Many years ago, a young man from Hong Kong wanted to be an excellent fighter. He trained and pushed himself to the limit. Still, it wasn’t enough. 

After all, strength doesn’t only come from physical training. You must also have the right mindset and a healthy lifestyle. 

So, he changed everything from what he ate for the day to how he recovered after a fight. He paid attention to his goal.

That young man was Bruce Lee. He would be known as one of the top martial artists in the world. He became the best version of himself. 

Peak performance is exactly like that. Becoming the best version of yourself. It’s when your body and mind are functioning at their best. In this state, you’re happy, healthy, and productive. 

It might seem too good to be true, but it isn’t. Achieving your peak state isn’t as impossible as you think. 

Do you have to be a martial artist like Bruce Lee? No. 

Do you need to follow a strict regimen at all times? Not necessarily. 

In this 101 guide, we’ll discuss: What is peak performance? What does it look like? And how can you achieve it every day?


Mountain climber hanging off from a cliff.

What is peak performance?

In a nutshell, peak performance is a state in which a human being performs at their highest level. They maximize their potential for success.

When you’re a peak performer, you can do whatever you set your mind to. There’s complete confidence in every task. It looks almost effortless.

However, it’s not only about work. If you think “peak performance” is a synonym for “productivity,” then that’s not the case. 

In a book by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, they emphasized that peak performers have a distinct formula to follow: “Stress + rest = success.”

When you take a break, that’s also considered peak behavior. You don’t need to work all the time. Living a happy life is also a part of it.


Mountain biker on a desert trail, leaving dust behind him.

What’s the history behind peak performance? 

Peak performance is a great philosophy to live by. But, where did it come from? 

Let’s take a look at its roots.

Peak performance didn’t have a label, nor scientific backing, before. Instead, the ancient Romans divided its concept into two ideas: Otium and Negotium. 

Otium means leisure time, while Negotium means daily work and business affairs. These ideas originated from Ennius, a writer in the Roman empire. 

For the Romans, Otium wasn’t an excuse to get lazy. When they’re not busy conquering the world, they focus on writing, philosophy, and artistic pursuits. 

In short, Otium is time for productive rest. Once they go back to Negotium, or work, they can function at their highest level. 

It’s no wonder why the Romans achieved so much. From early on, they already valued the balance between work and life.

These ideas aren’t only limited to Rome. Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Plato emphasized its importance throughout history.

A parallel idea of Otium also bloomed on the other side of the world. In particular, “xiaoyao,” a wellness term used in ancient China, refers to spending leisure time in nature. 

When you look back, peak performance wasn’t a strict discipline. It’s more about work-life balance. If you want to live at your peak, enrich the body and mind through productive rest.


Man in white t-shirt throwing a football

How did peak performance change in the modern era? 

As the years went by, peak performance developed into an industry. It’s not an abstract concept anymore. Instead, it’s combined with science.

Scientists have studied how to optimize everything. From your health and lifestyle to more ambitious goals like hacking your productivity. 

How did all of this happen? It’s because people are paying more attention. 

They’re not only focused on work-life balance. Peak performers are looking into how to go further. What else can they improve, and how to achieve it?

Based on multiple studies, peak performance has four main pillars:


Mental performance

Two people might have the same job, but they don’t have the same mental capacity for it. That’s how it can affect your performance. You can see it everywhere, from athletes to businessmen.

Can you perform under pressure? How are you at making decisions? To improve your daily life, sharpen your mental performance.


Physical performance

As the Roman saying goes, “a healthy mind dwells in a healthy body”. If you put the effort into your physical performance, the rest will follow. There’s no shortcut for it. 


Emotional performance

Emotions can make or break your day. If you work while you’re tired, annoyed, or demotivated, your performance level will suffer. That’s why, a big part of living at your best is to learn and practice how to manage your emotions


Social performance

Believe it or not, your social wellness affects your daily performance. The more you engage with genuine connections, the more you can be happy and healthy. It also gives you a chance to have a support system for your goals. 


Once you achieve all four, you’re living life to the fullest.


What does peak performance look like?

Now that you know what it means, what comes to mind when you think of peak performance?

It varies for everyone. For some, it’s about winning a gold medal. For others, it’s nurturing relationships and creating a home. 

Going back to Bruce Lee, he’s not the only one classified as a peak performer. In reality, this is what peak performance looks like:


Female office worker smiling while holding a folder.

5 people sitting around a table put their hands together for a cheer.

You might think, “Well, they don’t look out of the ordinary.” Look at them again.

In all of those photos, people enjoy what they’re doing. They’re motivated. They try their best despite the circumstances.

That’s the point of peak performance. 

It’s the continuous process of building yourself up. Sometimes, you might take two steps forward, one step back, and that’s fine. What you do every day- however small – still counts as progress.

If you try to:

  • Show up at work, and don’t let personal issues affect your work quality.
  • Exercise for a few minutes until you can go for longer sessions.
  • Learn new things to be more productive.
  • Improve your mindset towards work, life, and relationships.
  • Recognize that you need to change up your habits for a healthier you.

That means you’re taking steps towards becoming a peak performer.


How to achieve peak performance?


Woman meditating on a couch.

Transform your mindset

As Usain Bolt said, “learning the mind is as important as understanding the body.” We can’t function at our best if our mind is lagging. 

A strong peak performance mindset sets you apart from everyone else. You can see it in athletic competitions, academics, or any industry. If you want to be on your A-game, train your mind just like how you train your body. 

Here are some methods to help transform your mindset:

  • Take up meditation or other mindful activities. It can improve your productivity levels by 120%.
  • Write down your day-to-day progress in a journal. 
  • Trigger flow state at work by removing distractions and doing tasks during your biological peak time.
  • There’s a difference between no motivation and no energy. If you’re experiencing the latter, take a break to recover. 
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed and can’t cope, step back for a while. Take a break.

Remember: when you take care of your mental health, the rest will follow. 


Woman is doing a plank while watching a video on her laptop.

Hack your biological state

We have gyms. We have countless fitness equipment. And yet, getting fit and healthy is still a challenge.

Why is that so? To put it in perspective, let’s think about how we live today.

Nowadays, everyone’s attached to their phones. It’s not easy to let go of these devices when you have deadlines to meet, social media feeds, and more. 

Many of us watch how other people live their best lives, rather than doing it ourselves. 

If you feel called out, then consider this as a sign. Achieving peak performance involves your mind and body. If you don’t take care of your health, you’re likely to suffer mentally.

To hack and improve your biological state, start with these tips:

  • Prioritize sleep. Establish a bedtime routine. Make it a point to set things aside when it’s time to go to bed.
  • Switch to a healthy diet. You don’t need to make drastic changes right away. Start developing one healthy eating habit at a time.
  • Get into at least one physical activity. And don’t be afraid to try new activities for mental stimulation as well.
  • Don’t hole up in your (home) office for the whole day. Unwind by spending time outdoors.

Some people even take biohacking to the next level. They would try anti-aging supplements, strict diets, and even genetic engineering. It’s science fiction in the real world.

You don’t have to take it to these extreme levels. Something simple like reducing sugar intake can make a big difference, rather than relying on unorthodox methods.


Man typing on his laptop while sitting in the kitchen.

Turn your life into a habitual success

Peak performance isn’t a one-time thing. It’s a continual process. 

When you see someone excel at what they do, pause and study their habits.

  • High-rated CEOs, like Bill Gates and Elon Musk, read every day.
  • Competing athletes dedicate their free time to training.
  • Professional gamers sort their schedules and play for at least 6 hours a day.
  • Great entrepreneurs network everywhere they go.

Habits make a person. Whatever you choose to do daily will decide your future. To become a peak performer, you need to learn how to turn your life around, one habit at a time.

Here are some things you can try to change up your habits:

Consistency is key. It might sound cliche, but it’s true.

  • Do habit-stacking. Link a new habit to your old routine, so your brain automatically reminds you to do it. 
  • Tell someone about your new habit, so you can be held accountable.
  • Cut yourself some slack. Forming new habits will take a while, and you don’t have to nail it down on your first try. 
  • Don’t lean towards toxic productivity. Rest up when you need to. 
  • Don’t multitask too much. You can’t take on 10 goals at once and assume you’re more productive that way. Instead, prioritize and focus on the most important tasks first.
  • Start a little tradition for yourself.

For instance, Bill Gates has his tradition, called “think week.” It’s a week free from work. During this time, he’ll stay in an isolated area to think. 

Was he lazy? No. He’s spent his quiet time in the company of books and reports.

One of these “think weeks” led to the launch of Internet Explorer in 1995. Another one in 2005 was the jump-start for Microsoft Virtual Earth.

Despite being in a state of rest, he’s still exhibiting peak performance behavior.


Man jogging with his earphones in.

The Takeaway

Achieving peak performance might seem like a lofty goal, but it’s possible for everyone. If other people can do it, then so can you.

Don’t hesitate. Take the first step, then another, and the next one after that. Pause when you need to. Recover physically and mentally by taking time to relax using devices like a deep tissue massage gun. Before you know it, you’re miles away from your previous self. 

The best thing about peak performance is it’s your journey. 

Bruce Lee knew this by doing things his way. He forged a new martial arts system called Jeet Kune Do, focusing on constant change. As he said before, “be like water.”

Embrace change. Own it. When you do, then you’re on the way to becoming the peak version of yourself. 


To gain a more comprehensive view of peak performance, here are some books that can help you along the way:


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Article References:

    1. Peak Performance: A Literature review
    2. Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success
    3. Statistics On People Who Meditate
    4. Bill Gates took solo ‘think weeks’ in a cabin in the woods—why it’s a great strategy
    5. Biological Rhythms in Psychiatry and Medicine
    6. “Otium” as Civic and Personal Stability in Cicero’s Dialogues
    7. Recovering Leisure: Otium as the Basis of Education
    8. The Noble Leisure Project » Aristotle on Work vs. Leisure
    9. ‘Flow’ or Peak Performance Is Supported by Science | Time
    10. (PDF) Optimal Emotional Profiles for Peak Performance in Strength and Conditioning
    11. Hierarchy of Needs: A Theory of Human Motivation eBook: Maslow, Abraham H.: Kindle Store
    12. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
    13. The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance
    14. Mental Health In Elite Athletes: Increased Awareness Requires An Early Intervention Framework to Respond to Athlete Needs
    15. The relationship between physical activity, mental wellbeing and symptoms of mental health disorder in adolescents: a cohort study
    16. Peak performance and higher states of consciousness: A study of world‐class performers
    17. Social Wellness Toolkit | National Institutes of Health 

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