A Performance Expert's 5 Nonnegotiables For Productivity That Lasts

mbg Founder & Co-CEO By Jason Wachob
mbg Founder & Co-CEO
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth.
mindbodygreen Podcast Guest Steven Kotler
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If you're in a slump of some sort (be it work-related, academic, or a mere dip in creativity), you're certainly not alone. Everyone can feel unmotivated at times, and while it does take some work to get back on track, the venture isn't impossible. In fact, you can actually biohack your way to peak productivity with a few lifestyle shifts.

Take it from Steven Kotler: According to this performance expert, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Impossible, and founder and executive director of the Flow Research Collective, enhancing productivity requires both a physical and cognitive approach. "If you're interested in peak performance, you have to be doing these things. Otherwise, you can't even get into the game," he says on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. 

Below, the five tips Kotler considers nonnegotiable: 

1. Focus on sleep. 

We'll start with the most physical: According to Kotler, sleep is paramount for productivity (and other experts would agree). In fact, lack of sleep has even been associated with cognitive decline.

"You need seven to eight hours of sleep a night. It's just what you need," he says. 

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2. Find social support. 

"You actually need social support," Kotler adds. Studies have shown loneliness is associated with more than double the risk of cognitive decline. In terms of everyday performance, this makes sense: "Think about getting in a fight with your boyfriend, girlfriend, wife, brother, or boss," says Kotler. "Think about your energy levels the next day—you're tapped. It's a big break on peak performance." 

But just as those negative social experiences can inhibit your productivity, high-quality connections can lift your spirits (and performance) right back up. Do what you can to foster the relationships in your life, even on a virtual plane, and your productivity may thrive. 

3. Manage your anxiety levels. 

"Anxiety is a huge break on people," he says. That's why Kotler says you need tools to manage your anxiety. He cites three specific ways to approach those feelings: mindfulness, gratitude, and exercise. "The research shows you need one of these a day." 

Whether it's a five-minute gratitude practice, breathwork session, or round of HIIT, approaching one of these a day can help enhance your performance levels. During times of crisis (like, say, during a pandemic), you might even need two out of the three each day to dial down anxiety and kick-start productivity, says Kotler. The specifics may differ for everyone, but any way you can help manage anxiety is key. 

4. Set process-oriented goals. 

The next step, says Kotler, is to set manageable goals. Now, you do need high-level aspirations, but the key to productivity is to set process-oriented goals. Those long-term desires have their time and place, sure, but everyday performance relies on those mission-level, tangible goals. 

Take this long-term goal, for instance: I want to be the greatest author in history. "That's a moving target. It's an aim," says Kotler. "You want to chunk those down into hard, one- to five-year goals." Try something like: I'd like to write a New York Times bestseller. Tangible, specific, and process-oriented. 

With that goal, though, it's even more helpful to dissect it into clear, daily goal lists. It's like a web of goal-setting: "Everything has to point in the same direction," says Kotler. "Your high goals have to flow into your mission-level goals and your clear, daily goals." 

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5. Discover your intrinsic motivations. 

"There are five major intrinsic motivators that matter," says Kotler. Curiosity, purpose, autonomy, purpose, and mastery: "Curiosity is our basic fuel that builds into passion. [Then] passion is attached to a cause greater than ourselves, which becomes purpose. Once you have purpose, your body literally wants the autonomy and freedom to pursue that purpose. And once you're pursuing that purpose, you want to master the skills to really pursue that purpose." 

They're all aligned, and one cannot continue on without the other. That said, if you are lacking in any of these intrinsic motivators, your productivity might suffer down the line. 

The takeaway. 

We admit, it can be difficult to focus on all five of these factors each and every day. But if you're hoping to strengthen your performance, perhaps take the time to enhance them one by one. According to Kotler, you're essentially biohacking your productivity. Says the expert: "When we screw up peak performance, it's nothing more than getting our biology to work for us rather than against us." 

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