ABC’s of Peak Performers by Bill Poett

A 26-Step Program for Health, Effectiveness, and Joy

Santa Barbara native Bill Poett has spent his adult life coaching elites—corporate executives, high-level martial arts competitors, and military and law-enforcement commando teams—but the audience for his impressive new book is by no means limited to those already at the summit. Rather, it is intended for anyone who desires change and values results more than rationalizations. Because, as Poett points out early and often, “Everyone gets the bad; you have to make the great happen.” With this simple and effective credo in mind, Poett walks you through the “26 simple steps to a more empowered, joyful life” referred to in the subtitle of his new book, ABC’s of Peak Performers. Or perhaps I should say that he leads you on a strenuous hike through the 26 alphabetical steps, because each chapter comes with a set of exercises intended to “grow” the quality under discussion.

Bill Poett
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Bill Poett

And while the topics in Poett’s book—things like confidence, discipline, imagination, and joy—may appear familiar, what he does with them is anything but. Take his chapter on “No-thing,” for example. “No-thing” addresses one of the biggest challenges facing peak performers, which is the sense that there’s never enough time. Poett’s mini-essay begins with him in the backcountry, waking up in a sleeping bag after spending a night alone under the stars. Eyes closed, he recites a litany of things he can hear, smell, and feel that tell him where he is. It turns out that “No-thing,” for Poett, is a power that emanates from the deeper self but only when we take the time to disengage from the relentless chatter and sensory excess of our overly connected daily lives.

With this image in mind, Poett then explores the urgency of an average professional adult’s schedule, and, again, the description—even with the sorts of hidden stressors that afflict women caring for their families—is pitch-perfect. Finally, the exercises return you to nature. Take four short hikes separated by a week or so, he instructs, and on each one isolate the input you receive from one of your senses. First sight, then sound, then touch, and finally taste. The final hike takes you so deep into “no-thing” that you can actually taste the world we live in—just by walking through it. As Poett puts it, “There is a subtle difference between what you taste standing next to a sage bush at the base of a ridge and what you taste standing at the top.”

Not every topic receives this outdoor approach. In fact, many bear the impress of Poett’s recent work as a personal trainer. [Full disclosure: I trained with Poett at the Montecito Athletic Club last summer and lost 20 pounds in three months. I’ve kept the weight off since by working out on my own.] Many chapters conclude with the same kind of list-making you will have encountered elsewhere but, again, with a difference.

Like the alphabet through which it is organized, Poett’s book has a very clear progression to it. Each chapter not only stands on its own but also adds to the whole, and the whole is always moving toward something bigger, which is the change it can bring about in you. It feels like the completeness of the approach—not so much the “ABCness” of the thing, but rather the “A-to-Zness” of it—will and, in fact, has to eventually move you to a new and better place. And that’s the genius of it. Starting with the body, Poett’s ABC’s of Peak Performers works its way outward through the maze of obstacles that inhibit all of us until it reaches a place where change simply cannot be denied. (Spoiler alert: It’s called the zenith.)

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