The Zen of Peak Performance: How to Slow Down, Get More Done, and Experience True Freedom

By phildrolet

Oct 20

Audio version:Reading time: 10 minutes

Sunday night, 8:30pm, Boulder CO.

I just did something weird.

Naked. In the dark. By myself.

For me, it’s no big deal- I do it every week.

But as I’m driving home, I know I’ve just gained an unfair advantage on the rest of the world.

I feel like a million bucks, and it’s going to be a heck of a week. I can feel it.


Do you ever wish you could excel at work and be “in the zone” consistently?

What if you could do it without being stressed out and having to push yourself so much?

A few years ago I thought it was impossible. Empty promises for slackers.

Growing up as a swimmer I was taught early on: “no pain, no gain”.

“You want to be the best?” they said, “work your ass off, outhustle everybody, and sacrifice your way to victory. That’s how it works.”

And it did work pretty well. I became National Junior champion at 16, and made my first National Team by the age of 18.

When I started my first business, I followed the same recipe: insane work ethic and hustle levels that would make Gary Vaynerchuk proud.

Once again, it worked relatively well. The business was profitable within a year, I got invited to speak at Stanford and UCLA, and Richard Branson quoted me in his newest book.

But underneath the surface, trouble was brewing. The wheels were starting to come off.


The “Insane” Approach to Success

We live in a society that promotes an approach to success that’s simply not healthy, sustainable, or optimal. An “insane work ethic”, is exactly that, insane.

Look around you. Everybody is running so fast, stressed out of their minds, fueled by caffeine (and god knows what else), chasing some arbitrary definition of success.

busy people

Is that really the best way to live?


Think about your life for a second…

What price are YOU paying for your success?

How’s your health? Do you like the way you feel and look?

How are your relationships? Do you spend enough quality time with those you love?

How’s your spirituality? Do you feel peaceful, happy, and supported by the Universe?

How’s your life? Are you really enjoying the journey?

Or are you merely trying to get somewhere… so that eventually you can relax and enjoy yourself?

If you’re thriving across the board, I salute you. But if like most, you’re paying a hefty price for your success, I want you to know there’s a better way.

Because when you operate with this frenzied, succeed-at-all-cost mentality, you soul gets repressed and eventually, you’re bound to hit a wall.


A Forced Hiatus

It happened to me when I was 28. After years of intense work and mediocre balance, I had an “almost burnout”. I say “almost”, because I caught myself just before it got really ugly. But it did take me a good 6 months to recover.

During those 6 months, I took a break from the insanity, and started to ask myself:

“Is there a better way to play the game? An easier way to succeed? A saner way to live?”

I spent time with shamans in Peru, looked deep within myself (to understand why I was pushing myself so hard) and moved to a small mountain town in California to be away from conventional society. I took time to heal, ponder and recalibrate.

I stopped following traditional success advice, and started studied the Tao Te Ching (considered by many as “the wisest book ever written”).

I slowed down, and contemplated Lao Tzu’s wise words:

“Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?”
-Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (interpreted by Stephen Mitchell)

Through all this, I started to see the true nature of reality. I realized there is indeed a better, easier and saner way to succeed. Then, everything changed. 



The 5 Buckets Theory

As I spent those 6 months soul-searching, something became apparent.

The belief that was wreaking havoc in my life (and in society) is that: “professional success is more important than anything else.”

Think about it. We live in a world where our career defines us.

Q: When you go to a party, what’s the first thing people generally ask you?
A: “What do you do?”

Q: Why are celebrities getting so much attention?
A: Because they’re successful and wealthy (even though they’re often spiritually bankrupt).

Q: When people buy a Bentley or a Rolex, what are they really saying?
A: “Look at me. I made it. I’m successful.”

If we think about it more deeply, is that what life really is about?

Or more specifically, is that what life is only about?

Of course not.

Take 2 days to go camping, away from the insanity of civilization, and you’ll quickly see through the illusion: your career is only one part of your life.

An important one, yes, but only a part of a greater whole.

So what else goes into this whole? I like to think about it in terms of 5 buckets:

1) Spirituality
2) Career
3) Health/Fitness
4) Relationships
5) Personal Growth

And here’s the great secret: when you consistently fill up all 5 buckets, magic happens.

You feel more alive than ever. You see things clearly. You wake up inspired every morning.

Anxiety disappears. People are drawn to you.

Life becomes easy.

One of my clients, Jason Saggo, after a big win in the UFC. In preparation for the fight we focused balancing his training with his other buckets.

One of my clients, Jason Saggo, after a big win in the UFC. In preparation for the fight, we focused on balancing his training with his other buckets.



The Structures of True Success

I vividly remember when I was 12 years old, training like a (young) madman in my quest to be ranked #1 in the country in the 200m butterfly. Sensing my unhealthy obsession, my mom said something I never forgot:

“Life is about balance. If you focus too much on one thing, you’re going to suffer.”

It took me almost 2 decades to truly understand what she meant but I finally did.

And nowadays, I have the most balance I’ve ever had. As a result, all the areas of my life are thriving and I’m having a great time every day.

What I realized is that understanding the concept of balance is not enough. We must put structures in place to ensure that we practice it. Without those structures, our overachiever nature is bound to make us focus too much on the career bucket.

Here are the structures I currently have in place:

1) Spirituality: 30 minutes of meditation + 15 minutes of yoga every morning.

2) Career: 7 hours of high-leverage, high-focus work every weekday (9am-5pm with a 45-min nap around 2pm).

*Note: Because I get to work feeling refreshed and inspired, I can get more done in 7 hours than most people do in 12. 

3) Health/Fitness: 1 hour of kickboxing or trail running every afternoon.

4) Relationships: 1-3 hours of quality time with my girlfriend/friends/family at night.

5) Personal Growth: Listening to 20-30 mins of a Buddhist podcast before bed.

Now, here are 3 things that are important to understand:

a) These are all things I enjoy doing. None of it feels like a chore. The key to the 5 Bucket Theory is finding structures that are fun, nourishing and good for you.

b) Based on the Law of Diminishing Returns, I aim to find the optimal amount of each activity so I get the highest return on the time I invest.

c) Within these structures, I give myself “structured variety”: my meditations are always evolving, the work I do varies daily, my workouts are constantly changing, and the quality time I spend with people is never the same. That’s what keeps it exciting.

Perhaps as you read all this, you’re thinking: “wow, that’s pretty intense.” But it’s not. Having these structures allows me to be on my A-game every day and prevents me from wasting time on a daily basis. What’s not to like?



Rewriting Your Mental Software

In order for you to effectively use the 5 Buckets Theory (and have a more effective approach to life), there are 3 critical principles we need to discuss.

Because for years now, you’ve been fed faulty “mental software” by society, and they’re leading you to unnecessary anxiety, frustration and exhaustion.

These new beliefs will free you from the shackles of insanity, and allow you to operate at a much higher level… with only a fraction of the effort.

1. Rest/Recovery is Essential to Peak Performance

For most high achievers, rest/recovery are seen as indulgences or signs of laziness. This is a very common and destructive mistake.

Simply put, you’re not a machine. And there are only so many hours you can work before you start getting sluggish, losing perspective, and making mistakes.

As Leonardo Da Vinci once wrote, “It is a very good plan every now and then to go away and have a little relaxation. When you come back to the work your judgment will be surer, since to remain constantly at work will cause you to lose the power of judgment.”

I believe the best way to work is to do so like sprinter. When it’s time to work, go full-out. Be bold. Be passionate. Be caring. Give it all you got.

But when it’s time to rest, disconnect completely. Use that time to focus on your other buckets: spend quality time with loved ones, go exercise, spend time in nature, read books, meditate, go on adventures, etc. Do whatever makes you happy that has nothing to do with work!

What you’ll quickly discover is that as you learn to disconnect more fully, your life will be much richer, you’ll recover much faster and you’ll reach a whole new level of performance at work.


Yes, this is also a part of peak performance. Woohoo!


2. Nature Is The Best Anti-Insanity Medicine

As more people move to big cities, many have forgotten something crucial: the healing power of nature. If you want to have more zen in your life, spend more time in nature. It’s that simple.

When you’re in a forest, on a mountain, or looking at the ocean… you remember. You remember what life is really about. Your ego temporary dissolves. You feel your connection with the Universe. And everything makes sense again.

This is why I recently moved to a mountain house in Colorado. Every day, I’m surrounded by trees, opens skies and friendly animals. I’ve never felt happier, clearer and more productive.

Wherever you live, aim to spend time in nature at least once a week. It will help you slow down, gain perspective and optimize your approach to life.


The view out of my office window as I’m writing this.


3. The Universe’s got your back… if you let it. 

One of the core beliefs that stifles men’s potential is: “If it’s up to be, it’s up to me. I must make it happen.” This is sadly mistaken, and a clear spiritual misunderstanding.

When we slow down and consider the nature of reality, it’s obvious there’s something greater at play. Call it God, call it the Universe, call it the Tao. There’s a higher intelligence that affects all things, all the time.

And the most beneficial thing you can do  is to align yourself with that higher power.

I like to think about it as allowing the river of life to carry you instead of trying to swim against the current. Not only are you going to move faster, it’s going to be much easier.

The problem is, it’s impossible to be in Spiritual Alignment when you’re running around frantically. You miss the cues. You ignore your intuition. You operating at a fearful, anxious frequency.

According to all the great traditions, the way to achieve optimal Spiritual Alignment is to be the highest vibration possible: peace, joy and love.

When you do so, you align yourself with your highest destiny, and all sorts of serendipity, magic and effortless inspiration come alive.

If we consider that the highest-leverage thing you can do to achieve peak performance is to stay in a high vibration, working to the point of exhaustion every day is simply ludicrous.

Instead, focus on doing what makes you come alive. Work a reasonable amount, then go on adventures, eat delicious food and make love for hours.

Before long, you’ll realize that you’ve never been happier… and that everything is working out splendidly.


Now It’s Your Time

I trust that you now have a better understanding of why a more balanced, full-spectrum approach to life not only makes it more enjoyable, it also leads to better professional results.

But for this theory to yield dividends, you must apply the principles I outlined. And it will initially take some level of planning, discipline and dedication to override your old patterns.

So how do we get started?

Step 1: Set an intention for each bucket

Let’s start by setting an intention for each bucket so you have something to strive for, a northern light to guide you along the way.

Note: I highly recommend you take out a piece of paper or open up a Word document and actually do this. It will take you 5 minutes and turn everything you’ve read so far into real results.

Here’s an example for each:

1) Spirituality

“I want to feel peaceful, centered and connected with the Universe every day.”

2) Career

“I want to become the #1 performer in my field/firm/industry.”

3) Health/Fitness

“I want to lose 10lbs and feel energized without caffeine.”

4) Relationships

“I want to deepen my relationship with my partner.”

5) Personal Growth

“I want to be warmer, kinder and more compassionate with those around me.”

Ok good, that’s the first step.

Step 2: Create a structure for each intention

Let’s make this more concrete by creating a daily structure that will bring the intention to life. This is what it should look like:

1) Spirituality

Intention: “I want to feel peaceful, centered and connected with the Universe every day.”

Structure: I will meditate for 15 minutes every morning.

2) Career

Intention: “I want to become the #1 performer in my field/firm/industry.”

Structure: “I will block out Facebook on my work computer.”

3) Health/Fitness

Intention: “I want to lose 10lbs and feel energized without caffeine.”

Structure: “I will exercise every day after work for 1 hour.”

4) Relationships

Intention: “I want to deepen my relationship with my partner.”

Structure: “I will spend time with her every night and take her out on a date twice a week.”

5) Personal Growth

Intention: “I want to be warmer, kinder and more compassionate with those around me.”

Structure: I will read Phil’s new article on NewKings every week and listen to a podcast on my drive home every night.”

Ok, now we have a strong intention and a plan of action. There’s only one last thing we need to make this work:

Make the structures non-negotiable: This is pretty simple. Whatever you commit to, decide that you’re going to do it 100% of the time. No bullshit, no excuses.

As Jack Canfield says: “99% is a bitch, 100% is a breeze”. It’s much easier to do something 100% of the time than 99% of the time. You take away the indecision. You take away the mental battle. You just fucking do it. And you start living like a Great Man.


Sunday night, 8:30pm, Boulder CO.

I just did something weird.

Naked. By myself. In the dark.

I’ve just come out my weekly session in the sensory deprivation tank.

I feel relaxed. I feel zen. I feel powerful.

I drive to a sushi restaurant and while waiting for my food, I start scribbling a few thoughts.

I feel so clear that the words are pouring out of me. Everything makes sense.

Within 15 minutes, I have a full outline for an article I’m going to write this week.

I think I’m going call it… “The Zen of Peak Performance”.

Yup, I’m feeling it.

This is gonna be a heck of a week. Let’s go!

Much love,

PS. Please share this post so more men can achieve greater results in all areas of their lives. 

Life is short. Don’t settle.

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