Steve Magness: ‘Keeping Perspective is My Secret to Life’

The performance coach, author and lecturer on his routine, the books that have changed his life and his evolving relationship with technology.

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Steve Magness: My routine since I was a teenager has always consisted of a morning run. It serves not only as exercise, but as my time to be alone in my own head. So the first thing I do when I wake up is to drink water, then I throw on the shoes and head out the door for a run.

TG: What gives you energy?
SM: Being active and stimulating my mind and body provide me energy. Whenever I feel like I’m going through the motions, I try to move, either by going for a run or a walk, or by taking on some intellectually stimulating endeavor, like reading a book. That way I can get my mind and body revved up.

TG: What’s your secret life hack?
SM: To keep perspective. I have two pictures that are right by my door so that I see them every time I leave. One is a map of the world with the places I’ve been marked off. This is to remind me how much of the world I have NOT seen. Secondly, there’s a picture of the tree of life. It’s a Phylogenic Tree which shows all the animal species, plants, bacteria, and so forth and connects them on how they are related. And in teeny-tiny writing on one small branch is Humans. It serves as a reminder, that we aren’t really as important as we make ourselves out to be. There’s a big world out there, and keeping perspective is my secret to life.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.
SM: Books connect in different ways at different parts of my life. The book Once A Runner changed my life in that it made me fall in love with the sport of running. If I read it as a 30-year-old it wouldn’t have that impact, but as a 15 year old, it did. Thirty-year-old me would point to the book Man’s Search for Meaning, because it’s so profound and filled with life lessons. But 15 year old me, probably wouldn’t grasp those.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you? 
SM: It used to. Now I tend to throw it in a drawer. I’m slowly trying to break up with my phone. My hope being that one day we can sleep in seperate rooms!

TG: How do you deal with email?
SM: I’m human like the rest of us. Life hackers will tell you all of these tips and tricks, but often they just aren’t sustainable. So I don’t set guidelines on e-mail, except if I am really trying to work, I turn my phone off and turn the wifi off on my computer. I know I can’t handle the temptations, so I just remove them.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
SM: I read. I think it was Stephen King who said you should carry a book everywhere you go and fill the small spaces with reading.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
SM: Two years ago, I was dealing with a lot of life stress, traveling a lot for work, and spreading myself too thin. I’m much better at catching myself now before I head too far in that direction. I’m not saying I haven’t felt fatigued in two years, but now I don’t let myself go all the way into that burnout haze that we all have experienced. When I see myself headed down that path, I take breaks, stop what I’m doing and try to rejuvenate and adjust my priorities.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
SM: As a coach, I fail a lot. I’m fortunate in that I get to coach some really talented people who are among the best in the world at what they do. Just because these runners are professional and train extremely hard, and I do my best to guide them, doesn’t mean they run amazingly all of the time. In the past year, I’ve had people fail to make Olympic teams, or maybe hit the wall at a major marathon. If that happens, I look at it as if I have failed them. So each time, I have to do my best to sit the athlete down and say, ‘this went wrong, and here is where I messed up, but we are going to fix it.’ My motto has always been, it’s only failure if we don’t learn from it and become better prepared for next time.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
SM: “You cannot experience something if you don’t have the necessary sensitivity. And you cannot develop your sensitivity except by undergoing a long string of experiences.” Yuval Noah Harari.

Steve Magness is a performance coach, author, and lecturer. He currently serves as a coach to professional runners, is the Head Cross Country coach at the University of Houston and a Lecturer of Strength and Conditioning at St. Mary’s University, UK. He has coached athletes to the Olympic Games, had 8 athletes compete at the World Championships, and six individual Top 10 finishers at Major Marathons, including the Boston and New York City Marathon. He is the author of two books, Peak Performance and The Science of Running.

Originally published at

Life Lessons, Inspiration, Thrive Questionnaire

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