How Passion Really Works & How To Utilize It W/ Brad Stulberg & Steve Magness

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“Understand how to be good and nail the basics.”
— Brad Stulberg

Greetings, SuperFriends!

For this week's episode, I got on a call with 2 incredibly smart authors, Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness. They are the co-authors of the new and highly anticipated book The Passion Paradox: A Guide to Going All-In, Finding Success, and Discovering the Benefits of an Unbalanced Life.

You folks probably know that I'm passionate about passion – but the truth is, we've never actually had anyone on the show talk about it as a field of study or a field of Becoming SuperHuman. So, I wanted to have these 2 gentlemen on the show – and I learned that this is really an emerging field which is still not so well understood, similar to the way flow states were 20-30 years ago.

In the episode, we talked about passion and how it is such an ambiguous, kind of misunderstood area of human experience, and we also set aside some time to really understand where these misconceptions are, how people perceive passion, why passion is important in your life, and most importantly, I think, how you can actually go about getting more passion in your life. In fact, and somewhat unexpectedly, there are ways that you can achieve that and strategies that actually really surprised me.

Another thing that surprised me about this episode was what I learned about recovery. We've talked about recovery a lot on this podcast and especially in the Becoming SuperHuman MasterMind where Benjamin Hardy did a whole segment on it. Well, Brad and Steve gave me some really incredible ideas for how I can supercharge my own recovery periods so that I bounce back faster from long working or recording days.

I really enjoyed this episode, and I know you are going to as well!

-Jonathan Levi

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In this episode, we discuss:

  • Who is Brad Stulberg, who is Steve Magness, and how did they get here today? [5:25]
  • How did Brad and Steve get interested in passion? [6:20]
  • How did Steve and Brad meet? [7:40]
  • What are the biggest paradoxes around passion? [8:50]
  • Letting go of something you are passionate about [11:10]
  • The difference between harmonious passion and obsessive passion [12:40]
  • How to go all in and reap the benefits of an unbalanced life [15:00] 
  • Where does the balance come in? [17:10]
  • The magic of putting yourself in new and novel environments [19:30]
  • Is there adequate research on the topic of passion? [21:20]
  • What can you do to find your passion? [23:55]
  • Should you expect to find your passion right away? [26:25]
  • The problem with having high expectations when starting something new [28:35]
  • The path to passion involves getting competent in something [29:45]
  • What are some of the things that Brad and Steve do for SuperHuman performance? [31:10]
  • Using social interactions as an amazing way to recover [32:20]
  • Recovery shouldn't be something you try hard to have [35:45]
  • The difference when you hang out with your own people [37:30]
  • Where can you find more about Brad, Steve, and the book? [40:00]
  • Steve and Brad's final takeaway message [41:00]

Resources Mentioned in This Episode:

Favorite Quotes from Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness:

“Everything about passion is a little bit paradoxical.”
“You don't magically find your passion.”
“If you don't control your passion, the passion will control you.”
“The more you care about something, the harder it is to move on when the time comes to move on.”
“Think of balance over the course of a lifetime.”
“At least once a month, get out in nature.”
“So many people quit too soon.”
“So many people strive for the marginal gains before they nail the basics.”
“The best hack is showing up and doing the work.”
“Trying really hard to recover almost defeats the purpose of recovery.”


Introduction: Welcome to the Becoming SuperHuman Podcast. Where we interview extraordinary people to bring you the skills and strategies to overcome the impossible. And now here's your host, Jonathan Levi.

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Greetings, Superfriends. And welcome, welcome to this week's episode. You guys, I just got off the phone with two incredibly smart authors, Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness. They are the co-authors of the new and highly anticipated book, the passion paradox, a guide to going all in finding success and discovering the benefits of an unbalanced life.

Now, you guys know that I am passionate about passion, but we've actually never had anyone on the show talk about passion as a field of study or a field of becoming superhuman. And so I wanted to have these two gentlemen on the show and I learned that this is really an emerging field, which is still not so well understood. Similar to the way flow States were 20 or 30 years ago. So we talked about passion and how it is such an ambiguous kind of misunderstood area of the human experience. And we set aside some time and really understood where those misconceptions are, how people perceive passion, why passion is important in your life, and most importantly, I think how you can actually go about getting more passion in your life. I know it sounds so ambiguous. But there are ways that you can do it and strategies that actually really surprised me. Another thing that surprised me about this episode was what I learned about recovery.

We've talked about recovery a lot on this podcast and especially in the becoming superhuman mastermind where Benjamin Hardy did a whole segment on recovery. Well, Brad and Steve gave me some really incredible ideas for how I can supercharge my own recovery periods so that I bounce back faster from long working days or recording days like this one.

I really enjoyed this episode and I know you are going to as well. So without any further ado, Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness.

Gentlemen, welcome to the show. How are you guys doing?

Steve Magness: Doing well, man. Thanks for having us.

Jonathan Levi: Yeah. Yeah. It's an absolute pleasure. You know, I have to admit full disclosure, start the podcast with a little vulnerability today. I'm feeling less than passionate about my third or fourth podcast interview. So I'm glad that at least we're going to talk about passion and how I can discover the passion for the third or fourth podcast interview of the day.

Steve Magness: Yeah. I mean, well, I don't know if we'll be able to solve that problem. The answer might be scheduled one or two a day, but we'll work. Got it.

Brad Stulberg: I'm just teasing you guys. Now tell us a bit first off about the both of you and a bit about what you do and how you got into it. 

Brad Stulberg: For sure. So this is Brad talking first. I am a coach to entrepreneurs and executives and a writer, and I write about the science and art of human performance. I'm really interested in what makes people tick and how they can perform well and live well and with health at the same time. And

Steve Magness: I'm a Steve Magness. So. I got into, uh, things from a running background.

I was a fairly good runner growing up, ran a four-minute mile. And then now what I do is I'm more of a performance coach in, uh, kind of a science expert on some of these things on mixing between athletic performance and then also kind of human psychology performance for, uh, you know, executives and other things like that.

Jonathan Levi: Very cool. So you both come really from a coaching background, athletics, and coaching background. And at some point, you guys got interested in this idea of passion. Tell me about that.

Steve Magness: So our interest in passion and actually started out is a bit of like a self-reflection. So our first book, which is called peak performance, came out about two years ago, we had written that book and sent our publisher, the manuscript.

And there was a bit of a Q and A backup at the publishing house. So they didn't get edits when they thought they would. Steve and I live in different areas. So we had scheduled like 10 days of shoulder to shoulder time to go through all the edits, but there were no edits. And instead of like, Sipping on bourbon and going on vacation, we were like, well, like, shit, we gotta like do something like, let's start the next book.

And then we kind of looked at each other and we're like, well, why do we have like this urge to keep pushing in? Is it a good thing to have this urge? It is a bad thing to have this urge. Is it neither? And then we kind of like, again, started exploring, well, is this passion? And if so, Should we be able to chill out shouldn't we, and that kind of self-reflection became weak.

We basically had our cake and ate it too. Right. We were like, we want to figure this out and we want to write, so let's write about it.

Jonathan Levi: That's so cool. And by the way, how did you guys meet? If you're not in the same area?

Steve Magness: Tinder. Yeah, just one after the, uh, the modern technology things is we actually met via Twitter.

We were exploring similar ideas, me more so in like the physical capacity of performance, Brad, and like the mind capacity of performance. But. Doing so in similar ways, and Brad reached out to me and said, Hey, I read some of your stuff. Like, do you want to talk about some of these ideas? And that became a magazine article.

And then we went back and forth, exchanging ideas, and we're like, Hey, we're thinking along the same lines. And then that eventually led to, uh, our first book. And then now our second book. So it's kind of one of those things that wouldn't have occurred unless we had the wonderful world of social media.

Jonathan Levi: That's really, really cool. And, uh, I imagine you guys didn't meet face to face until a long time into the collaboration, right?

Steve Magness: Totally. It was almost like this online dating app, right? Like you match and then your email and then your phone and then you FaceTime. And then Steve like rolls up into the East Bay.

And I guess in the time it was San Francisco and I'm like, Oh, I hope I can get along with this dude. Cause we.

Jonathan Levi: Wow. That's rad now. Tell me about what you found, because my whole objective for this interview is just to learn from you guys about this idea of passion because I think, you know, every guest that we've had on the episode out of 225 plus guests is passionate, but I've never talked to someone who focuses on understanding how we go about getting passion.

What is passion mean for us? How do we spark passion? You know, do we have to have a passion to succeed? So I'm just going to turn it over to you guys and give me your whole spiel, you know?

Steve Magness: Yeah, we'll do it. So the book is called the Passion Paradox. And the reason that we chose that title is because more or less everything about passion is a little bit paradoxical.

It's not very straightforward. And this is so counter to common culture where it's like find and follow your passion and you'll have a good life. So the three main paradoxes of passion that we found, and this is more or less the arc of the book. The first one is that you don't magically find your passion.

And if you expect to, you actually end up in this mode where you're kind of seeking, going from one thing to the next, the second main paradox of passion is that when you're following your passion, it can't be a passive thing. If you don't control your passion, your passion will control you. So this notion of like, Oh, I've got passionate in my life's going to be great.

Maybe. But passion also has this enormous dark side. And then the third paradox is the two most common tropes in all of the self-help are probably to find and follow your passion and be balanced. Those two things are like inherently antithetical. So if you're passionate about something like your brain chemistry changes in a way that is actually quite similar to addiction and you are not balanced, a lot of passionate people report being really happy.

Meanwhile, balance is a good thing to strive for. So how do you reconcile these two things? And we can go deeper into those in whatever order you want, but those are the three main paradoxes. And then the fourth, like sub paradox that we link to passion, not always being great. Is that the more you care about something, the harder it is to move on when the time comes to move on?

So you can be super passionate about your job, about a hobby. But then when it comes time to retire or let's say you're an athlete and you get injured or you're an entrepreneur and your company gets acquired. Lot of really passionate people suffer from mental health challenges when they can no longer do the thing that they love.

Brad Stulberg: Wow. This is so pertinent. I was just in Genius Network last week. And we had a breakout session where everyone in the room who'd sold the business, myself included, talks about what that was like and how that's supposed to be this big windfall moment of success. But it's like, actually, even if you didn't like the business, you lost something that you had to be passionate about and how that can cause such severe kind of like psychological issues of identity and drive.

Jonathan Levi: Exactly. You're spot on. And that's what it actually is. If you look at the research and talk to individuals like yourself, who've gone through that. It's, it's almost like you're losing part of yourself. And it's this identity component where we put so much work, so much effort. So much of who we are into the activity that we did, whether that's building a business or, you know, being a runner or a writer or whatever, have you that.

Once it's gone. It's like, Oh, what do I fill this hole with? And that's what we really that's what one of the parts of the book is really about is, is how do we almost like anticipate that? And then how do you prepare for that? Like how do you set yourself up so that, Hey, you know, I'm selling this business that I created?

That was my baby. What do you replace that with? Like how do you find another interest that can become a passion?

Brad Stulberg: Now, before we hit the recording, you told me that most people are walking around with some pretty serious misconceptions about what passion actually is.

Steve Magness: Yeah. So if you were to ask someone what passion is, they would say it's like this great enthusiasm and zeal that you have for something.

And that if you are passionate, that is a good thing. And that can be true. But again, like I said earlier, passion also has a dark side. So this is a subtle difference in I'll do my best to explain it here quickly in the best interest of time, there's something called harmonious passion. This is a good kind of passion.

This is when you're passionate about the activity that you're doing. You love doing the work. You love the community that you're doing the work in. Then there's something called obsessive passion. This is when you actually become more passionate about the external validation. And the external results than the work itself.

So this is the difference between someone that loves writing versus loves being on the Amazon bestseller or the entrepreneur that loves doing the work versus the entrepreneur that just wants to be known in relevance in their field. And I say that it's a trap because what almost always happens is people start out with harmonious passion, right?

You get into something, you cultivate an interest, it becomes a passion. You love it. And then if you love what you do and you're somewhat talented, you start performing well. Well, what happens when you perform well, you get all kinds of external validation and that's the slippery slope of suddenly you're spending more time and more energy you're thinking about and chasing the external validation and the recognition than actually loving the work itself.

And that's dangerous because at some point. Like you're going to fail. Or even if you don't fail, like you can only get so successful and it's almost like an addiction. Once you achieve something, you have to achieve something else to feel good. And that is just a rule on emotional rollercoaster that berries so many entrepreneurs.

So many athletes, so many creative types, basically like your entire podcast audience at some point in their life have probably gone through this rollercoaster because it's very natural. And what we're trying to do with this book is help people be more aware of it so that either they prevent it altogether, or they lessen some of the swings so that they're not as stark.

Brad Stulberg: I love that. And I want to hear more, obviously, we're gonna encourage people to check out the book, but the subtitle of the book is a guide to going all in finding success and discovering the benefits of an unbalanced life. I think that was one of the things that most turned me on, about interviewing you guys is I'm all about and balanced, messy life.

So how do I, I go all in and how do I find success and how do I discover the benefits of this unbalanced life?

Jonathan Levi: That would be a very long topic, but I'll try and keep it succinct. So I think one of the misconceptions that Brad mentioned earlier is that. You know, in order to be successful and happy, like our life has to be balanced.

Like we have to be the best at our job, the best at our family, the best friends that we could have, you know, all these other things. And that's just unrealistic. And what you see is that there are periods of time where. You have to go all-in on your passion. Like you have to say like, Hey, I'm launching a book or I'm launching a startup.

And these other things, like, they don't matter that much to me right now. And that's totally fine. And I think where people get it wrong is they sit there and say like, no, I have to have this perfect balance. And they try and to. Do too many things. And what happens is you get mediocre at a bunch of different things.

And the thing that you really want it to be great at, it gets dragged down because you're spreading yourself too thin. So what we encourage people to do is, is like, give yourself permission to like go all in, but also have the self-awareness to like step back. And look and say, Hey, is this where I want to be at this moment?

Because you want to be almost obsessive about your work during, as I said, a critical period of your startup, but you know, if you're six months in or a year in, and it's not as big of a deal, like you might not want to be neglecting some of these other things. So you might want to step back a little bit.

So it's about really being intentional about when you're doing that, going all-in period. I

Brad Stulberg: really like that because you know, one of the skills that have been so powerful to me, and one of the tools that's been so powerful to me is this idea of the wheel of life, where you break your life down into eight things from friends and family to physical environment, romance, career financial, all these other things.

Right? And the goal of the exercise is obviously to maximize everything. And this, this idea that a wheel doesn't roll, if it looks like a Pac-Man or if it only, you know, it looks like this bulging wheel. But there are times in life practically where look I'm fundraising for my startup and everything else is going to have to shift.

So I love that idea of being conscientious about it and saying, okay, overall, I'm going for this idea of balance. And if something's missing in my life, I obviously want to add that in, but being conscientious and going, I'm going to sacrifice here we are so that I can get there, I think is, is really prudent.

Steve Magness: Yeah, for sure. And just thinking of balance, like not in any given day or week or month, or maybe even year, but perhaps like thinking of balance over the course of a lifetime. So a lot of passionate people with really good lives that, of course, like there's always some roller coaster ride, but at the end of the day, they sit back and they feel good about it.

They actually tend to be super balanced, but they're balanced over 70 years, not over like any given week or month.

Brad Stulberg: And I think that's, that's also huge. I'm learning so much of the next level of success in life often comes from being proactive as opposed to react. And so if you're proactive in the way that you plan to sacrifice here or there instead of reactive.

There's a huge difference there, and it doesn't seem like it because at the end of the day, the result on the ground may actually be the same, but proactively going, okay, I'm going to plan ahead and I'm not going to take any vacations in the next two months as opposed to, Oh my God. I just don't have time to take a break.

There's a whole different mindset around that. It has different, I think associations and it has different repercussions. So kind of being proactive. Also allows you to take that longer-term view and holistically form a more balanced picture when you look at life in the big picture,

Steve Magness: for sure. I mean, you're spot on.

And I love that philosophy of like the eight prongs and whether it's eight or five or four, who knows, like, that probably depends on how you divide and conceptualize the world. But I love that idea of like the wheels got a roll. The only like super practical thing that I would add is. I'd say like at least once a month, get out in nature or like watch a biography on someone that like is an artist or you're just put yourself in the way of beauty or awe because there's something about stepping out of the inertia of what you're going all-in on that can really help you gain perspective.

And it's after those moments that you're better able to evaluate, huh? Like, is this the right Trade-off? Am I devoting energy to the right part of the wheel right now, because the trap there is like, when you're doing the thing and you've got all that inertia and momentum, you kind of have to step outside it to be able to evaluate wisely?

Even just like a long run, just something where you're disconnected in nature is a wonderful way to go about. There's all kinds of research that shows that spending time in nature helps you gain perspective and make good decisions.

Brad Stulberg: So true. And it's so important to get outside of our routine. I mean, yeah.

Yeah, I'm sure you guys can tell it from the passion side and the rejuvenation side. I can tell it from the neurochemistry side, that when you're in unique locations, your neurochemistry actually changes. There's more dopamine in the CA three region of the brain and the locus coeruleus lights up and all these different things.

Whenever you go into new environments and you get a new stimulus. So literally if you want to think differently about the challenges you're facing, especially if that's, what am I passionate about? What am I excited about? There's no better way. To change your brain chemistry besides drugs obviously than do get into new and novel environments that inspire and all that.

Steve Magness: Yeah. Yeah, totally. I mean, I don't know exactly how the brain chemistry changes in nature, but like, it totally does because you feel different and how you feel in your brain chemistry are the same thing. So yes. Get outside.

Brad Stulberg: Get outside people, please. Now that actually brings up another question, which is when you guys sat down to write this book, I mean, I know there's a lot of research going on about flow States.

There's a lot of research going on about memory. There's a lot of research going on, obviously about psychology of work and stuff like that. Is there research being done about passion or was it hard for you to find kind of academic sources and actual studies that are being done on. Passionate. It feels and seems a little bit like it's a, still an ambiguous concept.

A lot of people.

Jonathan Levi: Yeah. That's a good question. There is research, uh, it's led by a researcher named Robert Valor and who's done a lot of work in this area. And I think like he's been the pioneer because it is such an almost like nebulous concept. And it's not like this broad-based research area that has a bunch of different people attacking it.

It's like him getting the field going is kind of what happened. And once we dug into that, like there's a fair bit of stuff. It's just, you have to have to deep dive. And it's actually his work that pointed us towards this harmonious versus obsessive passion. And what's interesting now, is there at maybe where.

Some of the flow state or psychology stuff was five, 10 years ago. And that they're trying to start looking at some of this like neurochemistry, for instance, there's an interesting study that looked at if your temperament, which is tied to your dopamine, sensitivity is linked to whether you're more likely to have like more passion or be more obsessive or harmonious.

Lee passionate and that's in the early stages, but what they have shown is that, like, if you're you're super sensitive to dopamine, then you have a higher likelihood of, uh, exhibiting some of these, uh, Linkages to passion, right? Because you know, it's almost like going back to that addiction model that is similar to passion, where if we get those dopamine hits, not by doing drugs, but by doing the work that we're doing, then all of a sudden we get into this.

This almost routine of like, Oh, I need that next hit. I need to go back to my work or I need to go right. Or go run or whatever my passion is. So it's starting to come around.

Brad Stulberg: So cool. So, so cool. And I think you're absolutely right. I mean, today, we all know about flow States and, and Steven Kotler is. Done a lot to get that in front of people's faces.

And I feel like this is something that really is only starting to be understood. It sounds like you guys are very much on the Vanguard of it. So very, very cool. Now, in your book, you talk about this idea and you mentioned it before as well. People don't just stumble on their passion. So I would be remiss if I didn't ask, because I know a lot of young people listening to the show are asking themselves like, What can I do to find that passion and or realizing, Hey, this thing that I did a degree in, or this career that I started out, I don't think I'm passionate about it.

I want to be as passionate about it as, uh, Steve and Bradley are about writing their book. So any homework that you can give people, I mean, I know I'm asking you to give away all the secrets, but any homework that we can give people to kind of start down this journey of discovering that right. Kind of passion that you guys mentioned.

Steve Magness: So the first thing is the simplest in that is just to understand that the data shows very clearly that about 75 to 80% of people have a mindset that they will find the perfect thing immediately. This, again, mirrors love and romantic passion. So 75% of people think that there's a perfect soulmate for them.

Yeah. The truth is. They only about 20% of people find an activity that they're immediately passionate about the other 80%. They follow an interest in. They let good enough be good enough at first and they give it some time to see if it's a fit. So just changing that mindset is like 80% of the battle, because what happens is you come out of college and you're told you have to find a passion, and then you set this expectation that you have to find something that's perfect.

And like very few things are perfect, right from the get-go. So then you get in this seeking mode where you're going from one thing to the next, trying to find something that feels perfect right away. And the minute that it doesn't feel great, you quit. And again, this mirrors so much of what's happening with a millennial and even the younger generation in dating is there's this expectation that I'm going to find the perfect match.

And now that there's all these online dating apps, you feel like, well, I'm connected to billions of people, so someone's gotta be perfect. And people go from one person to the next, with this expectation of perfection versus a mindset of growth and development, which is like, Hey, this seems interesting, like lower the bar from passion to interest in, and then follow that interest, give it a month or two pay attention to it and see if it will develop into a passion.

What we found in researching the book is so many people quit too soon.

Brad Stulberg: Right. That is really, really interesting and definitely parallels my own experience as well. I think that's probably a huge takeaway for a lot of people is like, you know, I often say the best relationships are the ones where you don't fall head over heels.

And I did a whole blog post about. How I got to know my wife and how this was not a head over heels love at first sight moment. And actually it was a slow getting to know, getting to understand rational decision, to go deeper and deeper and deeper. And it sounds like it's the same way with passion.

Steve Magness: Totally. I'm glad that you mentioned that because my wife and I were like very close friends in undergraduate school and even spent a summer together, like living in the same house when we were working in the same city, when we were. 2120 and nothing happened. And then it wasn't so rational because like three years later we were hanging out and there was some drinking involved.

And like now we're married with a kid. So I get that, man. That's awesome. You know what, it's funny like this, Steve and I took the same path into writing. His earliest. I certainly didn't Steve to a large extent is I didn't send my marriage with Katelyn. And that is like, I never said, like, I'm going to be a writer.

Like I wrote a blog post and I'm like, huh, this Paul like, good. I like doing this. And I just kept on writing. And then some people asked me to write and I wrote a little bit more, but it took like six years before I could say, like, this is the thing that I'm passionate about. And if I would have gone into it, expecting it to be great right away.

There's no way I would be writing now. That's a really great insight as well.

Jonathan Levi: The last piece that you added, and, you know, when I interviewed Zach Evans, who's like one of the top piano, superhuman teachers in the world and a very gifted musician. He said a phrase that has really stuck with me from his coach, which is a fun, is when you're good.

Right. It's very hard when you're starting out and you're still in the middle of the learning curve, even if you're a super learner and you enjoy learning, it's hard to have fun when you suck at something. And in the beginning, you suck at pretty much anything that you try. There's very, very few things that you can just pick up the golf club and all of a sudden hit a hole in one.

And, uh, and so fun is when you're good and it takes a hell of a lot of time to get good at most things.

I love that. I think that's spot on and that just goes back tack expectations, right? If you come in to and think that something is going to feel. Easy at the beginning and like, just click, you're just setting yourself up to failure.

And that's why we always suggest it's like, explore your interests, but give yourself enough time to see if you can actually develop in them. Right. Because one of the main thing that keeps us motivated, and we know this from psychology research is a competency. So whether you can keep showing progress and all that good stuff and.

If you just try it a couple of times and then say, ah, no, this isn't for me. You never know if it's going to develop. If you give yourself a couple of months to actually dive deep into something and say like, all right, I'm going to really see if I can get good at this and see if I can see progress. You're more likely to stay overtime.

And you're more likely to understand whether you should just. You know, say, Nope, that isn't for me onto the next one.

Brad Stulberg: You know, that's interesting what you say as well about competency because that is one of the requirements of flow. And we know that human beings are much happier when they're able to get into a flow state.

So it all kind of ties in that when you have that competency, you can finally go into the autopilot of flow and actually enjoy doing something and be on that kind of high state of flow. But you can't get there. If you're still figuring out the basics of it.

Steve Magness: Yeah, completely. And that's true in everything.

Like there are these universal principles and performance, and I think the path of mastery and competency is one of them, whether you're writing, whether you're managing a team, whether you're playing the piano, whether you're having sex like you name it. At first, you're like in your head and you're thinking, and you're trying, and then eventually it clicks in and like, you're just doing the thing.

And if you expect to just click in from the get-go again, you're always disappointed and you just kind of go from one thing to the next versus digging in and really cultivating it. I

Brad Stulberg: I completely agree. Often the example that I like to give people, which is something just about everyone can relate to is driving.

It's like the first time you get in a car and the first 20 times you get in a car, you're checking your mirrors, you're checking the dashboard. And you're not sure if you're changing gears, you don't know which pedal to hit. And today you can get in the car and you can drive an hour and a half home and be like, Holy crap.

I wasn't even paying attention. I was on the phone the whole time, hopefully with a hands-free device.

Steve Magness: Yeah. Yeah, it's bad.

Jonathan Levi: Very, very cool. Now I would be remiss if I didn't ask you guys a little bit about top performance hacks. Uh, I know you guys have coached and been around top performers for, it sounds like most of your careers.

So what are some of the things that you guys do to remain at your top peak performance?

Steve Magness: So I think the best hack is just hacking at it every single day. And what I mean by that is like, yes, there are this one, 2% marginal gains, but they're just that they're marginal. And so many people strive for the marginal gains before they nail the basics.

Consistency is like, that's hacking it every day. Like the best hack is showing up. And doing the work, whether you feel like doing the work, whether you don't feel like doing the work, just like get started in on your best day, crush it in on your shittiest day, give yourself 45 minutes. And if nothing starts to feel better, then step away, but like show up and do the work.

So it's almost like the best hack is the anti-hack. Right. Which is like, just dig in and do it. Yeah,

Brad Stulberg: I really liked that. I'll try and give you more of a traditional hack, I guess. And me. Yeah, no, I coach a lot of world-class athletes, and people have been to the Olympics and all that stuff, and there's all these things on like recovery and like, you know, to boost performance and all this stuff.

But what the research shows in that, what I found with my athletes is. When it comes to recovery, like the basics, like sleep is obviously the most important thing, but one of the cool things or hacks is this idea called social recovery. And the sense that after you, you know, run a hard workout or go to the gym and lift a lot of weights, or even after you go into a, you know, a hard writing session that lasts hours.

All right. Very difficult meeting. The best thing you can do from a recovery standpoint is actually shot the shit with your friends. Like, go hang out, have a beer, whatever. And the reason that works is because it shifts that neurochemistry, right? It takes you out of this, like fight or flight stress, hormone-dominated state.

Where your adrenaline is up, your cortisol is super high, and I'll shift you into this recovery state where cortisol drops. Testosterone goes up a little bit and your body can kind of naturally recover and boost performance. And actually, in a lot of pro sports like NBA and stuff like that, I've talked to a lot of teams that are starting to figure out how to.

After games be like, all right, we have to almost like engineer this like social interaction. So like let's have them bring in like nice food into the locker room so that the players can interact and all that stuff, instead of going straight on their phones or straight out the door to go home.

Brad Stulberg: That's really cool.

So it's specifically social interaction that you find helps with that kind of recovery?

Jonathan Levi: Yeah. So there was a really cool study. They did, uh, a year or two ago on professional Australian rugby players, which they had them either, you know, interact as a group without phones and stuff, or either leave or get on their phones and just check things individually.

And they looked at hormones like testosterone, cortisol. Some other things, they found just what I described there and it, when they look deeper into it, it was this social interaction piece because it's, you know, it's one of the things that we need. Like we need this almost like relatedness to the people around us and the best way to decompress after a stressful situation.

Wasn't, you know, Getting on your cell phone and watching TV, or even, you know, go onto your couch once you got home and crashing on it, but you need this decompression period where you're almost like venting or like working through what you just went through and like that allows you to decompress, but it also allows you to like conceptualize it and put it behind you so that it's no longer a stress situation.

Brad Stulberg: That's really interesting because I mean, for me, it might go to when I want to decompress or recover, at least mentally, emotionally is dive into a good book or a good documentary. But I think that's a psychological thing where I think recovery is just turning off and not having to be on, especially, you know, days where I spend hours and hours and hours recording podcasts and have to be super on intellectually and socially.

But I think I should maybe try that.

Steve Magness: Yeah, it works. I mean, I don't know the science as well as Steve, but I've implemented it for sure. And it's like, um, again, it's kind of paradox, right? That's our book title. It's paradoxical that like sometimes what ends up happening is a super-driven type, an intense pusher is you finish whatever you're doing and then you try really hard to recover.

And it's like trying to recover just that like the trial and the effort in the strain actually gets in the way of recovery. So you can like do all these things, take supplements, take an ice bath, you know, force yourself to meditate. When in fact, like if you just like, go hang out with your friends, you're going to get the same exact internal response and perhaps even better because trying really hard to recover, almost defeats the purpose of recovery.

Jonathan Levi: It's interesting as well. Your timing is really good because the other day, a few days ago I had a really just like grind of a day and I was just bummed out all day and exhausted and jet lags and it was a whole thing. Right? Yeah. And then that night I opened my door to a surprise party in my living room.

And I was super happy after. And my wife said to me, she's like, you know, it's amazing how quickly you turned around from having this crappy day. I was worried that you were going to be just like poopy pants. So yeah, I guess, I guess you're right. It does work and I didn't even, I didn't put two and two together that it was maybe specifically.

Steve Magness: That type of interaction and it doesn't have to be like a big surprise party, although that's great. But like an example of that is super timely for us right now is for our first book, we went out to the East coast where we don't really know many people for launch week and we did all this media stuff there.

And it was almost like a bad drug high, like at the end of it, we just felt like hollow and empty and like, geez, like this is like bizarre and the book was doing great. So like the book was crushing it, but we're like, what? Like this just doesn't feel great. So this time around, we decided to launch the book from the Bay area where I live and where Steve has a pretty big network.

And like, instead of. Obsessively checking our sales rank or doing like one more interview. We've been more or less shutting down in the evening and just hanging out and like getting food with our friends and our family. And we've been commenting all week. Like, wow, like we're still tired and it's still a grind, but like, we feel a lot better.

Like tonight we're looking forward to going to a cafe. And having one of our close friends interview us versus, you know, showing up at some random bookstore where we don't know anyone. It's just a whole different thing when you're around your people.

Brad Stulberg: I think that's really interesting. I have a very dear friend who, uh, she calls it, not my tribe because it's, there's no value judgment.

It's just, they're in a different tribe and they're not my tribe. And I love that. And I think you're right. I think I think there are different classifications of friends as well. Like there are the people that intellectually stimulate you, but at the end of the day, like if you've had a really hard day, they're not the people that you would sit down with, but yeah.

And then there are the people who just get you. That's also, I think one of my takeaways.

Steve Magness: Yeah. So again, like I want, and I sound like a broken record, but this is totally something that I like. I like to beat this drum over and over. And like, it is a hack, but it's like kind of the anti-hack, right? Like, hang out with friends.

Nothing is simpler, but many people don't do it because like they're chasing like this sexy technology or this thing that sounds fancy, but it's actually like the basics that are the most powerful.

Brad Stulberg: Yeah. And I think that those are my two big takeaways from this episode is the first one, just understanding so much more about passion and needing to dig in your heels a little bit, to see and test and date your passions.

And then I'd say my other big takeaway was that even if you think, I mean, I think that I'm a closet introvert. That test is an extrovert. But even if you think that you're an introvert test out recovery with friends, instead of, I think so many of us just go into gaming or turning on Netflix, or hopefully if people are listening to this podcast, reading personal development books, try actually getting out there with friends and seeing if you recover better that way.

Jonathan Levi: Yeah. Love it. Awesome. So, gentlemen, we are pretty much up on time here. I do want to give you an opportunity. I mean, we'll link people up to the book, but tell us about the book more and where you prefer for people to pick it up.

Steve Magness: Yeah. So again, the book is called The Passion Paradox. You can buy it anywhere that books are sold.

So if you've got a local bookstore that you like and is groovy, totally support them. If you prefer ordering online or you really price-sensitive, you can just get the book on Amazon pretty easily. And then you can learn more about the book at the book's website, which is And then both Steve and I try to be pretty responsive on social media.

So Steve is at Steve Magness and I am at Brad Stalberg, hopefully, y'all can tell by this conversation, but like, yes, we wrote the book, but our real goal is to start an engaging discussion and debate on passion, similarly to flow because we think it's something that should be better understood. And we're hoping to jumpstart that process.

Jonathan Levi: Awesome. Gentlemen. So I do want to thank you yet. I will ask you just one more question before I let you go, which is if people take away one big message from this whole episode, I have a feeling I know what you're going to say, but what would you hope for that message to be that they carry with themselves for the rest of their lives?

Brad Stulberg: Wow, that's a, that's a big question to end on, you know, I think you nailed it on your two takeaways, but really in this. Kind of goes in a different direction, but I think it's like understanding how to be good and like nail the basics. Like the hacks are great, but like, you got to have the foundation first, right?

If you don't nail the basics and the hacks don't matter, the one or 2% don't matter. And I see so many people. In today's age, like jump over all the stuff that they actually need to do to get to like the one to 2% when they really need to own the foundation and set that up before saying, all right, I've nailed the basics.

Like now, where do I go now? Where do I explore? And I think that would be a great takeaway.

Jonathan Levi: Oh, my gosh. That's so good because I just did a productivity webinar saying exactly that, that all of these little hacks that you read about on blogs and YouTube videos and stuff like that, they don't work. When you plug them into a broken system, you got to get the base foundations.

Right. So I love that message to end on. And there were a couple of really quotable sentences there. Gentlemen, I want to thank you so much. This has been such a fun episode, despite being the third of the day for me. And, uh, I do hope we keep in touch.

Steve Magness: Yeah. Thanks a ton, Jon really appreciate you having us on the show.

It was a great interview and, uh, we're definitely thinking about the same things and they're good things to think about.

Jonathan Levi: Awesome. Talk soon, guys. Bye.

All right. Superfriends. That is all we have for you today, but I hope you guys really enjoyed the show and I hope you learned a ton of actionable information tips, advice that will help you go out there and overcome the impossible.

If you've enjoyed the show, please take a moment to leave us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, or drop us a quick little note on the Twitter machine @gosuperhuman. Also, if you have any ideas. For anyone out there who you would love to see on the show. We always love to hear your recommendations. You can submit it on our website, or you can just drop us an email and let us know that's all for today, guys.

Closing: Thanks for tuning in to the Becoming SuperHuman Podcast. For more great skills and strategies, or for links to any of the resources mentioned in this episode, visit We'll see you next time.



  1. Luiz
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The Basics of Total Personal Transformation W/ Stephan Spencer