1: “My best friend, Michael Wharton, ran track in high school,” Steven Kotler writes in The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer.
Michael’s coach had unusual protocols. “When they went out for long runs, whenever they encountered a hill, the team had to shift their focus entirely to core running skills: long strides, strong arms, high kicks. Note the focus wasn’t on speed or acceleration, it was on the perfect technique that—over time—results in speed and acceleration.”
At first, it was difficult. Terrible. It sucked. “It made for incredibly grueling workouts,” Steven writes. “But, pretty soon, they got used to it. Then it became a challenge they could lean into. Then their skill increased, their speed increased, and suddenly, uphill sprints were part of the program.”
After some time, the team’s approach to hills became a habit. Before long, they hardly noticed.
“A hill would present itself and before any of them had even realized what they were doing, they were halfway up the hill and climbing fast.”
It had become a habit. William James, the father of modern psychology, was convinced that “human beings are habit machines and the easiest way to live an extraordinary life is to develop extraordinary habits.”
When most runners encounter a hill, everyone except the most elite runners slow down. “It’s an automatic response, the brain trying to conserve energy,” Steven notes. “The uber-elite, meanwhile, try to keep their pace the same. But Michael’s team learned to accelerate in the face of the challenge.”
2: This is an example of what Steven calls “the habit of ferocity.”
Which he defines as “the ability to immediately and automatically rise to any challenge. Whenever peak performers encounter life’s difficulties, they instinctively lean in.”
How do we develop this habit? We simply follow the exercises in Steven’s book.
“In the face of life’s obstacles, the best of the best don’t have to worry about staying the course,” Steven writes. “So well arranged is their motivational stack and so well trained are their grit reflexes that rising to a challenge happens without their even noticing.”
Because on our path to peak performance, if we “don’t develop the habit of ferocity,” Steven writes, “that is, automatize the motivation triad of drive, goals, and grit—sooner or later we’ll trip over your fear.”
3: The good news? This “action orientation” creates the conditions which generate flow, when we are “in the zone,” our most creative and productive state.
The bad news? “Nothing here happens quickly,” Steven notes. “The habit we’re hunting is hard work, yet without it, the impossible remains just that: the impossible.”
Reflection: How can I train my “habit of ferocity”?
Action: Discuss with my spouse, partner, or close friend.