How to Prevent (And Break Free) From Languishing

Brad Stulberg
3 min readAug 9, 2022

On the wall of my local gym, where the coaches program training based on how athletes feel, hangs a chart that details RPE, or rate of perceived exertion.

Commonly used in high-performance sport, RPE is a helpful tool to balance effort and recovery. More time in upper zones means more time in lower ones. Stress plus rest equals growth, and not just in sport, but in pretty much everything.

This chart is on my mind because I’ve been feeling a bit fatigued and blah lately. Taking stock of my situation over the last six or seven weeks, I realized I never really went above RPE eight, and I’m not just talking about in the gym, but globally in my work and life. I also haven’t spent much, if any, time in the RPE one to three zone either.

Now, I’ve actually been quite productive, making good headway on three big writing projects, finally starting my Instagram and getting some good content up there, coaching clients through a handful of challenging situations, being consistent in my physical practice, and bringing my best to a few speaking engagements. But at no point in the past few weeks have I touched RPE nine, let alone ten. I’d say I’ve spent about every day in the seven or eight range.

In my first book, Peak Performance, I wrote extensively about polarizing work: keep your hard days HARD and your easy days EASY. There is a ton of wisdom in that approach. But there is an equally good approach, which I explored in depth in The Practice of Groundedness, which says don’t worry about super HARD days; if anything, avoid them! This allows you to stay consistent and string together big blocks of work in which no one day is heroic, but over-time the result is big progress. As we age, the second approach tends to be more sustainable and effective, and not just in the gym, but in all of life.

But here’s the thing, and it’s the piece of the puzzle I’ve forgotten in my own life. (Even though I literally wrote about it verbatim in my book!) If you string together enough RPE six, seven, and eight days, eventually the fatigue compounds and you need to spend time in the RPE one through three…

Brad Stulberg

Bestselling author of Master of Change and The Practice of Groundedness