Exciting news: we are finally launching FAREWELL, our new podcast project. The goal of the show is simple: to help you get the best out of yourself on the things that matter to you most. We’ll do this via a combination of roundtable discussions, “coach-ups,” and interviews, all guided by yours truly (Brad and Steve) and Clay Skipper, a world-class journalist who, prior to joining the Growth Equation this year, spent seven years writing features for GQ.
We know there are many good podcasts out there but we’re confident this one will be different. We want to be a signal amidst the noise, your one-stop shop for all things health, performance, and excellence. If you like this newsletter, we guarantee you’ll love the podcast.
In the spirit of kicking off FAREWELL, today’s newsletter comes from Clay, highlighting some of the top lessons from his last three months of interviews—all of which will be rolling out on the podcast over the coming weeks.
10 New Ideas to Help You Perform Your Best
In 2017, ultrarunner Courtney Dauwalter was about 88 miles into a 100-mile race when she started losing her vision. By the time she reached mile 90, she estimates she was about 98% blind, unable to spot her hand even as she waved it in front of her face. But when she looked down at her feet, she could just barely see the trail, so she decided to keep moving.
“I don’t condone doing stuff that feels unsafe,” Courtney tells me, on today’s pilot episode of FAREWELL. “I assessed the facts of that situation and felt like, ‘I can keep moving forward because I can see my toes. I know this trail doesn’t go off any cliffs. I know there aren’t intersecting trails where I’m going to end up lost in the wilderness. And I know there’s an aid station four miles ahead.’ All of these facts were telling me that my solution is to just keep moving forward as best I can with what I have.”
Courtney made it to that aid station and linked up with a volunteer who narrated the final six miles of trail for her. She finished the race as the sixth runner overall and nearly two hours ahead of the next woman. Eventually, her vision returned. (She’d suffered what’s called a corneal edema, which is when your cornea fills with fluid and loses its transparency, further aggravated by the fact that she’d been wearing contacts and running through dusty, smoky air for more than twenty hours.)
The moment became yet another folder for her to put into her “filing cabinet,” which is what she calls her deep rolodex of experiences she’s acquired throughout more than a decade of running ultras.
“When a problem comes up [during a race], I picture checking the filing cabinet,” she says. “What do you already know about this situation? What have you tried before? What has worked or not worked in the past? What are the facts here? Because a lot of these really long races are about problem-solving, and keeping your cool when everything blows up, nothing is going right, and then finding a way to move forward. The filing cabinet keeps it really factual. Because when stuff is going wrong, the last thing I need is to be getting emotional about it.”
What are the chances that you or I end up temporarily blind, 88 miles into a 100-mile race? Very unlikely. But what are the chances you or I find ourselves sometime in the next few days, if not the next few hours, in a situation where a problem arises and we need to find a way forward without letting our emotions cloud our judgment? Extremely likely.
This is why I’m so excited about today’s interview with Courtney Dauwalter—and, more broadly, about the latest evolution of the Growth Equation podcast, relaunching under the name FAREWELL.
The conversation with Courtney is emblematic of what FAREWELL will be: a show that delivers you insights, strategies, and habits from people (including Steve and Brad, of course) who have studied or practiced performance at the highest level. You’ll not only be entertained, but also learn about tools that you can use to get the best out of yourself on the things you care about most, to cultivate a healthy body and mind, and to generally do and fare well. (Hence the name of the show!)
Each week, you’ll get a shorter episode on Monday and a longer episode on Thursday, to go along with this newsletter.
- The longer episode will either be an interview with guests like Courtney—and also behavioral scientists, authors, psychologists, nutritionists, world-class athletes, and coaches, among others—or it will be a roundtable with Steve and Brad, just like you’ve gotten every week in the past.
- The shorter episode will be called The Coach Up. Think of it like a 1-on-1 coaching session. It will be 10-15 minutes and it will explain a specific performance-related insight or framework (from Brad, Steve, or a guest) and how you can apply its benefits to your own life. (This coming Monday, you’ll learn about the surprising mindset shift that can help you stick to your goals when the going gets tough.)
The episode with Courtney Dauwalter is out now (Apple/Spotify), and I encourage you to listen, because she puts on an absolute masterclass on so many of the principles that we hold dear at The Growth Equation. But it’s only one of the many interviews I’ve spent the last three months banking for FAREWELL, and I’m so excited about the weeks and months ahead that I wanted to give you a deeper look at what’s to come. Courtney just gave you the first lesson: Need to solve a problem? Rely on facts, not feelings. You can find nine more below.
2. When it comes to doing hard things, get curious.
Before Courtney was regularly running and winning ultramarathons, she tried a standard road marathon. “When I signed up for my first road marathon, it was purely curiosity driven,” she says. “I was curious if I could make it. Can I be a person who finishes a road marathon? I didn’t think I was. I was like, that’s wild that people run for 26.2 miles. My legs are going to shatter. There’s no way I can get to that finish line—but I have to see.”
Needless to say, she was the type of person who could run 26.2 miles without her legs shattering. When she finished the marathon, it left her with a question: What’s another thing that sounds way too hard? That led her to ultramarathons. “Since getting into this sport, it’s always been about, what else is there?” she says. “I’ll finish a 50K or 50-mile race or 100-mile race, and it’s, Okay, I did that. I didn’t think I could. So what’s another thing I can try that I’m not sure I can make it to the finish line of.”
Courtney has been following that question ever since, and it has led her to some downright preposterous results. In 2017, she finished a 240-mile race ten hours ahead of all other competitors, male and female. This past summer, she ran three of the most iconic 100-mile races in 10 weeks—and won all three! She hadn’t even planned to run the third, but, a few weeks after finishing the second, she felt recovered enough that she says she wondered what would happen if she added a third. “I was like, We have to find out what happens with one more 100 on the schedule this summer,” she remembers. “Let’s just see. Let’s have some fun and find out if it’s possible to finish it.”
Damian Warner, a decathlete, says he took a similar approach at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.He was motivated primarily by finding out what he was capable of, and allows the results to be a side effect of that curiosity-driven pursuit. “I was curious, am I capable of being at my best on these two days? Am I capable of being the best decathlete in the world on these two days?” He was. He won the gold.
The point here: if you find something that sounds too hard, or perhaps even evokes fear, try approaching it with curiosity (“let’s just see what happens” vs. “I have to do this”). You might find you can do and accomplish more than you think.
3. “Yes, yes, yes.”
In 2022, Chelsea Sodaro won the Kona Ironman World Championship using a mantra that was inspired by her daughter, Skye, who was born just 18 months before the race.
“My daughter was in this toddler stage of saying ‘no’ to everything, and so we could dance with her in the living room and say, yes, yes, yes,” remembers Chelsea, with a laugh. “And it got stuck in my head for the whole Ironman. Every pedal, stroke, and stride, I was saying, ‘yes, yes, yes.’ It’s this mantra that reminds me to lean in when things get really hard and commit to doing the hard things.”
It’s an idea Chelsea says she leans on even when she’s doing things that might seem a lot less hard than winning an Ironman. “When I’m struggling with something like building a tower of blocks in the living room, Skye will look at me and go, ‘Remember, Mama, we can do hard things,’” she told me. “Triathlon and endurance racing is such a metaphor for life and in so many ways: things will inevitably get hard and things will go wrong and it’s about how we lean in and embrace those challenges.”
Next time you find yourself facing something hard, remind yourself: Yes, yes, yes. It gets you out of resistance and into being with whatever is unfolding in the present moment, so that you can work on it as best as possible.
4. Do less to do more.
If I were to give you an unbalanced scale and told you to balance it, what would you do? According to studies, most humans add more weight to one side, instead of simply subtracting weight from the heavier side. “We’re adders, not subtractors,” Katy Milkman, a behavioral scientist at Wharton, told me, citing work from the scientist Leidy Klotz.
Unfortunately, this works against us when it comes to behavior change, and makes us more susceptible to scams and guruism. When trying to start a new habit, we often think we need a different strategy or approach. Our instinct is to add something new from the very robust bag of strategies that are constantly marketed to us. In reality, we might be better served by subtracting something that’s standing in our way. For instance, if you’re somebody who struggles to get as much sleep as you’d like, you might not need to take more magnesium so much as stop answering stressful work emails after 9:00 PM. One of the reasons Milkman says behavior change is so hard is because we don’t understand that sometimes you need to do less to do more.
Next time you are faced with a challenge, pause and think about what you could subtract before you go into addition mode.
5. Think in Cyclical Time.
When Steve and Brad started The Growth Equation, they named it after the simple formula “stress + rest = growth.” But we live in a society and culture that often valorizes the stress and completely disregards the rest. This is something that Katherine May explores in her book Wintering and in the conversation I had with her, pointing out that we might better appreciate the value of rest by looking to the natural rhythms of the year and seeing that time is cyclical rather than linear, that we only get the growth that comes in spring with the rest we take in winter.
“We think that growth is the only thing that’s worthwhile,” she says, particularly in the individualistic, progress-obsessed West. “But that is harmful. Because it means that we’re denying this completely natural other half, which is essential to growth because of the secret work that goes on during those darker, more difficult times, that then bolsters us in the next phase.”
If you’re an athlete and you’ve tried to shortcut your recovery, then you know that it leads to fatigue or injury, and ultimately hinders your long-term progress. You also know that progress is rarely linear. Even as you make general movement towards a goal, you’ll still suffer periods of acute failure or setback. Those moments will be much more difficult if you don’t have an appreciation for the way growth moves in cycles rather than straight lines.
6. Remember that you aren’t your thoughts.
In my conversation with Chelsea Sodaro, she shared that she has struggled with OCD and anxiety, mental health conditions that often include intrusive, unwanted thoughts, and has come up with a unique strategy to navigate them.
“You are not your thoughts, and you cannot control what thoughts pop into your head, but you can control how you react to them,” she says. “One of my strategies is that I named my brain. And when I first heard about this strategy, I was like, um, that is effing ridiculous, but it’s proved to be really helpful for me. I named my brain Regina, like from Mean Girls. When I’m having the intrusive thoughts, I just go like, ‘Sure, Regina, whatever,’ or, ‘Could you please stop being a b****, Regina?’ It’s creating that distance between what pops into your head and who you actually are.”
7. Understand the idea of “value capture.”
When I spoke to Michael Easter, author of The Scarcity Brain, he explained “value capture,” a concept he got from a philosopher named Thi Nguyen. “The idea is that once you put a number on something, or quantify a behavior, people start to chase the number,” he said. “So we lose sight of all the reasons that we do the behavior in the first place and instead just focus on changing that number.”
Easter, who lives in Vegas, notices the concept most concretely on his trail runs: “I run out in the desert, because it’s this ultimate moving meditation for me, and then I joined Instagram and I started posting photos of my runs in the desert, and they started getting likes and followers. Then I found, when I’m running, I’m going, Where can I get a good Instagram photo on this run? It totally changed the nature of the run for me, simply because there’s this very clear point scoring system on Instagram that I’m playing into.”
This is evident in so many different places in society outside of social media. For instance, how many students work to boost their GPA, rather than actually learning the material? Easter says the key to beating value capture is to simply remember to remind yourself of your motivations and goals. Ask yourself, why am I doing this? And if your behavior is at odds with that reason—you set out to run a trail run to zen out, but find yourself constantly whipping out your phone—then you’ve been “captured” by a value system that is not yours.
It’s important to remind yourself of your motivations, and surround yourself with people who share them or can also remind you of them, so that you don’t end up playing someone else’s game. It’s easy to lose sight of what you value in a world that’s constantly trying to tell you what to value.
8. Perfect practice doesn’t make perfect; it makes fatigue and burnout.
Damian Warner’s coach used to tell him that there was no such thing as a bad practice—and it drove him insane. “I just hated that, because I always wanted great practices,” he says. “But you learn over time, that’s not what you’re looking for. You’re kind of trying to work in the middle.” It’s counterintuitive in a way: When you’re competing at the highest level of sport, you’re looking for exceptional results, but you get there through many days of routine, unexceptional practice.
Warner was forced to learn this in the training cycle for the last Olympics, when covid disrupted his usual training regimen and forced him to train inside an old hockey rink that lacked proper heating and whose furthest stretch of track was only about 30 meters. To do long-distance running, they had to set up a treadmill with heaters. “I’m like, “I have heaters in my mittens, I’m running in a tent on a treadmill, this is ridiculous, there’s no way this can work,” remembers Warner. It made it pretty much impossible for him to have world-class practices, so he just focused on consistency. “We weren’t capable of doing these grand performances. We weren’t capable of doing 400-meter time trials. We just did the basics as best as we could, went home, went about our day, and just repeated that over and over and over.”
It was that consistency, multiplied over time, that resulted in him winning a gold medal.
9. Be a mature adult.
David Richo, a psychologist who integrates the Western psychological approach with Buddhist wisdom, and author of the book How to Be An Adult, has a very simple but useful definition for what it means to be an adult. “[It means that] you’re taking responsibility for the way your life is in the moment,” he told me. “You’re no longer blaming your childhood or your parents for how you behave or for what your attitudes are. And you‘ve become immensely loyal to the here and now reality of what your life is about, rather than hanging on to wishes and projections.”
One way that I’ve heard this captured that I like is, “Everything in your life may not be your fault, but it is your responsibility.”
10. Find the spiritual in the everyday.
Spirituality often gets cast as something separate from the mundane worries of everyday life. But, as Katherine May pointed out when we spoke, this type of spirituality is not realistic for people, especially parents, who have too much to do. After she had her son, she realized that her twice-a-day, 20-minute meditation practice wasn’t realistic. Instead, she looks for the spaces in her life that she can “flow mindfully into, rather than saying, ‘No, no, no, this isn’t valid,’” because they aren’t what you think of as typical mindfulness (sitting on a cushion in peace and quiet).
“I really want us to begin to acknowledge the spiritual practice behind a lot of everyday things, like a carer and having a child who wakes up twice a night for X number of years,” she says. “And honoring the discipline, love, and the passion it takes to get up in the middle of the night and to soothe someone lovingly and kindly rather than coming in angry. That is not a degraded thing. That is not a failure. That is not an un-spiritual moment. That is a hugely beautiful, generous part of what keeps the love in this world flowing around.”
There you go. Ten lessons to kick your year off. If you enjoyed this or found it useful, that’s great news, because we are planning to release 100 episodes of FAREWELL this year, filled with wisdom like what you just read.
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: our goal at The Growth Equation is to help you perform your best on the things you care about most, and we believe FAREWELL is something that can help you do that consistently by giving you a twice-weekly dose of the practices and habits that have been shown to lead to high-level performance.