We’ve Reached Peak Wellness. Most of It Is Lifestyle

Outside Mag, by Brad Stulberg. Wellness isn’t that complicated.  Wellness—the kind that actually works—is simple: it’s about committing to basic practices, day in and day out, as individuals and communities. As many marketers (including in the self-help space) are fond of saying, “You can’t sell the basics.” I think that’s naive. We’d be much better off if we stopped obsessing over hacks and instead focused on evidence-based stuff that works. Move your body and don’t eat crap! Relationships matter. Cultivate a cohesive sense of direction, core values, a sense of awe, and connection with something beyond yourself.

For every week you remain idle, it takes about three weeks to regain the lost adaptations.


In Silicon Valley, techies are swooning over tarot-card readers. In New York, you can hook up to a “detox” IV at a lounge. In the Midwest, the Neurocore Brain Performance Center markets brain training for everything from ADHD, anxiety, and depression to migraines, stress, autism-spectrum disorder, athletic performance, memory, and cognition. And online, companies like Goop promote “8 Crystals For Better Energy” and a detox-delivery meal kit, complete with “nutritional supplements, probiotics, detox and beauty tinctures, and beauty and detox teas.” Across the country, everyone is looking for a cure for what ails them, which has led to a booming billion-dollar industry—what I’ve come to call the Wellness Industrial Complex.

The problem is that so much of what’s sold in the name of modern-day wellness has little to no evidence of working. Which doesn’t mean that wellness isn’t a real thing.

According to decades of research, wellness is a lifestyle or state of being that goes beyond merely the absence of disease and into the realm of maximizing human potential. Once someone’s basic needs are met (e.g., food and shelter), scientists say that wellness emerges from nourishing six dimensions of your health: physical, emotional, cognitive, social, spiritual, and environmental. According to research published in 1997 in The American Journal of Health Promotion, these dimensions are closely intertwined. Evidence suggests that they work together to create a sum that is greater than its parts.

Nourishing these interrelated dimensions of health, however, does not require that you buy any lotions, potions, or pills. Wellness—the kind that actually works—is simple: it’s about committing to basic practices, day in and day out, as individuals and communities.

Unfortunately, these basics tend to get overlooked in favor of easy-to-market nonsense. That’s because, as many marketers (including in the self-help space) are fond of saying, “You can’t sell the basics.” I think that’s naive. We’d be much better off if we stopped obsessing over hacks and instead focused on evidence-based stuff that works. Here’s how to get started.

Physical: Move Your Body and Don’t Eat Crap—but Don’t Diet Either


Decades of research shows that just 30 minutes of moderate to intense daily physical activity lowers your risk for heart diseaseAlzheimer’smental illness, and many types of cancer. While this can certainly mean training for a marathon or setting CrossFit records, it doesn’t have to. Hiking, gardening, and even fast-paced walking can potentially provide all the same benefits. Basically, anything that makes your breathing labored for a sustained period does the trick.

Another simple way to think about physical activity comes from physician and physiologist Michael Joyner. “Move your body every day,” he says. “Sometimes very hard.” Based on a new study published in the online journal Scientific Reports, I’d add: try to do at least some of it outside. Researchers have found that people who spend at least two hours outdoors in green spaces every week have better mental and physical health than those who don’t.

The other aspect of physical health is nutrition. Here again, the best advice is the simplest: ignore diets and supplements and, instead, just aim to cut out junk like processed and fried foods. A study that was just published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reviewed data from hundreds of clinical trials involving nearly a million people and found that 16 of the most popular supplements and eight of the most popular diets have virtually no benefit—and some cause harm.

Emotional: Don’t Hide Your Feelings, Get Help When You Need It


Another big issue with what passes for modern-day wellness is that it creates the impression that everyone is happy all the time and that you should be, too. But like selective sharing on social media, this is not the reality of being human.

People get sad. Psychologists tell us that hiding and repressing that only makes it worse. Studies show that the more you hold something back or try to force it away, the stronger it becomes. On the contrary, the more vulnerable you are—both with yourself and others—the better. Researchers at the University of Mannheim, in Germany, call this the “beautiful mess effect.” Through multiple experiments, they’ve found that even though sharing your feelings may seem like a weakness to you, to others it seems courageous and builds trust and connection. In other words: stop trying so damn hard to be invincible, and just be yourself. Most people will be receptive and caring. And those who aren’t? Screw ’em.

If something feels way off, don’t be scared to get help. Mental illness can happen to anyone, at any stage of life, and in any context. I know firsthand that this is terrifying, but with professional assistance, rates of recovery are actually quite high.

Social: It’s Not All About Productivity; Relationships Matter, Too


The roots of a redwood tree only run six to twelve feet deep. Instead of growing downward, they grow out, extending hundreds of feet laterally and wrapping themselves around the roots of other trees. When rough weather comes, it’s the network of closely intertwined roots that allows the trees to stand strong. We are the same.

In 2010, researchers from Brigham Young University completed a comprehensive study that followed more than 300,000 people for an average of 7.5 years and learned that the mortality risks associated with loneliness exceeded those associated with obesity and physical inactivity and were comparable to the risks of smoking. More recent research shows that digital connections can be beneficial in certain circumstances (e.g., to stay in touch with geographically distant friends and family), but they cannot replace in-person ones and the value of physical presence and touch.

In their book The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the 21st Century, Harvard psychiatry professors Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz write that an increased focus on “productivity” and the “cult of busyness” is crowding out time for developing meaningful relationships. This may be especially true among millennials. A recent poll from the market research company YouGov found that 30 percent of millennials say they feel lonely and 22 percent said they have zero friends. This is hugely problematic, and a trend we all, together, must work to reverse.

Cognitive: Follow Your Interests, Do Deep-Focused Work


“Find your passion” is one of the most popular self-help phrases, but it’s quite misleading and sometimes even harmful. Researchers call this a fit mindset of passion, or the belief that you’ll find an activity or pursuit about which you are immediately passionate from the get-go. Although over 75 percent of people hold this mindset, it rarely leads to lasting passion. People with fit mindsets tend to overemphasize their initial feelings, search for perfection, and quit when the going gets tough. Better than a fit mindset is a development mindset, in which you understand that passion takes time to emerge, thus lowering the bar for further engagement in something from “this is perfect” to “this is interesting.” Studies show that those who have development mindsets are more likely to end up with sustainable and energizing passions.

And when you are working on something, regardless of what it is, eliminate distractions so you can give it your full attention. An app called Track Your Happiness has allowed thousands of people to report their feelings in real time. The main finding: the more present and fully engaged you are with what’s in front of you, the happier you’ll be. It’s amazing how much just one or two blocks of undistracted work per day can do to improve your mood.

Spiritual: Cultivate Purpose, Be Open to Awe


Organized religion is on the decline in America, especially for younger people. The 2018 American Family Survey, conducted by Deseret News in Utah, found that “for millennials and GenXers, the most common religion is no religion at all.” This may not be problematic in itself, but for centuries, religion served as a driving purpose for many people. When nothing fills this vacuum, the effect can be a negative one. A study published earlier this year in JAMA Network Open found that people without a strong life purpose—defined as a sense of feeling rooted in your life and taking actions toward meaningful goals—were more than twice as likely to die between the years of the study (2006 to 2010) compared with people who had one, even after controlling for things like gender, race, wealth, and education level. Speaking to NPR, Celeste Leigh Pearce, one of the authors of the study, said, “I approached this [study] with a very skeptical eye, [but] I just find it so convincing that I’m developing a whole research program around it.” Alan Rozanski, a cardiology professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City, says that purpose is “the deepest driver of well-being there is.”

Though purpose need not be based on organized religion, cultivating a cohesive sense of direction, core values, and connection with something beyond yourself is important. For some this takes the form of going to church, synagogue, mosque, or sangha. For others it’s about feeling connected to evolution, being a part of nature. (Of course, these two don’t need to be exclusive.) The work of Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, has shown time and time again that experiencing awe—watching a beautiful sunset, listening to moving music, witnessing a master at their craft—leads to self-transcendence and feelings of spiritual connection.

What won’t lead to spirituality and true well-being? Trying to find meaning in all the stuff that modern-day wellness implicitly and explicitly promotes, such as beauty, wealth, antiaging, and sex appeal. As David Foster Wallace said in his famous 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College:

Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship … is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already—it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Environmental: Care for Your Space


Our surroundings shape us in so many ways. Yet we’re rarely intentional about them.

On a micro level, think about your acute environment daily. Is your phone always on? Are you constantly being interrupted by notifications? Are you in a space conducive to the goal you want to accomplish? Do you keep lots of junk food in the house? Do you surround yourself with junk content? The goal is to design your environment to support the behaviors you desire.

On a macro level, ask yourself these questions: Do I live in a place that feels unlivable? Does my commute totally suck my soul? I’m aware that I’ve got a lot of privilege to suggest moving geographically, but the kind of move I’m suggesting is one away from crazily expensive, competitive, and congested cities. I can’t tell you how many people I know who feel “trapped” in big cities like New York or San Francisco. Move! There are plenty of places with lower costs of living, more access to nature, and good jobs. And wherever you are, take care of the planet. If we don’t, everything else in this article will eventually be moot.

This is what you need if you really want to be well. You have to cut out the crap and focus on the basics. This stuff is simple—and though it’s not always easy, it’s not always so hard either.

Brad Stulberg (@Bstulberg) is a performance coach and writes Outside’s Do It Better column. He is also bestselling author of the books “The Passion Paradox” and “Peak Performance.”

breathing exercises, a practice he began five years ago. And he says his technique—which involves a series of deep, rhythmic inhales and exhales, followed by breath holding—can strengthen the body, improve the immune system and circulation, prevent disease, and help with focus, confidence, and mindfulness. Surprisingly, research backs up many of those brash assertions.

Wim Hof practicing what he preaches.
Wim Hof practicing what he preaches. (Photo: Cyril Marcilhacy)

In 2014, a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that people could learn to control their immune response and autonomous nervous system after just ten days of Hof’s breathing exercises, meditation, and repeated exposure to cold. In the study, 24 participants—half of them trained by Hof—were injected with the endotoxin E. coli. Those Hof trained had a different inflammatory, immune, and hormone response, allowing them to fight it off significantly better than the other group.

“If Wim told me that in person, I would have said, ‘This is hippie yoga shit,’ ” says Andy Galpin, a researcher at the Center for Sport Performance at California State University at Fullerton. “But PNAS is a highly regarded journal.” Galpin met Hof last year and tried the technique himself. “My whole body immediately felt warm,” Galpin says. “What I think is happening is that you’re increasing oxygen saturation in the muscles and making the body more adaptable to absorb oxygen and perform more effectively.”

Hof prescribes a cold shower, an ice bath, or some other form of cold submersion immediately following his breathing regimen—a peculiar dictate also supported by research. “Cryotherapy increases the hormone norepinephrine,” says biologist Rhonda Patrick. “That ramps up fat metabolism and produces heat as a by-product.” The cold also reduces inflammation and eases chronic pain.

In the past few years, Hof has begun spreading his gospel. On his website, you can sign up for a free tutorial or download his free app to be introduced to the method. If you want further instruction, sign up on the website for ten weeks of video tutorials for $200 or purchase his e-book, Becoming the Iceman, for $15. And while there are hundreds of glowing testimonials online, most researchers say that more studies are needed. “Parts of the reaction patterns in the body are understandable,” says Pierre Capel, an immunologist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. “But the knowledge about Hof’s methods is not complete.” 

Galpin is undeterred. “I’m not going to say it’s a miracle and that after 30 breaths all your problems will go away,” he says. “But I definitely think it’s worth trying.” 

For his part, Mackenzie has teamed up with Hamilton to teach surfers, MMA fighters, CrossFitters, and regular athletes how to use Hof’s method. (Hof is an adviser, and Mackenzie and Hamilton still recommend that clients take his video courses.) “The breathing helps with my recovery,” says Mackenzie, “but I also feel better, sleep better, and am overall just happier since trying it.

Surfer Koa Smith, who practices Hof's breathing techniques to ease his nerves.
Surfer Koa Smith, who practices Hof’s breathing techniques to ease his nerves. (Photo: Prince and Jacob)

If You Want to Get a Taste of the Method

Follow these eight steps each morning before food, coffee, or training. To err on the side of caution, do them with a friend nearby.

1. Lie on the ground or sit with your back straight.

2. Inhale deeply, pulling in as much air as you can using your diaphragm.

3. Exhale fully but not forcefully; simply let the breath go. 

4. Repeat inhales and exhales for 30 to 40 rounds with your own rhythm. 

5. On the last round, exhale and then hold your breath until your body feels the need to breathe. 

6. Inhale deeply, then hold your breath for ten seconds.

7. Repeat steps 3–6 for three or four rounds. 

8. After your final round, hop in a cold shower. On your first try, stay under the water for 30 seconds, then gradually increase until you reach three to five minutes.

The good news? They’re all pretty simple to reverse—or prevent entirely.

When the temptation to skip a workout inevitably arises, think about these effects on your body.

Dan RoeDan Roe

May 1, 2017

When a planned rest day turns into a rest week or a nagging injury keeps you out of the game for longer than anticipated, you expect a little guilt over dropping your exercise habit. But we consulted the experts to break down what happens when workouts grind to a halt and what they have to say may surprise you. It’s okay to take time off, but there are physiological changes that you should be aware of. The good news: while some gains do vanish overnight, most are reversible or don’t take much effort to maintain. 

(Illustration: Ben Mounsey)

Blood Pressure Rises

In the short term, your blood pressure will change within a day depending on whether you work out or not. “With blood pressure, things happen very quickly, and they also cease very quickly,” says Linda Pescatello, a blood-pressure researcher at the University of Connecticut. Exercise causes increased blood flow, meaning your arteries temporarily widen to facilitate greater circulation. They tend to stay slightly larger for about 24 hours, but if you don’t get your heart rate up within a day, your blood pressure returns to baseline.

Quick response time aside, these acute effects don’t change the structure of the arteries themselves. It’s actually training adaptations (in addition to diet and genetics) that allow you to lower your blood pressure substantially after three months of consistent exercise or, alternatively, begin to narrow your arteries when you don’t work out for a long time.

Although daily movement is important to health, it takes around three months for your arteries to feel the impact of your dropped gym habit. It’s not until that point that they’ll begin to stiffen and narrow, so a few days’ rest won’t hurt you. But be warned: if you nix exercise for such an extended period, it will take another three months of steady exercise to get your arteries back to their best shape once you do return.

A little goes a long way. “The more you do, the better off your blood pressure is,” says Pescatello. “If you only got in exercise for half of a week, you’re still going to see some benefit…something is always better than nothing when it comes to blood pressure.”

(Illustration: Ben Mounsey)

Skeletal Muscle Starts Resisting Insulin

When we exercise, our muscles process insulin and absorb the resulting glucose as energy. Reduce that energy expenditure and your muscles will adapt physiologically to become a little less insulin sensitive, says John Thyfault, a researcher at the University of Kansas.

Losing insulin sensitivity means your body converts sugar into fat rather than using it as energy to power your movements. And while that adaptation helped our hunter-gatherer ancestors survive a feast-or-famine lifestyle, it’s bad news for the modern desk jockey, because improper regulation of insulin can prompt your cells to store some of what’s not used in muscle movement as fat. This change puts you at greater risk for the foundation of other conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes and inflammation.

Thankfully, your body can adapt pretty quickly to increased insulin sensitivity with just a little bit of exercise and healthier eating. High-volume and high-intensity exercise can be equally effective at making your body more sensitive. Just a 30-minute walk or a ten-minute HIIT regimen a few times a week will suffice for keeping your body eagerly processing insulin.

(Illustration: Ben Mounsey)

Muscles Shrink

You’re going to get small—and it’ll happen fast. The visible gains you made from a lifting routine will diminish within a week of quitting the weights. But smaller doesn’t mean weaker. “The thinking has changed recently,” says Jeremy Loenneke, exercise physiologist and assistant professor at University of Mississippi. “It suggests that muscle strength is probably not related to muscle size.”

Loenneke’s research, coupled with similar studies on muscle strength versus size, suggests that strength gains are actually dependent on neural responses in the brain or spinal cord. Weightlifting doesn’t just break down muscles and build them up bigger. It actually improves communication between the brain and the muscles being activated. That means your “strength” won’t be determined by the size of your biceps, but by the actual capacity of your brain and muscles to complete a certain task.

“If you have a weekend away on vacation, it’s probably not going to have a big impact on muscle size or strength,” says Loenneke. “Now, if you take off a month, you’ll lose muscle size, but strength is going to be relatively maintained.”

(Illustration: Ben Mounsey)

VO2 Max Drops

VO2 max—the maximum amount of oxygen you can get into your system—matters because it helps determine your cardio capacity and performance potential. Edward Coyle, a physiologist at the University of Texas, has dedicated his career to better understanding the role VO2 max plays in an athlete’s physiology and how quickly it begins to diminish.

One of Coyle’s studies unearthed hard numbers to create a timeline for VO2 drop-off. After 12 days, it dropped an average of 7 percent in test subjects, but then held steady until 21 days after the athletes’ last workout. By 56 days, VO2 max had dropped by around 14 percent, and finally hit a 16 percent decline after 84 days. But Coyle says 12 is the key number: “It turns out the decline follows a half-life of about 12 days. You decline half of the level from where you start during the first 12 days.”

However, even Coyle says VO2 max isn’t everything—you have to be able to put that oxygen to use, after all, and that means factoring in exercise economy (how efficient you are) and lactate threshold (how fast you can run or how hard you can push before your quads turn to stone). It’s also important to look at what was previously gained to determine where you’ll be after a lengthy break. According to Coyle, for every week you remain idle, it takes about three weeks to regain the lost adaptations. If you’re starting at an incredibly high level of fitness, this isn’t a huge deal, but if you’re just beginning to exercise, it may be harder (or more discouraging) to come back from a period of exercise abstinence.

(Illustration: Ben Mounsey)

Grumpiness Takes Over

A single hike, swim, run, or ride almost instantly makes you happier, thanks to a rush of feel-good endorphins. But turn that one afternoon outing into a long-term daily habit and you’ll see bigger mood boosts every time, according to a study in Psychosomatic Medicine. Get out of the habit and your emotional drop will be much steeper, too.

Additionally, staying active may fight anxiety. Michael Otto, a psychologist and professor at Boston University, explains that exercise can mitigate anxiety by firing up your fight-or-flight response, the evolutionary trigger for adrenaline, sweat, and increased heart rate when faced with a challenge. When you stop exercising, your body forgets how to handle stress. Because you’ve allowed your natural fight-or-flight response to atrophy, you’re less likely to experience something tough—whether an interval workout or a stressful workplace relationship—in a positive way. Instead, you get anxious.

“Many people skip the workout at the very time it has the greatest payoff. That prevents you from noticing just how much better you feel when you exercise,” Otto said in an article for the American Psychological Society. “Failing to exercise when you feel bad is like explicitly not taking an aspirin when your head hurts. That’s the time you get the payoff.”

A new book shows you how to get into the mindset that leads to mastery and peak performance

Authors of ‘The Passion Paradox and Peak Performance’ offer clues on how to achieve the mastery mindset.

Brad StulbergBrad Stulberg and Steve Magness

Mar 19, 2019

Common advice is to find and follow your passion. But it’s not so simple. You don’t just magically stumble upon the feeling and enjoy everything from there. Expecting to only sets you up for repeated disappointment. Passion needs to be cultivated and nurtured. Otherwise, what was once something you loved may start to feel like a chore, and burnout looms right around the corner. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is a set of actionable principles that supports the kind of ongoing passion that yields not just peak performance but also a rich and fulfilling life. 

As we report in our new book The Passion Paradox: A Guide to Going All In, Finding Success, and Discovering the Benefits of an Unbalanced Life, nearly every top performer to whom we spoke—from star athletes like Shalane Flanaganto creative gurus like Rich Roll—shared a few common characteristics, all of which are supported by emerging science on passion and performance. We’ve come to call this bundle of principles the “mastery mindset.” Adopting this mindset is key to living and performing with passion—without burning out.

Before getting to the individual traits, a few words on mastery. Mastery is a mindset and also a path. It values both acute (in the moment) and chronic (over a lifetime) engagement but devalues most of the transient stuff in between (point-in-time successes or failures). Mastery is not a New Age self-help concept. It is rooted in principles that are central to psychology and biology, and it is an ever present theme in the lives of people who embody and productively channel their passion.

Individuals who are on the path of mastery not only accomplish great things, but they do so in a healthy and sustainable manner. They exude a Zen-like aura, are resistant to burnout, and produce work that is of an incredible quality. And yet perhaps their greatest accomplishment is an even more cherished one: continual growth and development, a fulfilling life. Below are the six individual components of the mastery mindset. Keep coming back to these and make them an ongoing practice.

Drive from Within

Individuals on the path of mastery are driven from within. Their primary motivation isn’t an external measure of success or fear, and it’s certainly not satisfying others or conforming to a certain peer group or social norms. Rather, their motivation originates from an internal desire to improve and engage in an activity for its own sake. This doesn’t mean that each day of their pursuit will be exciting or pleasurable. But it does mean that they will show steadfast enthusiasm about the totality of their journey.

When the majority of your motivation lies outside yourself, you become a slave to results that may not be under your control. This causes a lot of distress and is a surefire route to burning out. And yet, it’s a lot easier to say “I’ll be internally motivated” than to actually do it, especially if you start performing well and seeing positive results. There are two practices that help:

  1. Regularly reflect on what you love about your work or activity—the reasons that you got into it in the first place.
  2. After a tough loss or big win, give yourself 24 hours to grieve the defeat or celebrate the victory, but then get back to doing the work itself.

Focus on the Process

Goals are like steering mechanisms, North Stars to shoot for. When used in this manner, they can be very productive. But too much focus on a specific goal, especially one that’s outside your full control, almost always does more harm than good. The mastery mindset involves shifting your focus from achieving any one goal itself to executing on the process that gives you the best chance of more general improvement over time. Someone who embodies the mastery mindset judges themselves based not on whether they accomplish their specific goal but rather on how well they execute on their process. After all, it is the process—not the outcome—that is within your control. And it is also the process that makes up the vast majority of one’s life. Results, good or bad, are fleeting. A goal is a direction, not a destination. Process keeps you focused and present on your journey.

Don’t Worry About Being the Best—Worry About Being the Best at Getting Better

You just learned the importance of not becoming overly attached to specific goals, but becoming attached to the ultimate goalgetting better—is an inherent part of internalizing the mastery mindset and living productively with passion. When your utmost goal is simply to get better, all failures and successes are temporary because you will forever improve, given more time and more practice. You don’t define yourself by any single moment in time; you define yourself by an entire body of work in service of ongoing growth and development. Your pursuit ceases to be something you are aiming for and becomes a part of who you are. Do you write to sell books, or are you a writer? Do you run to win marathons, or are you a runner? Do you paint to sell portraits, or are you a painter?

When you make this shift—your pursuit transitioning from a verb, something you do, to a noun, someone you are—you’re more apt to hold on to your passions for life. This isn’t to say there won’t be rough patches, disappointments, and triumphs along the way. Almost undoubtedly, there will be. But rather than serving as end points, concrete achievements and failures become more like information—markers of progress and exposures of weakness. And it is this very information that helps you improve and refine your process over the long haul.

Embrace Acute Failure for Chronic Gains

A well-known principle of physical training is this: if you want a muscle to grow, you must push it beyond its normal bounds until it is hard, if not impossible, to perform additional repetitions. In exercise science, this is called training to fatigue. Training to fatigue is effective because muscle fatigue, or, in some cases, failure, serves as a critical signal, telling your body it must grow and adapt in order to withstand future challenges. When you fail, your body learns on an innate biological level what it needs to do differently. Failure sets off a cascade of changes that help you evolve so you can meet a greater challenge next time. In other words, your body can’t really grow unless it fails. This principle holds true far beyond your muscles. It’s true for everything. Along any lasting and meaningful journey, you are bound to fail. So long as you use those failures as informative opportunities to grow, that’s fine.

Be Patient 

The path of mastery is almost always very hard and requires lots of time and unyielding commitment. Any long-term progression contains inevitable periods of boredom. We are hardwired to seek novelty and stimulation, which is why quick fixes and hacks can be so appealing—even though they rarely, if ever, work. Advancing on the path of mastery, getting the most out of yourself and sustaining passion for a lifetime, requires patience. Ignore the hacks. Be prepared for ups and downs. Ride the waves over and over again. Be patient with yourself, and be patient with your process. Small steps taken consistently over a long period of time lead to big gains. Walking your path with others—community support—helps you navigate the ups and downs and keeps you moving forward. And remember: the goal is the path, and the path is the goal.

Be Here Now

When we are fully present for whatever it is we’re doing, we gain a new appreciation for our respective pursuits and our own unique role in them. Yet the majority of the time, we walk around on autopilot, not deliberately choosing where or how sharply we direct our attention. To sustain passion, however, we must remove distractions that prey on our attention and break from the mundane and automatic thoughts that normally fill our minds. Practically, this means we should set aside the time, space, and energy to give our respective passions our all. It doesn’t need to be all day, every day, but we do need to prioritize this time and make it sacred.

Deep-focused engagement is fuel for lasting passion. It seems simple and obvious, yet step back and think about just how little receives your full attention. Even activities that once forced us to be present—such as a walk or run in the woods, holding a newborn baby, or a physician’s encounter with a patient—are now frequently hijacked by the beeping and buzzing of our digital devices. These modern inventions continuously pull our attention to the next external diversion, creating the illusion that we are busy and present but all the while keeping us on autopilot and at the whim of whatever distracts us next. Way too often, we may appear to be here, but we are really there. Keep coming back to here. Mastery requires you be here—really here—with what is in front of you.

This article was adapted from the new book The Passion Paradox: A Guide to Going All In, Finding Success, and Discovering the Benefits of an Unbalanced Life by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, published by Rodale Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. It is available from AmazonBarnes and NobleBooks-A-Million, and everywhere else books are sold.