This past year was an interesting one when it comes to health and human performance. Eliud Kipchoge came breathtakingly close to running a marathon in under two hours. Aging athletes like Tom Brady, Serena Williams, Lebron James, Shalane Flanagan, and Roger Federer dominated their respective sports when conventional wisdom says they should have been in the twilight of their careers or retired. Meanwhile, Silicon Valley is trying to prevent aging altogether.
Stories like these are fascinating. But it can be hard to deduce what, if any, actionable insights they contain. That’s why I’ve tried to take the top headlines related to human performance and extract meaningful takeaways that you can apply to your own life. In no particular order, here are the top themes of 2017.
Nail the Basics
Science is a slow-moving process. While there’s nothing wrong with being excited about an emerging line of inquiry or a new research finding, it’s important to not fixate on bright shiny objects at the expense of a few fundamental truths that we are certain improve health and performance. Before you worry about making marginal gains, be sure to nail the basics—move every day, eat real foods, call your friends, sleep seven to nine hours each night, enjoy nature, lay off the booze, and don’t smoke.
The Mind-Body Connection Is Real
The state of your mind has an enormous impact on your body. A mantra can help you during physical challenges, and keeping your brain sharp can be a key part of recovering from an injury. And yet the converse is also true: the state of your body has an enormous impact on your mind. Movement in nature increases happiness and exercise can help lift you out of a rut.
How Physical Activity Can Get You Out of a Rut
There Are Two Kinds of Happiness. Getting Outside Boosts Both.
How to Mentally Recover from an Injury
That Voice Inside Your Head Will Make You a Better Runner
What Ultrarunners Think About When They Run
A Few Key Habits Go a Long Way
Routines are highly personal—what works for one person may not work for another. And yet there are a few practices that are widespread in top performers across all fields. Though you shouldn’t feel pressured to adopt all of them, each can go a long way:
- Prioritize consistency
- Seek mentorship
- Surround yourself with people who push you
- Focus your energy on what matters most
- Take advantage of your chronotype
- Take sleep hygiene seriously
Ditch the Device
Odds are you’re reading this story on a smartphone or tablet. Which is fine, but as we all spend more and more time on our devices, it’s important to be increasingly intentional about how we use them. It turns out that leaving your fancy GPS watch at home might make you faster, and the key to fully enjoying any kind of physical activity may be to disconnect from all your devices while you do it.
Pursue Mastery, Not Results
There’s an old training adage that goes “process over outcomes.” By and large, it’s true. The reason so many people are drawn to athletic challenge is because it gives them a chance to immerse themselves in a clear-cut, self-reliant process of getting better. Unfortunately once you do start to get better, it’s all too easy to focus less on your love of the game and more on your results and the external recognition you get from them. Don’t fall for this trap. Research shows that an integral part of sustaining both mental and physical health is to keep the lion’s share of your motivation intrinsic, or coming from within—focusing not so much on the end results you achieve but rather on what you experience in the process getting there.
Brad Stulberg (@Bstulberg) writes Outside’s Do It Better column and is author of the new book Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success.