The Six Pillars of Optimal Performance

Joan Benoit Samuelson, ​​the first women’s Olympic Games marathon champion, believes in balance. She says, “Sports cannot be all-consuming. You have to balance the mind, body, and spirit.”

After more than five decades in athletics, Joan still has a passion for it, thanks to living by this philosophy. True athletes know that a balanced mindset and training plan is the key to making incremental gains over time. Slow, steady, and consistent wins the race.

If you could use some help and accountability along your fitness journey, I’m launching a new journal soon called the “Unbeatable Planning Journal.” With it, you’ll be able to up your game like Joan by journaling about what we at Unbeatable call the “Six Pillars of Optimal Performance.”

Focusing on these six critical areas helps you dial in new habits to keep you on track toward optimal health, fitness and performance. Pick one new habit a month to implement from each pillar to build serious momentum superpowers. 

The Six Pillars of Optimal Performance recommendations include, but are not limited to:

Physical Movement and Exercise

  • Perform a minimum of 20 minutes of functional movement or cardiovascular exercise, three to five days a week. 
  • Do somatic movement (yoga, qigong, range of motion, etc.) for a minimum of five minutes every morning.
  • Do short spot drills of 50 squats, burpees, or push-ups during the day.

Fueling and Nutrition

  • Carry fresh water with you and drink half your body weight in ounces every day.
  • Eat natural, high-quality foods 80% of the time.
  • Eat 30% less than what you’ve been trained to eat.
  • Intermittent fast (the easiest way to eat less!).
  • Cut out sugary and high-carb snacks.

Sleep and Recovery

  • Do yoga or stretching movements every morning and after every workout.
  • Schedule active recovery and days of rest in your training plan.
  • Plan to get between seven and eight hours of sleep. Track it with an Oura ring or your watch.
  • Stop eating, drinking alcohol, and using electronics two hours before bedtime. 
  • Put up blackout curtains and consider using a cooling device such as Sleep-8.

Stress and Mental Management 

  • Practice five or more minutes of box breathing daily (building up to 20 minutes).
  • Read something inspiring as part of your morning or evening ritual, or do a spot drill. 
  • Say “no” to new commitments and say “yes” to downtime for learning, or for helping someone out.

Time in Nature

  • Get outside every day to walk, breathe, get some direct sunlight, and clear your head.
  • Spend more time in nature camping, hiking, or traveling.
  • Get direct sunlight as soon as you wake up. Your circadian rhythm is set by this, with sleep occurring roughly sixteen hours later.

Communities of Practice and Learning

  • Don’t be a lone ranger in your learning and growth – enlist a buddy. 
  • Build or join one or more communities of practice. Examples include groups of peers committed to growth such as martial arts, yoga, art, chess club or book club, any outdoor activity, improv or acting class, or learning anything new that inspires you.   

Then, journal about your Six Pillars progress in the evening. Begin by answering the following questions:

  • What went well today?
  • What didn’t go well?
  • What can I learn about what went well, and what can I change about what didn’t go well? 
  • What negative habit is holding me back?
  • What new habit will I commit to, and how/when?

This journaling practice takes up just a few minutes per day, and it’s essential for growing your self-awareness. As Socrates once said, “an unexamined life is not worth living.” That sounds harsh, but without deeply examining your mental training and re-constructing new stories to guide your behavior and goals, you can become blissfully (or painfully) ignorant that you’re dancing to someone else’s tune. If you’re not in love with the idea of daily introspection with morning and evening rituals, then I urge you to just give yourself 30 days with it and see how it changes you.

If you notice any triggers or obstacles that interrupt your goal progress across any of the Six Pillars, write them down and reflect on what you were thinking and how you were feeling when it happened. Maybe something, or someone, triggered you into negativity. Or maybe the opposite happened, and someone or something motivated you to push a little harder. Write that down, too! You learn and grow by paying attention to what’s working and what’s not, and by making small, incremental changes day by day.

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