Learn to thrive in a world that demands perfection with Richard Sutton's new book. Thrive uses his experience as a leading advisor in high-level sports performance to offer "a fascinating, practical, implementable toolkit to realising your full potential through unlocking and channelling the power of resilience". 

With Women's Health and Mental Health Month in May and Men's Health Week in June, we are being encouraged to look inward and assess how to make positive changes for our own wellbeing. Thrive offers tools that can apply to everyday life to help develop your resilience and realise your full potential. To tell us more about the purpose behind this book, his inspirations and extra guidance, we're delighted to have a Q&A to share with you from author Richard Sutton.


Richard Sutton is the founder and CEO of the leading global business health and performance consultancies, SuttonHealth and The Performance Code. As an expert in his field, Richard works with CEOs, leadership teams and companies around the world in driving effective stress management, resilience promotion and performance realization. With more than 20 years experience in the world of professional sport, Richard has worked with top-ranked tennis players, winning Olympic teams and countless athletes, making him an industry leader in advising on performance, resilience and adaptability. With a special interest in the genetics of human performance, potential and resilience, Richard is the co-developer of the DNA Resilience Panel, a genetic test covering 13 of the most influential genes that are key in the area of self-mastery and personal excellence. Richard has been a post-graduate lecturer in the areas of pain management, health and athlete development for almost two decades at leading South African and international universities. He is the author of the bestsellers Stressproof (2021) and The Stress Code (2022) and developer of The Stress Code app, a highly innovative wellness tool designed to analyse and quantify specific stresses and resilience competencies.

Was there a defining moment in your life that sparked your awareness that it’s eminently possible for anyone to unlock their potential, regardless of background?

The defining moment of my personal journey occurred when I was 18 years old during my military service. Due to adverse childhood experiences and a significant amount of uncertainty during my upbringing, I entered my national service unprepared physically, mentally, and emotionally. My early life experience had left me without direction, lacking motivation, and feeling completely worthless.

The initial training was incredibly demanding and pushed me far beyond my limits. However, despite the overwhelming challenges, I found myself in an environment that fostered personal growth.

Each day, I was pushed to surpass what I believed was possible. My team provided support and unity, and there was a strong emphasis on setting goals and continuously improving. These external factors laid the foundation for increased resilience, but it was ultimately a decision I made one afternoon that changed the course of my life.

During the first two months, I constantly told myself that I couldn't handle the pressure, that it was impossible for me, and that I didn't have the physical or emotional capacity to meet the demands. However, the transformative moment came when I realised that I would be in this situation for a long time and needed to make the most of it. I distinctly remember telling myself, "Come on, you can do this. You are not a victim. No one needs to save me!" This mental shift coincided with a significant improvement in my fitness level (perhaps it was the positive hormonal, immune, and neurochemical changes from being fitter that altered my mindset) and the presence of an exceptional leader, a navy officer, who believed in me.

Almost overnight, I went from lagging behind to being at the front. With each success, my motivation grew, and I became a significant contributor to my team's performance.

Within this experience, there were many external and internal factors that contributed to a shift in the trajectory of my life. I experienced the power of self-dialogue and physical fitness, learned the value and strength of support, and witnessed the influence of leadership in shaping and changing lives. This experience became my life's mission.

Do you think it’s become more difficult for people to realise their true potential in our present-day society?

This is a complex question with several considerations. In many ways, it is now easier to access critical knowledge (through podcasts, eBooks, compressed learning, YouTube, etc.) and coaches from anywhere in the world. We can also take control of our personal journey with a more informed perspective. However, there are significant barriers that stand in our way, largely self-imposed. Social conformity, driven by social media and pop culture, a resistance to change, emotional reactivity, and inflated egos are some of the main obstacles. If we take a moment to reflect, we will realise that we often rely on others to dictate how we feel, think, and act. Our desire to fit in often outweighs our motivation to grow. Growth is messy and can make us feel vulnerable and uncertain. In this process, we need the courage to fail, the strength to persevere, and consistency when faced with doubt. In simple terms, it is difficult and will require a lot of effort. With life moving towards quick fixes, ease, and comfort, the challenge becomes even greater. At some point, we will need to make a decision on the direction we wish to take for our lives to realise our potential (or not).

Do you have any specific guidance for individuals whose start in life was more challenging, or detrimentally impacted by social inequality?

Early life adversity can both shape us positively and present limitations. It often gifts us with ferocious intensity, motivation (though rooted in fear), persistence, grit, perseverance, unwavering commitment, follow-through, and discipline. However, it can also diminish our self-confidence, self-worth, ability to express vulnerability, and hinder our sense of deserving love and care. 

One of the most significant impacts of early adversity lies in managing our intrinsic stress responses. Hyperreactivity, disproportionate reactions, and a struggle to disengage from stressful experiences can take a toll on our mental and emotional well-being. 

To navigate these effects, I strongly recommend developing greater self-awareness and practicing self-regulation. Establishing a daily meditation practice, engaging in slow, controlled breathing exercises, participating in yoga, seeking therapy, and even exploring methods like cold immersion can all contribute to your journey of becoming the best version of yourself despite our historic circumstances and past realities.  

How did you move into the field of elite sports, and what implementable tips can those of us who aren’t elite athletes take from that arena? For example, in Thrive, you share “seven key skills that give you the mindset of a champion”.

Firstly, working in sports was an idealistic dream and a consuming passion. It was a world that transcended reality and made me believe in endless possibilities, even during my darkest moments. My focus on establishing myself at the highest levels started with three vital questions:

1. What knowledge would make me invaluable?

2. What skills do the world's best performance coaches possess?

3. What kind of experience will I need?

With these questions in mind, I embarked on a journey to acquire these attributes with utmost dedication and a willingness to make sacrifices. I started from the very beginning, progressing like a martial artist does with each grading. There were numerous failures, disappointments, and tough lessons along the way. Nevertheless, every moment of the journey was worth it.

Secondly, we are all elite athletes. The game of life encompasses various aspects such as work, studies, relationships, family, and meaningful pursuits. We derive fulfilment, increased motivation, and joy by making progress in our chosen endeavours and fully expressing our innate potential. This leads us to feel socially valued and acknowledges that our contribution to the world is significant. Professional sports merely magnify life experiences.

Successful athletes work tirelessly to express their passions and abilities. They understand that the key to achieving ultimate performance lies in their ability to overcome challenges, failures, setbacks, disappointments, hurdles, and adversity. They focus not only on their physical capabilities but also on developing resilience skills. Whether it's rugby, football, tennis, or golf, success ultimately depends on how well the athlete handles relentless and often overwhelming pressure.

The opportunity for the rest of us lies in applying the seven lessons to our own lives. By cultivating greater self-awareness and control, recognising the growth potential in the challenges we face, consistently building a support system, discovering our passions, focusing on what matters most and consciously developing our confidence, we can become better versions of ourselves. We can strive to improve, live better, and overcome even the toughest situations.

Perhaps an impossible question, but what single behaviour or habit would you most recommend everyone adopts in order to become resilient and thrive?

It would be meta-cognition (greater self-awareness and control). Having mastery over one's internal narrative is incredibly powerful and transformative. When faced with difficulties and failures, our immediate reaction tends to be self-criticism, shame, embarrassment, and self-doubt. We become defensive, angry, and highly emotional, sometimes even behaving irrationally, while searching for external reasons to justify our setbacks and shortcomings. However, becoming aware of this cycle and consciously resisting this negative pattern allows us to experience true freedom and flourish.

To achieve such mastery in response to our frustrations and setbacks, it is necessary to pause, reflect, and respond in a way that aligns with our objectives and promotes positive outcomes. Engaging in an internal dialogue that reinforces past successes, fosters self-confidence in your journey, and provides encouragement has been the key competitive advantage for Novak Djokovic for many decades. Phrases such as "believe in yourself," "I can accomplish this," "I have the ability," "I have put in the necessary work and effort," "what opportunities exist in this moment," and "this is going to raise my game" act as guiding principles, leading him successfully through difficult matches and experiences.

What books are on your to-be-read pile right now? Which writers inspire you to read and write?

I'm absolutely loving "How to Change Your Life" by Jake Humphry and Damian Hughes! My next must read will be "Anatomy of a Breakthrough" by Adam Alter. I also greatly enjoy Steven Kotler's works, including "The Art of Impossible," "Stealing Fire," and many more.

What’s next for you? Can we expect more books in the future?

I would like to focus on sharing my experiences in building high performing teams and individuals (I absolutely love the space), as well as assisting kids in managing their stress and overall well-being (emotional and physical), given the complex demands they currently face.