podcast and there's a picture and Rich is just shredded and he's like, " This guy's 50 years old, shredded," and I was like, " All right, that's all I need to know." I started googling him and then I got the book and I read the book and I started listening to podcasts. Usually, I was never interested in plant- based diet, vegan, running. I've always played team sports. I work out, do CrossFit, that type of stuff, inaudible and that stuff, but his take on all that stuff has gotten me to change my mind and just being like, " This is a real dude who has like real takes." I'm like, " Okay, this is what's interesting."
Brad Stulberg: He's great.
David Cancel: Let's put that run together.
Dave Gerhardt: Let's put it together.
David Cancel: I will only be available to film.
Dave Gerhardt: All right, so let's wrap up with this. You talked about Rich and Ryan Holiday, but what are some of the books that you recommend most to other people? I know you're a big reader and learner.
David Cancel: His own book, Peak Performance.
Dave Gerhardt: Shout out to Peak Performance. Check your Amazon stats after this.
Brad Stulberg: I'll tell you what, that Amazon author rank, it's garbage. There's no correlation between that and books. There's some correlation, but there's a lot of noise and it's garbage because, as an author, it just makes you crazy.
David Cancel: Crazy and neurotic.
Brad Stulberg: Again, I write about this kind of stuff and I told myself, " When the book comes up, I'm not going to be like the rat in the dopamine experiment clicking on it. I was the rat in the dopamine experiment clicking at it."
David Cancel: "This thing is not refreshing."
Brad Stulberg: Right. At the end of the week, I just felt like worn.
Dave Gerhardt: The first week.
Brad Stulberg: Everyone told me. Everyone's like, " Don't do it. You're going to do it. It's a waste of emotional energy. Don't do it. Don't do it." I'm like, " I'm not going to do this. This is what I write in my book."
David Cancel: "Have you read my book? Have you read my book, Peak Performance?"
Brad Stulberg: I'm not going to do it. Then I did it, and then at the end of the first week, I'm like, " Well, that was dumb." Now, the next one, I won't do it. You have to just live through it.
Dave Gerhardt: The point of you creating this book isn't so people would buy it in X weeks or X months. I'm assuming you want to write this book because you want to create something that lasted and-
Brad Stulberg: Totally, I want it to be relevant 10 years from now.
David Cancel: Right.
Dave Gerhardt: Shout out to Ryan, right? The thing you can't quantify is him texting me out of the blue on a Saturday with a link to an Amazon book and that book that's been out for 40 years and he's like, " Buy this," right?
Brad Stulberg: Right.
Dave Gerhardt: Where does that like-
Brad Stulberg: Even conversations like this. The real fruit of the book is meeting people like you guys, kindred spirits, having good conversations and that's how the idea spread and that's so disconnected from sales in the first week.
David Cancel: Totally.
Dave Gerhardt: This is everything that we talk about in sales and marketing. It's like there's the way that people buy and find out about things today is never this linear thing like book launch, go to Amazon, purchase, referral link, another purchase.
Brad Stulberg: But it's interesting. Now after, and maybe I'm curious to hear what you guys think as you coach new employees and whatnot, after my own experience, I'm tempted now not to try to get people not to click on that and just focus on the process, not results because I think it's almost impossible. I think you just say, " Yup, go do it, live through it," click on the thing for a week and come out the other side and you realize it's done.
David Cancel: Totally, what we say internally is just like, " Just focus on the quality of the work. Just keep doing it. It's the reps and the steps that we talk about all the time, and"-
Brad Stulberg: Let the result take care of itself.
David Cancel: Take care of themselves and don't expect things to be simple, A plus B plus C equals D because they're never linear like that. People will always ask like, " Well, how do you know that it's going to work?" It's like because you will have conversations that tell you, that someone literally tells you, " I just read your book. I bought two copies of it. Do you want to do a podcast?" and people are like, " Well, that stuff does not show up on a simple AB test and Google Analytics number."
Brad Stulberg: Right. You said something I'm going to latch on, it's going to bring you back to Dave's question about books. My favorite book ever is a book called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In the book, the author, he actually recently passed away, Robert Pirsig, talks about quality. He uses a capital Q for quality, because to him, quality is an event and it's the space between an act, or excuse me, the space between an actor or actress in his or her act. When you are writing a book, quality is what occurs between you and the writing. If you are working on developing software, it's the effort that you're putting in, it's like the conversation between you and the software. That's the quality that you should focus on, and if you can create those quality experiences in that quality space between you and what you're doing, then the result will have quality with a lowercase Q. The real quality that you're after is the quality of the experience because, A, that's what makes life worth living first and foremost and, B, if there's a quality experience, then the result will have quality.
David Cancel: Absolutely.
Dave Gerhardt: Because everything that we talk about, the Bill Walsh's Standard of Performance, why we show up every day and people always expect to be-
David Cancel: Because they meant quality of work.
Dave Gerhardt: People want to know how you sold books and they're like, " Well, I did email blast to 100, 000 people. I did some Facebook ads. I did whatever," but they don't actually want to know that it's, we call it hand- to- hand combat which is just the one- to- one conversations and most people aren't willing to think of that as a marketing strategy, the one- to one- conversations like, " Why is it worth it for you to do something like this? Why is it worth us to find some random person who tweeted about Drift and send them a hat and a T- shirt and a handwritten note?" People don't want to hear that stuff totally.
David Cancel: But that's true.
Brad Stulberg: I think it's a mindset shift because you're like, " Why is it worth it for me to do something like this?" Well, I'm enjoying this conversation a ton, but the way you're thinking about marketing is like, " I need to talk to 200 people today and I'm going to go through this script," you're not going to enjoy any of those conversations...
David Cancel: That quality is going to-
Brad Stulberg: ... and the quality,because there's no quality in the conversation, but if you approach the conversation like, " This is going to be a quality experience," A, you're going to enjoy the work more and, B, you're probably more likely to convert based on that conversation.
David Cancel: Totally. What's the best place for people to find you on the internets?
Brad Stulberg: So the best place on the internet is probably Twitter where I'm @ bstulberg and then my website is www. bradstulberg. com.
David Cancel: That's awesome. People, grab a copy of his book Peak Performance. I've got it on my phone right here and at home.
Brad Stulberg: Thank you.
David Cancel: Grab a copy. Awesome book and shout out, leave a six- star review and mention Brad in the six- star review and tell him how many copies of the book you bought.
Dave Gerhardt: Totally.
David Cancel: I want to let him know.
Brad Stulberg: Live from Oakland, you can see my humble kitchen. Same dishes in the sink. Caitlin, my wife. Sorry.
David Cancel: Sorry, Caitlin.
Brad Stulberg: Those will get done.
David Cancel: What we're going to do is put together... We're going to work on putting together a run between Brad, Rich Roll and Ryan Holiday.
Brad Stulberg: Set it up.
David Cancel: Let's make it happen.
Brad Stulberg: With Twitter, anything can happen. Just set it up. Just put some pressure on those.
Dave Gerhardt: We're going to send this. We'll send this out to Rich and Ryan right after this. It's going to happen. Don't forget the formula. Let's hit them with the formula one more time.
Brad Stulberg: Stress plus rest equals growth. Don't fall for the illusion of balance. Don't be scared to go on with it.
David Cancel: All right. Thanks for joining us.
Brad Stulberg: Thanks for having me.