The #1 Secret Of Top Performers

By Michelle Reeb posted 08-12-2019 11:54 AM


Think about a time when you were performing at your peak, whether at work or in another facet of your life. Imagine that feeling of accomplishment. Now think about the hard work that you put in to accomplishing those goals. There was a lot of hard work, wasn’t there? We don’t accomplish great things by wishing for them. We accomplish great things through consistent purposeful action.

In Jennifer Pharr Davis’ book, The Pursuit of Endurance - Harnessing The Record-Breaking Power of Strength and Resilience, the author shares lessons learned from her Foundations of Sports Psychology professor, Dr. Daniel Czech. As specified in the book, “Dr. Czech stated, ‘Whether you are talking about sports or life in general, the main thing you are trying to achieve is consistent high performance. You can’t operate at 110 percent. It’s mathematically impossible. So what we strive to do is enhance our potential on a daily basis, to go from performing at, say, 60 percent, to performing at 80 percent. Then once you accomplish that, the goal becomes repeating that higher level of performance.’”

If constant improvement comes from focused effort to enhance our potential on a daily basis, why wouldn’t we just push ourselves to our limits without taking a break? The answer lies within the law of diminishing returns, where the return on your investment of time and energy is not giving you the output you’ve come to expect. When this happens, it’s time to work smarter, not harder, and rest is the key. Elite athletes incorporate rest into their daily routines, rejuvenating their bodies and minds. This enables them to achieve peak performances, just as it does with most powerful professionals.

“It’s the balance between the work and the rest that keeps us healthy and strong. This balancing act is described by Carl Weigert’s law of supercompensation, formulated in the late nineteenth century, and by Hans Selye’s general adaptation syndrome. An endocrinologist working in the mid-twentieth century, Selye identified two kinds of stress: positive stress, called “eustress”, and negative stress called “distress”. We adapt to the former - indeed, it’s the latter, with physiological consequences. While we may do better under pressure, too much pressure quickly becomes a problem. We travel from the alarm state, in which stress hormones are released to allow the body to respond to the stressor; to the resistance stage, in which the body works to bring itself back into balance by adapting; and finally, into the exhaustion stage, in which continued stress leads to hormonal imbalance and changes to the chemistry of the tissues can lead to illness and even death. … What prevents us from moving into this exhaustion stage? Recovery.” The information sourced from The Athlete’s Guide To Recovery by Sage Rountree gives a good explanation on how stress and pressure affect the human body and mind.

We require the same blend of work and rest to perform at our peak at work. Without rest, we become overly stressed, leading to exhaustion and burnout. Extreme fatigue sets in and takes a toll on our performance through diminished motivation and enthusiasm to keep going because we’re too tired to maintain our high level of focus. There is, of course, a correlation to our health as well. By increasing our propensity to become ill through common colds, stress can slow us down and force a recovery period. A far worse case is when high levels of stress lead to high blood pressure and other factors that cause heart disease, the number one leading cause of death for both men and women (source:

Rest is the key to new, higher levels of achievement. With such a simple-sounding solution to stress, we can’t help but ask, how do we incorporate rest into our daily lives?


From personal experience, you no doubt know the importance of sleep. When you’re in the midst of sleep deprivation, you know how awful you feel. For my part, I’ve felt like a zombie before and looking back on that time, I wonder how I really functioned. That time of my life seems like a hazy blur of a time, where I was just getting by, nowhere near thriving. Have you worked for or alongside someone who is frequently sleep deprived? It’s tough.

What have you noticed in people who are going through sleep deprivation? What is the energy level of the people you observe? How is their disposition, attitude, and mood? What do you observe about their facial expressions and posture? In examples I’ve seen, they look depressed or “down”, opposite of their energetic and vivacious selves that I’ve come to know and admire.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 - 9 hours of daily sleep. If you’re having a hard time getting to sleep or falling back asleep after waking up, there are many techniques you can try. My personal favorites are the meditations found in the Calm App. I enjoy the guided daily meditations each night. When I’ve truly struggled with sleep, I’ll listen to their 7 Days of Sleep meditation. At first, before I got the app, I thought these sleep meditations were ridiculous, until one evening when I was on a red-eye flight. I really wanted to sleep, but had always struggled to sleep on planes. For grins, I thought I would listen to the free meditation program featured on one of their channels, convinced that I would listen and prove to myself how much this stuff didn’t work. As you may have guessed, I fell asleep during the meditation (a 10 minute event) and woke as the wheels of the plane touched the tarmac. Be sure to check for other techniques if my example isn’t right for you.

Slow Down 

There are times when pressure and tension reach a crescendo and in those times, it’s helpful to find a way to slow down. In the interval, you can pause what you’re doing and take a moment to breathe deeply. A series of deep breathes can help ground you and refocus your energy away from the frustration. Stuck in a stressful meeting? Excuse yourself for a brief walk down the hall or around the block. Visit a restroom and rinse your hands with cool water. Fill your water bottle and take a moment to hydrate. If you have a few minutes, reach out to a friend and ask them to tell you a funny story or just connect on a personal level on something beyond work for a moment. Taking time for yourself to decompress, even if it’s just for a few seconds, will help you refocus on the matter at hand with new energy.

Of course, you can always take a nap. Will You Be More Productive If You Take A Nap Every Day? According to this article by Jayson DeMers on, the answer is yes! According to the write-up, napping for 90-minutes in the middle of your workday will help you to stay on task, remain patient, and improve your focus and alertness. This article references another account, The Science of Naps by Kirsten Weir (an article by The American Psychological Association), which states, "’What's amazing is that in a 90-minute nap, you can get the same [learning] benefits as an eight-hour sleep period," [Sara Mednick, PhD, a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside] says. ‘And actually, the nap is having an additive benefit on top of a good night of sleep.’"

Your productivity-increasing nap doesn’t have to be 90 minutes long to enhance your productivity. “NASA research shows a 26-minute nap enhances performance by 34 percent and overall alertness by 54 percent,” according to 4 Science-Backed Ways to Increase Productivity by Murray Newlands, also on

If you find yourself in a frenetic state more often than you’d like, take a step back and look at your schedule. Is there anything you can eliminate that will help mitigate your stress levels? Saying “no” is extremely tough, but it can be a very freeing experience, helping you carve out time for what matters most. By prioritizing your self-care, you’re better able to care for others.

Want a little inspiration for slowing down? Check out  When you feel the need to speed up, slow down | Kimi Werner | TEDxMaui


Think about the times of your life you enjoy the most when you’re having fun. What are you doing? Who are you with? How do they make you feel? Now consider how you will bring more of those moments into your life. Whether it be spending time with friends and family, hiking, playing sports, binge-watching Netflix, going to the movies, traveling the world, reading, taking classes, walking your dog, cooking a meal, getting a massage, soaking in the sun, stopping to smell the roses or whatever activity brings you joy, you should bring more of what you love into your life.

Develop a routine that dedicates time to these things you enjoy. So often we say, “I don’t have time for that.” That’s fine when it’s something you’d rather not do, but when you’re saying you don’t have time for things you truly enjoy, you must stop and reassess your priorities to ensure you’re making time for things that will re-energize your mind and body.

At some point, you will need a break. Some people feel that they will take time for themselves once they retire or once their kids grow up. If you’ve known someone who died unexpectedly at a young age, you know first-hand that you can’t count on having that time available to you. Life is most precious because we don’t know how much time we have, so be fiercely dedicated to making time to take care of you starting right now!

Fully utilize your vacation time, be unavailable for work when you’re not expected to be working (such as nights and weekends), play hooky for a day, take a sabbatical through your company or make your own when switching jobs. Rest is essential to your success at work and in your life beyond the office. If you’re not prioritizing rest now, today is the day to start.

Begin with these simple exercises:

  • Sit or stand tall and take a deep breathe as deeply as you can. Exhale slowly. Repeat 5 times. (1 - 2 minutes)
  • Add a daily calendar entry every morning to think about the one thing you will accomplish this day that will bring you closer to a goal. (5 minutes daily)
  • Add a daily calendar entry every evening to think about one thing that you are grateful for this day. If you want to take your gratitude a step further, write a personal thank you note to someone you’re grateful for. (5 - 10 minutes daily)

To keep your life as non-stressful and fulfilling as possible, make sure that you get enough sleep, slow down, relax, do what you love, take breaks, and rest. We hope this blog post was helpful, and hope you enjoyed!

We want to hear from you. How do you like to rest and relax? Share your thoughts, ideas and suggestions at We promise to listen and respond.

Follow Michelle Reeb and The Top Candidate on LinkedIn. Check out The Top Candidate Website and our careers in analytics page, specifically designed for DAA Members.

Michelle Reeb, CEO of The Top Candidate, is a candidate advocate, career coach, personal branding strategist and author of The Top Candidate Playbook. She is passionate about helping candidates rise to the top to seize the career opportunities you desire, whether you are actively pursuing a new role now or planning ahead for a career move in the future. Nicole Reeb, Michelle’s daughter and an award-winning author in the “What Makes You Proud Of America” essay contest, edited this post.

Content provided by The Top Candidate, DAA’s Career Center Sponsor.




08-20-2019 06:23 PM

Thank you for your comments and feedback!  I really appreciate it. I also wanted to share two additional points. 

1. Garret, thank you for sharing your personal schedule and habits. At the heart of your success lies the fact that you prioritize sleep and you carve out time for rest and rejuvenation each day, time that you give to yourself that is non-negotiable.

2.  Another tip I'd like to share is to have an accountability buddy. I notice that if I have plans to stay up late working on a project, my family calls me out on it and tells me it's time to get some sleep. This gentle nudging from my family helps me to keep a healthy routine and reassess my priorities. This doesn't mean that I shirk my duties at work. It just means that I might postpone a non-urgent activity to get this work project done now and make sure that sleep remains a priority.

08-14-2019 01:59 PM

I really need these reminders right now. I'm currently one of the zombies trying to fix the sleep situation especially. Great article, thanks!

08-14-2019 10:09 AM

My personal habits for reference/comparison:

  • 7hrs of Sleep
  • 2 hours dedicated 'flex time' a day during the week, this is my social media time, working on my personal website, metalsmithing, whatever... One of the key things is that it makes me choose. If I do ____ I can't do _____.
  • After work I have alternating days between going to the gym for my health and career development (approximately 2hrs)
  • The rest of the time is dedicated to house chores and eating.
  • Weekends are a free-for all, maybe I need a large chunk of study time, maybe I want to go out kayaking, or maybe I need to fix that one thing I been putting off for too long!

I have been doing this for a while and while somedays have other plans, this basic framework has been a nice balance for me personally. Hope this helps for any comparisons. 

Anyone else care to share any habits?

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