“The people who I see being successful, the doers. They get shit done” ~ Sir Dave Brailsford
I'm not too fond of bio-hacking as I don’t believe we can shortcut high-level performance and optimal health. Our daily routines must be structured to support our health and our environment. Only by nourishing the 5-Pillars of Sustainable Health can we start to create habits that improve our quality of life, our focus and our productivity. Consistency is the key to success and far more rewarding than any bio-hack. It's not the success that determines your lifestyle but your lifestyle that determines your success. For high performers, every 1% adds up.
"The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together," ~ Sir David Brailsford (British Cycling Team Performance Director)
British Cycling Success Story
You may have read, or seen, the fantastic success that the British Cycling Team started having in recent times. After hiring David Brailsford as performance director in 2013, they started focusing on improving by 1% across multiple areas. Brailsford and his coaching team started making small adjustments:
They redesigned the bike seats to make them more comfortable
They rubbed alcohol on the tyres for better grip
They asked the riders to wear electrically heated suits to maintain ideal muscle temperature
They used biofeedback sensors to monitor how each rider responded to particular workouts
They tested various fabrics in a wind tunnel to find the lightest and most aerodynamic
They tested different muscle recovery gels
They hired a surgeon to teach the riders the best way to wash their hands to reduce the chance of getting sick
They determined the best type of pillow and mattress so each rider could get the best night sleep
They even painted the inside of the team truck white to help them spot little bits of dust on the bikes before each cycling stage.
They continued to find all the small 1% improvements in all the unexpected areas. Hundreds of these little improvements accumulated and the results came faster than anyone could have imagined. In 2008 the British Cycling Team dominated the road and track cycling events at the Olympics in Beijing, where they won an astonishing 60% of the gold medals available. In 2012, the London Olympics, the Brits raised the bar, and they set nine Olympic records and several world records. In the same year, Bradly Wiggins became the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France. The next year his teammate Chris Froome won the race, and he would go on to win again in 2015, 2016 and 2017, giving the British team five Tour de France victories in six years.
During this 10year span from 2007 to 2017, British cyclists won 178 work championships, and sixty-six Olympic or Paralympic gold medals and captured five Tour de France wins in what is widely regarded as the most successful run in cycling history.
It’s so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements daily. Too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action. Whether it is losing weight, building a business, writing a book, winning a championship, or achieving any goal, we put pressure on ourselves to make some earth-shattering improvements that everyone will talk about.
Meanwhile, add up all the 1% improvements, again, and again, and again, and the overall outcome is exponentially increased. If you can get 1% better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better than you are today.
When high performers come to me for health coaching, they often have an agenda of improving focus and performance. Many of them already seem to have an outline for a morning and evening routine, but the awareness and consistency are often missing.
Why is the NBA investing more time and money into sleep?
Many high-level sporting teams are only now beginning to realise how poor sleep habits can devastate performance and perhaps even affect longevity and injury rates. Cheri Mah, a physician-scientist at the UC San Francisco's Human Performance Center, consults with teams in the NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA. Mah works with elite athletes on their caffeine intake, nutrition, and evening routines. Big picture, she works on their whole approach to sleep, to make it more of a priority. All these athletes are looking for that extra 1% boost in their performance. But when you look at the research, it suggests a solid foundation of rest and recovery is worth far more than 1%.
How much more? In a seminal study from 2011 , Mah got members of Stanford's men's basketball team to up their nightly sleep sessions by an average of 110 minutes. After five to seven weeks, Mah found the extra shut-eye correlated with a 9% boost in both their free-throw and three-point accuracy and a 0.7-second improvement on a gruelling 282-foot sprint drill. She was shocked, and the athletes were, too. "These aren't amateurs—a 9% improvement isn't the kind of thing you typically see in players at this level," she says.
In 2016, ESPN recruited Mah to assist with its “Schedule Alert” project . The goal was to try to predict when NBA teams would lose, based solely on their schedules: How many time zones had they travelled to compete? How much time had they had to recover since their last game? Mah and her collaborators used a formula to identify 42 games throughout the 2016–17 season in which teams would be susceptible to fatigue. They predicted the outcome of 29 of them. This past season, they correctly picked 42 games of 54 (77.8%).
According to ESPN, NBA players are not the only elite athlete focusing on sleep quality. Tennis star Roger Federer, Usain Bolt the fastest man alive, tennis stars Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova are all aiming to get 10-12 hours of sleep per day.
Are you a high performer?
As a high performer, having a set structure to start and finish your day is essential, and an area I often address with health coaching clients. These two bookends of the day are vital as they allow successful people to set their intentions and priorities for the year/month/week/day, as well as unwind and prepare for the most critical performance factor - sleep.
If you want to be a high performer in this world, you need to have a growth mindset and be willing to put in the work that is required to achieve success. Many top-level performers in business, sport, arts, performance, and science have well established morning and evening routines that work for them. Just listen to the Tim Ferris podcast, and you will be surprised with the diversity of habits many of his successful guests have.
Positive Morning Routine
Cold Shower (to activate the endocrine system)
Reading (fiction material to increase your knowledge)
A healthy cooked breakfast (high in protein)
Typical Morning Routine
Crawl out of bed
Quick Breakfast (cereal or toast)
Grab a coffee (feeling low on energy)
Run out the door
It's not hard to figure out which of the above morning routines is going to be more successful in term of performance and focus.
Mastering the evening is just as important, if not more important.
No technology at the dinner table or while eating food - this is a valuable time for building relationships with your family and friends. Digestion and absorption is negatively affected by the sympathetic nervous system state created by technology
No technology 90minuted before bed - sleep is the number one predictor of performance and memory (blue light disrupts sleep)
Read a non-fiction book
Do some light stretching
Take a cold shower (to increase melatonin production)
Increase sleep quality and quantity
Lack of sleep has been linked to higher rates of illness, disease and obesity, as well as declines in cognitive function and job performance. Sleep helps us to recover, increases memory, improve focus, lowers the chance of all chronic disease, boosts immune function, and so much more. An evening routine is essential to creating proper sleep hygiene and being at your best every single day.
The most straightforward, most effective performance and focus elixir, it turns out, has been available for a long time, and for free... Sleep!
Are you the best version of yourself?
No matter how busy your day, no matter what pressure you are under, no matter your family commitment, it is essential to dedicate 60-90minutes of each day on activities that are going to take you close to being the best version of yourself.
“I’m sorry, but your job is not my problem” ~ Princes Fiona from Shrek 1
No matter what life throws in our way, we must defend 60-90minutes of each day to master our craft. Top level business people, high performing athletes, dancers and performers, doctors, scientists, anyone who is anyone in their field didn’t get there without dedicating time to self-development.
Self-development requires the right environment
Your environment impacts your ability to be productive and to work on honing your practice. It is critical to learn to control your environment so that you can sustain the high levels of focus required to be successful. Things like:
Having a dedicated room for meditation
Having a dedicated place for stretching/exercise (home gym)
Having a dedicated room for study/work (not the bedroom)
Removing processed foods from the house (if these foods are removed you won’t eat them, and either will the people you love)
Avoiding inflammatory foods (such as gluten, sugar, and food containing trans fats or are fried in toxic hydrogenated oils)
Make the bedroom a technology-free space (sex and sleep only)
Disable ALL notifications on your phone and computer - check technology when it suits you (intention), not when is distracted you (compulsion).
Distraction is the single biggest problem we are facing in the modern world. The shift from the industrial revolution to the technology revolution has caught us all off guard and unprepared. Technology is having a significant impact on our performance and focus in both positive and negative ways. How we choose to engage with technology is what can make all the difference when it comes to mastering productivity.
Are you using technology for:
Intention - research, gathering valuable statistics, performance, sales, marketing, work (that pays), etc..
Compulsion - browsing, chatting, posting content with no value or intention.
Time Management vs Priority Management
Most of us are fighting fires each day by allowing our e-mails, calendars and technology to dictate our actions. If focus and productivity are your goals, you must learn to take control of your life. Time is a minimal resource that can not be purchased, and yet it has the most value when it comes to success and happiness. Most of us are terrible at managing our time because we fail to set our boundaries and our priorities.
What are your top 5 priorities for this year?
What are your top 5 priorities for this quarter?
What are your top 5 priorities for this month?
What are your top 5 priorities for this week?
What are your top 5 priorities for today?
What are you trying to be successful at? What do you need to accomplish each day to be a step closer to who you want to be? Vague priorities lead to unclear outcomes. Most of us would say we are busy but are we being productive? Our days are full of tasks which have nothing to do with our priorities. These tasks fill our days, and we get no closer to the person we want to become or the things we want to achieve in life.
Poor time management often leads to anxiety and stress that impacts performance, sleep and long-term health. Being able to control the controllable and making time for exercise, sleep, nutrition, and social connection can go a long way in helping us find focus and happiness.
If you're struggling to find focus or manage your time, and you feel you could benefit from having a health coach, please get in touch.
The Effects of Sleep Extension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players, Cheri D. Mah, et al. 2011
How fatigue shaped the season, and what it means for the playoffs, Baxter Holmes, 2018