Summary of “The Power of Full Engagement”: There are a set number of hours in every day, but the amount of energy that we have, the key to high performance, to health, happiness and balance is based in energy management, not time management.
By Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, 2003, 256 pages
Book chronicle and summary of The Power of Full Engagement
The authors begin the book with an observation: we live in a world where everything is getting faster: digital exchanges, communications and the pace of work. We incessantly have to face an increasing number of demands. The most intuitive response that we can find is to devote more time to working to satisfy these demands. This seems logical: the more demands in our life, the more time we must devote to responding to them. The problem is that time is a finite resource. There are a limited number of hours in a day.
Often, we get home from work tired, and we can no longer devote quality time to our children. At work, a steady stream of emails and interruptions prevent us from devoting enough time to important projects. We can easily remember birthdays, thanks to Facebook and smartphone calendars, but we are often too tired to go out and celebrate the way we should. What is asked of us often exceeds what can give. To overcome this difficulty and follow the pace, we are constantly trying to better manage our time and succeed in getting everything done.
In contrast to time, energy is not a finite resource
By managing it well, we can increase its capacity and better respond to these incessant demands. In reality, energy, not time, is the fundamental element of high performance. Efficiency, health and even happiness are rooted in the capacity to manage our energy throughout the day. Everything we do, from workplace discussions to the time we spend with our family requires energy. The quality of our actions depends very largely on the quality of our energy at the time when we act. Imagine waking up tomorrow with much more positive energy, focused on investing it at work and with your loved ones. Wouldn’t that change your life for the better?
It is clear that some environments can be pretty toxic, especially if your work environment is abysmal. However, the authors show us that we have much more control over our energy than we think. In this book, they offer us a set of sound principles for managing our energy, based equally on the physical, emotional, mental and finally spiritual aspects. What they call full engagement requires a large amount of physical energy, a good emotional connection, the capacity to focus properly (mental energy) and finally being true to personal values and a goal that exceeds our immediate personal interest (spiritual energy).
In fact, The Power of Full Engagement presents a new paradigm that I will outline here:
|Old Paradigm||New Paradigm|
|Manage time||Manage energy|
|Avoid stress||Seek out stress|
|Life is a marathon||Life is a series of sprints|
|Breaks are a waste of time||Breaks are productive periods|
|Rewards fuel performance||A goal that is larger than oneself fuels performance|
|The importance of self-discipline throughout the day||The importance of rituals throughout the day|
|The power of positive thinking||The power of full engagement.|
The authors coached top-level athletes for 30 years, which enabled them to acquire solid experience and gave them ample time to test their method. In particular, they coached players from the world of tennis such as Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Sergi Bruguera and Monica Seles. Their work with athletes was unique in that they never worked on the athletes’ technique or expertise.
They focused solely on energy management to help them to be more efficient in their sport. The excellent results they obtained led them to become known and to apply the principles of their coaching to the world of business. Curiously enough, they realised that the demands of professional life were in general more severe than for high-level athletes. In fact, athletes spend approximately 90% of their time training to achieve a performance in the remaining 10%, while professional life demands that we have to be constantly alert.
First part: Dynamics of full engagement
Chapter 1: Fully engaged: energy, not time, is our most precious resource.
Good energy management is absolutely critical to achieve a high level of performance. In this introductory chapter, the authors present four principles on which good energy management is based, and which guide the rest of the book:
Principle 1: Full engagement asks us to draw upon four sources of energy that are separate but related: physical, emotional, mental and finally spiritual energy.
Human beings are complex systems, and being fully engaged in what we do involves several dimensions of commitment. If we remove one of the four components mentioned above, our ability to operate at our full potential will be reduced. For example, physical energy represents the quantity of energy, while emotional energy represents the quality of the energy. To be fully engaged, both high energy (quantity) and pleasant energy (quality) are needed. The author gives the example of an imaginary surgeon operating on your heart: would you prefer that he be depressed and tired (low-negative energy), energetic and angry (high-negative energy), or energetic, confident and in a good mood (high-positive)? We note that when we have to focus on performing a high precision task, it is better to be in high-positive energy and then, when the time comes to rest, to return to low-positive energy (relaxed).
Principle 2: Energy capacity decreases if it is over-used or under-used. Due to this fact, we must balance our expenditure of energy with periods of recovery to relax and regain our energy.
To increase our energy, continuous training is necessary, throughout our life, in the four dimensions given above. For this, we must proceed exactly as we would proceed to developing our muscles using strength training: by alternating periods of effort with periods of recovery. If you do strength training each day, without ever recovering, your muscles will not develop, and anyone who does bodybuilding will be able to confirm this. The recovery time is essential for development and it is very important not to make linear efforts, at the risk of becoming overworked and unable to move forward. Unfortunately, in the working world, the first one to stop is often poorly regarded and we congratulate the one who puts in very long hours and returns home late in the evening. The problem is that this kind of pace is counter-productive and therefore ineffective.
Viewed from the other side of the problem, if you never exercise, then your muscles will wither naturally. The same thing applies to spiritual, mental and emotional energy. They need regular exercise in order to develop.
Life should not be linear, but cyclical. Everything in life is cyclical and human beings are no exception to this rule.
Principle 3: To increase our capacity, we must regularly push beyond our normal limits, to train in exactly the same way as high level athletes.
In contrast to what you might imagine, stress is not the enemy of our lives. In reality, it is useful to our personal development. The same way that athletes working on strength training must necessarily go beyond their boundaries to develop their muscles, stress helps to make us stronger. Immediately after a workout, the athletes are tired and weak. However, after a day or two of recovery, their muscles have gained in strength. In the same way, stress, when it is controlled and desired, is a way to increase our capacity and our energy in the emotional, mental and spiritual areas. As we often hear, “What does not kill you makes you stronger”. That is why, to become more powerful, regular exposure to stress that is outside our comfort zone is important, followed by a period of recovery.
Principle 4: Positive energy rituals – specific energy management habits – are the key to full engagement and high performance.
Usually, it is accepted that we can change our behavior and improve our results using a sufficient amount of self-discipline and willpower. However, this requires a great deal of attention throughout the day, and a great deal of mental effort goes into succeeding in creating change using this method. In reality, willpower and self-discipline are limited resources, and it is difficult to call upon them for an extended period of time. Therefore it is better to implement what the authors call rituals of positive energy, which rely on making habits automatic. Just as we brush our teeth every day without thinking, with the goal of good dental hygiene, “rituals” are actions that are specifically defined and structured, and that we perform without effort. Deliberately creating rituals to help us to recover and manage our energy is therefore an excellent way to become more engaged in life.
In fact, even if we believe the opposite, our daily behavior is very largely dictated by our habits. We don’t necessarily follow them in the same order, or at the same time each day, but they remain habits nevertheless. Think, for example of the way in which you tie your laces, the way you wash your hands, the thought patterns you follow, the types of food you eat, the way in which you start your working day each morning etc.: it is practically the same thing every day. In other words, as Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Due to this fact, negative habits hold us back and positive habits move us forward or help us to lead a pleasant life (Note: To identify your bad habits and replace them with good ones, read the article
The method proposed in this book to improve energy management and obtain remarkable performance consists of three main points: find alignment with your personal values (a reason to expend energy), face the reality of your situation, and then develop a plan of action, based in particular on the power of rituals, to finally reduce the gap between the person we really are and our values and the person that we are in our professional and daily life.
Chapter 2: The disengaged life of Roger B.
In this chapter, the authors show us a typical example of one of their clients: a person who no longer knows how to manage his energy, whether at the physical, emotional, mental or spiritual level.
Through this example, we can easily see the effects of poor energy management on a daily basis. We also note the extent to which this is commonplace in our society.
Roger B. is someone who, seen from the outside, has a lot of success. He is married to a woman he loves, has two children and a high-level position in a company, which offers a generous salary. And yet, his boss and his colleagues have noticed a decrease in his performance over the years. This decrease in performance is accompanied by irritability and growing impatience, to the point where it has become problematic for his company. In addition to this irritability and impatience, his problems are negativity, the superficiality of his relationships and, finally, a lack of enthusiasm.
Overweight and high blood pressure
Physically speaking, he is overweight and suffers from high blood pressure. He has poor eating habits. He almost never eats breakfast, and then wolfs down a sandwich at lunchtime sitting at his desk. At around 4 pm, he feels a little peckish, and soon fills up on cookies. In the evening, when he gets home he relaxes with a Martini, then eats a big dinner washed down with a few glasses of wine. He goes to bed late, after checking his emails one last time, and often takes a while to fall asleep. In the morning, he needs several cups of coffee to keep up with the pace at work. Finally, he does not exercise, despite some unfruitful attempts.
His lack of energy has an impact at an emotional level of course. When he was young, he was known as someone who was friendly and funny. Now, he acts in an impatient and negative way, thereby affecting those who are under his responsibility at work.
His relationship with his wife, whom he previously saw as a friend as well as a romantic partner, has become more superficial. The main conversations between them revolve around the logistics of the family home. He has little time to spend with her face to face, and little time for his children. Because of this, he has developed feelings of guilt.
The mental aspect is also impacted, since with his frantic pace and bad eating habits, he finds it increasingly difficult to concentrate. Incessant interruptions from emails, phone calls and requests from his colleagues add to this problem.
To summarize, Roger B., like so many of us, lives his life by endlessly providing responses to external demands. A plaything of circumstances, he is running out of steam, chasing time, losing control over his life, and especially, he is losing his connection to his aspirations and what he wants from life. If you can relate to Roger B., read on until the last chapter where you will find out how he has evolved.
Chapter 3: The pulse of high performance: balancing stress and recovery
In the world of high level sport, it is widely recognized that training should alternate periods of work and recovery. Moreover, most top-flight athletes with whom the authors worked saw their problems as coming from an imbalance between energy expenditure and renewal.
This point is central to performance, yet few companies take the importance of breaks sufficiently into account. In the professional and sporting life, breaks are more than simple periods without work. They are essential to recovery. In addition to promoting good health and to a certain extent, happiness, they are also essential to efficiency and performance. Just like in sport, balancing energy expenditure and renewal is necessary in order to avoid both “over-training” and “under-training“.
A simple definition of energy is quite simply the ability to perform a task.
In this sense it is a fundamental need for human beings to spend and then recover energy.
Life itself is based on the principle of oscillation and the alternation between periods of growth and recovery. These oscillations are in some way the pulse of life, and human beings are no exception to this rule of oscillation. Therefore, we must not be linear in how we use our work time, but rhythmic. Several rhythmic cycles can be distinguished among humans. Among them is the circadian rhythm, which lasts approximately 24 hours, and the ultradian rhythm, which lasts between 90 and 120 minutes depending on the individual.
If we are attentive, we can note when we come to the end of an ultradian cycle. Signs such as yawning, a feeling of hunger and slight tiredness are suggestive of this. It is therefore very important to follow these rhythms by taking breaks. It is possible to force ourselves to remain active even at the end of the cycle but we will pay for it after a certain time with a headache or back pain and gastric problems as well as increased irritability, impatience and difficulty concentrating.
The time between each point
As a performance psychologist, Jim Loer, one of the two authors of the book The Power of Full Engagement, made a long study of high level tennis players to detect differences between a major competitor and the other players. When studying the videos, he realized that one of the common points between all the best players was not during play, but when play was interrupted. Between each point, the best players had a set of very specific rituals to rapidly release pressure. The way in which they walked, or bounced the ball off the ground, even the direction they looked: each gesture was repeated in an automatic way between each point of the game.
Measurements of heart rate then showed that in the 16 to 20 seconds between each point of the game, players could slow down their heart rate by nearly 20 beats per minute. In comparison, many less well-ranked players did not have these mini-rituals of recovery.
Recovering at work
In the professional world, alternating between periods of recovery and effort is equally important. The ideal would be to alternate between periods of effort with high-positive energy and periods of recovery with low, but also positive energy (relax, zen). It is surprising to see how companies frown upon taking breaks. Yet linear work makes concentration and quality work difficult. In addition, working long hours in a monotonous way can literally be dangerous for your long-term health (if this seems unlikely to you, refer to the book, where striking examples of the dangerousness of linear work are detailed).
Finally, breaks, just as much as periods of effort (stress) are necessary to remain energized and to improve. It is better to think like a sprinter and then recover from the effort, than to tackle a task like a marathon runner. In this sense, stress (in a variety of forms), rather than something to be avoided, must be sought out, and followed by sufficient periods of recovery.
Chapter 4: Physical energy: fuelling the fire
For athletes and people performing physical work, good health is obviously useful. In contrast, for people who work in offices, its crucial importance may appear less obvious. Roger B., the man described in Chapter 2, is a good example. He pays no attention to his physical energy. This is a mistake, because the physical aspect is just as important an element for people working in an office as for those who work outdoors. It is the principal fuel for all our actions. It is essential for concentration, for keeping our emotions in check and for engaging in creative activities. A study by the journal Ergonomics concluded that the mental performance of people in good shape was better than that of people in poor shape: they commit 27% fewer errors in tasks requiring concentration, and have a better short-term memory.
Where does physical energy come from?
At the most basic level, physical energy comes from the interaction between oxygen and glucose. Logically, therefore, breathing and food supply are the two cycles that are most fundamental to physical energy.
It is therefore important that food can provide a continuous contribution in glucose throughout the day. For this, it is necessary to prefer food with a low glycemic index (examples are given in the Annexes to the book), and to avoid fast sugars, which spread too quickly into the bloodstream and leave us rapidly without energy. Similarly, it is better to favor eating 5 to 6 meals per day, for example, taking a small snack in the middle of the morning and the afternoon, and by not eating excessively at mealtimes.
The idea is not to feel excessively hungry, nor to experience the feeling of being “full” and unable to move. A meal should be light enough that we don’t feel food in our stomach but consistent enough to allow us to work for 2-3 hours without experiencing feelings of hunger. Unfortunately, examples such as Roger B. swing between these two extremes. He waits until he is very hungry before wolfing down poor quality food, and takes his main meal in the evening.
The authors go on to stress the importance of drinking water. It is one of the most important components for good physical energy. In contrast to hunger, feeling thirsty is not a good indicator. When you feel thirsty it is already too late, and you have begun to dehydrate. This is why it is important to drink water throughout the day. A muscle which is dehydrated by 3% loses about 10% of its effectiveness.
Do not sleep too much or too little
Another essential component of physical energy is sleep. It has a function of renewal and recovery, but also of development (growth takes place while we sleep). The authors cite a study by the psychologist Dan Kripke who studied the sleep patterns of a million people. The mortality rate for almost all causes of deaths was found to be the lowest among those who slept between 7 and 8 hours per day. For those who slept less, the rates were 2.5 times higher. For those who slept more, mortality rates were 1.5 times higher.
Too much or too little sleep would appear therefore be harmful to health. In addition, it would seem that going to bed early and then getting up early may improve performance throughout the day. Finally, the authors bring up the subject of the nap. It would appear that circadian and ultradian rhythms generally simultaneously reach their lowest point in the beginning of the afternoon, which would suggest that a nap at this time of the day would be beneficial to the body.
Increasing physical energy
Finally, if you want to increase your physical energy or keep it at a good level, you must of course do physical exercise. A study by the Canadian Life Assurance Company found that 63% of participants in a program of physical exercise claimed they felt more relaxed, less tired and more patient during their working day. 47% also stated that they felt more alert, and had a better relationship with their supervisors and colleagues. Regular physical activity is therefore very important to concentrate properly throughout the day, but also to increase one’s tolerance to stress.
To increase your physical capacity and energy, the authors recommend focusing on rhythmic activities (interval training). This can take several forms: climbing stairs, biking, doing strength training etc., but the important thing is that this activity first raises and then lowers the heart rate at regular intervals. This promotes the capacity for recovery and increases performance.
Finally, to remain engaged throughout the day without feeling too tired, the authors reiterate the importance of taking a break every 90 to 120 minutes. Even if you have a heavy workload, forcing yourself to take a break is in fact a way of increasing productivity, keeping the mind clear and creative and avoiding the secretion of hormones of stress and adrenaline that are harmful to work requiring concentration (these hormones are useful to survival in certain situations, but we rarely confront them in our modern lives).
Chapter 5: Emotional energy: transforming threat into challenge
The link between physical energy and emotional energy is very strong. Like Roger B., if we start to lose our physical energy, we will quickly feel a sense of urgency, fatigue and stress that will affect us at the emotional level, and alert us that something must be done to recover.
To achieve good performance on a daily basis, emotional energy should be enjoyable and positive. Concepts such as pleasure, the challenge, adventure and the search for opportunities are at the heart of full engagement. It is important, in addition to having good physical energy, to have good “emotional muscles”. These can be described as: self-confidence, self-control, empathy and finally the relationship skills (relationships play an important role in emotional energy).
Negative emotions such as anger, fatigue and the sense of urgency that we feel when we lack energy are signs of survival behavior and are useful signals in a hostile environment, but they influence performance in a very negative way. Therefore, when at work, it is preferable to avoid negative emotions as much as possible and to search for positive, pleasant emotions. On this point, the authors point out that the ability to appeal to positive emotional energy in times of stress is also a common feature among recognized leaders.
Renew emotional energy with an enjoyable activity
Like with physical energy, emotional energy needs to be renewed periodically. However, emotional energy renews itself through activities rather than through inactivity. In fact, any pleasant and enjoyable activity is a source of renewal of emotional energy (remember, emotional energy is measured not by its quantity, but by its quality: positive and pleasant or negative and unpleasant). In this sense, hobbies and personal interests are very important. For some, this will be singing, dancing or playing music. For others, it will be a DIY activity, a hobby collection, a concert, etc. The exact nature of the activity matters little, as long as it is a source of pleasure and enjoyment.
Relationships renew emotional energy
Similarly, our relationships represent a very important source of renewal of emotional energy. Friendships, intimate relationships and meeting new people are all examples. In addition, a study has shown that having a good friend at work is an important factor in professional effectiveness.
In the book, the authors give several examples, including that of Jed R., whose main problem lay in the superficiality of his relationships. Under the weight of his professional obligations, he had almost no time to devote to his wife, his daughter and his loved ones. His relations with his colleagues were pleasant, but lacked any kind of connection and complicity.
The solution that was proposed was therefore to establish rituals to strengthen his emotional “muscle” and energy: every Monday evening, he enjoys dinner alone with his daughter. One Wednesday out of two, it is a one-on-one evening with his wife. On Saturdays, he and his wife agreed to get up at 8 am and spend 90 minutes chatting and sharing their concerns of the week. Then, every Friday, he has a one-on-one lunch with one of his subordinates at work, in order to take time to discuss things in a more relaxed setting. Finally, once a month, he suggests going to a bowling alley, a dinner or an event with his team to improve the quality of the relationships within the group. Rapidly, these rituals greatly improved the quality of Jed R.’s relationships, as well as his personal investment at work.
As seen through this example, to increase our capacity for emotional energy, it is important to establish rituals to exercise the emotional “muscle” that is depleted. For Jed R., the muscle he had to work on was the ability to maintain quality relationships. These rituals must be put in place little by little, in order to not overwhelm the person establishing them and allow time to recover in order to develop. We can see for example, in the field of seduction, very shy people are encouraged to begin by establishing small rituals to become more comfortable, such as “speaking to one person per day” or “meeting 3 new people per week”. It is an excellent way to develop the emotional muscles and gradually improve the quality of the energy, exactly like an athlete doing weight training to strengthen his or her physical muscles.
The authors end this chapter by explaining that one can recognize strong emotional capacity in an individual by observing his or her ability to maintain opposing emotions. For example, a given individual will often appreciate the ability to “be a tough guy” and completely underestimate the value of tenderness. In reality, these two apparently opposite aspects are two useful muscles in our lives. This is true for other opposites: self-control and spontaneity; openness and discretion; passion and detachment; self-confidence and humility; caution and audacity, to name a few examples.
Chapter 6: Mental energy: appropriate focus and realistic optimism
We use mental energy to focus well, and also to organize our life, make plans, visualize our objectives and most especially to turn our attention in the direction that we want. Just like emotional energy, it is largely fuelled by physical energy.
Having a “strong mind”: realistic optimism
According to the observations of the authors, the best type of mental energy to develop for high performance is realistic optimism. It is about seeing the world as it is, but at the same time working in a positive manner towards a desired goal or solution. In high-level sport as well as in the professional world, mental strength is crucial to achieving good performance. In this regard, the psychologist Martin Seligman conducted a study into the relationship between the degree of optimism and the performance of the salespeople at the company Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Two years after they completed a questionnaire intended to assess their optimism, it emerged that the optimistic salespeople sold 37% more than the others. In addition to this, those present in the top 10 of the degree of optimism sold 88% more than those located in the top 10 of the degree of pessimism.
The importance of breaks for good focus
Perhaps even more than in the areas of physical and emotional energy, breaks demonstrate their importance in the field of mental energy. “Overheating” of the brain and the resulting decrease in mental clarity quickly leads to a much higher rate of errors, bad judgements and difficulty concentrating, all of which are essential elements of professional effectiveness today. In addition, the brain is a complex element, and frequent breaks allow you to make the different hemispheres work in an alternating manner.
As we have often seen written, the left side of the brain is the center of logic and reasoning, while the right side of the brain is more geared towards intuition and creativity. Take breaks, go for a walk outside, take a breath and look out the window… All these activities exercise the right side of the brain, thereby improving creativity. In addition, most ideas which come to us do not generally appear during periods of work, but rather when we are relaxing: in the shower, during a walk or even when doing the dishes. Taking time to think and to rest is therefore crucial to maintaining good mental energy, being creative and enjoying good periods of concentration.
The mental muscles
Just as it is quite possible to develop our physical and emotional muscles, it is also recommended to develop our mental muscles. The mental muscles are: mental preparation, visualization, positive internal dialogue, time organization and management and finally, creativity. More and more studies show that the brain is quite plastic, in the sense that its power decreases if it is not used very much, and increases if it actively used.
A striking study was conducted on this topic by the Baylor College of Medicine on nearly one hundred elderly people over the age of 64 in good health: one third of them had a job and remained physically and mentally active, one third of them were retired but were still active physically and mentally, and the final third were retired and remained essentially inactive. After 4 years, the last third had scores that were significantly lower than the others, not only on IQ tests, but also on tests measuring the flow of blood supply to the brain. To maintain or increase the capacity of the brain and achieve better performance, it is therefore important to continue to exercise the mind, always alternating between breaks and effort.
The neurologist Richard Restak explains:
Regardless of your age, it is never too late to change your brain for the better. This is due to the fact that the brain is different from the other organs of the body. Whereas the liver, lungs, and kidneys wear out over the years, the brain becomes keener as long as it is in use. Basically, it improves to the extent that it is used.
Chapter 7: Spiritual energy: he who has a why to live
If the amount of energy that we possess is mainly a physical function, our motivation to spend it is spiritual in nature. Spiritual energy is our greatest source of motivation.
Definition of the term spiritual
The term “spiritual” is not employed by the authors in a religious sense. It is more simply defined as the connection to a set of personal values and to a larger purpose than our own personal interest. For example, imagine someone who has an interest in ecology and who likes to act in favor of the quality of the environment. If that person works for an oil company, it is certain that his or her motivation will be at its lowest at work. It will not be in alignment with the person’s values, and will lose all the benefits of his or her spiritual energy. In this sense, the person is not likely to be very successful in his or her professional life.
Personal values and a purpose wider than oneself serving performance
It is therefore important to remain close to your values (which will therefore be defined in advance) and serve a purpose which transcends your immediate personal interest in order to obtain high performance. Serving a wider goal than your personal interest may seem scary at first. Indeed, by doing so, we move away from instinctive survival behavior. At the time of the cavemen, the survival reflexes were surely very useful in saving lives and escaping from predators, and this behavior resurfaces easily among us when we are put under pressure. However, we will see that serving a greater goal makes for a great deal of motivation and strength. The authors give us a telling example in the person of Ann F., a dynamic manager who wanted to stop smoking.
The story of Ann F.
Ann had a lot of trouble quitting, even though she had been pregnant twice, and each time had been able to instantly stop smoking during the 9 months of pregnancy. When Ann has connected the image of smoking to a broader sense (the birth of her future children), she immediately benefited from specific strength of will to stop smoking. She therefore needed this connection to a source of spiritual energy to accomplish her objective. The authors were able to help her by showing the links between the welfare of her family and the impact on her children of the fact of stopping smoking, and she ended up succeeding.
Spiritual energy is what fuels our passions, what helps us to persevere in the face of obstacles, and what enables us to commit to a cause or to what we are doing.
It is therefore not surprising to learn that the principal “muscle” of spiritual energy is strength of character. It takes courage and strength to dare to live according to our convictions. The secondary “muscles” of spiritual energy are passion, commitment, honesty and integrity (in other words the ability to do what we say we are going to do, when we say we are going to do it). It is possible to develop these muscles, exactly like the physical, emotional and mental muscles described in the other chapters of the book.
To do so, they have to be exercised, with alternate periods of recovery and solicitation. However, spiritual “work” is different from physical “work”. Often, it can be both demanding and a path to renewal. For example, meditation is an exercise that demands a certain amount of concentration, but which also allows you to relax and to reconnect with your inner voice. It is also important to balance service to others (or a goal wider than oneself) with taking care of oneself. It is within this balance that the spiritual “muscle” can develop favorably.
Second part: The Training System
After defining the theory in the first part, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz now lead us to a comprehensive program that can be implemented for optimal energy management and to achieve high performance. This program follows three main steps:
First of all, it involves defining our values and our personal mission, a goal wider than oneself. Then, take a lucid look at where we are in life and determine the steps to follow to improve. Finally, an action plan is put in place, especially with the creation of specific rituals to give a new structure to our life and create new habits.
Chapter 8: Defining purpose: the rules of engagement
While development and growth begin from the bottom up (physical first, then emotional, mental and finally spiritual), change is initiated from the top.
The search for meaning, the guarantee of the strength of the objectives
The search for meaning has long been a central theme throughout cultures and eras. The heroic quest, found in works as diverse as Homer’s Odyssey or more recently Star Wars or even Harry Potter, is based each time on the capacity of the hero to mobilize, feed, lead and renew his or her energy at the service of what counts most in his or her world vision. There is therefore a clear meaning to their actions, which gives them a lot of energy.
Unfortunately, as in the case of Roger B., most of us do not follow the path of the heroic quest, often due to a lack of time to sit down and think about the meaning of what we are doing. But the lack of a personal mission leads almost invariably to fragility to external circumstances. Like a tree with shallow roots tree that is easily uprooted by a storm, our life risks being led by circumstances if we do not give it precise meaning.
To be effective, a mission must have three main characteristics. It must lead:
- from the negative to the positive,
- from the extrinsic to the intrinsic,
- and from personal interest to the service of a cause.
From the negative to the positive:
If one of your values is for example excellence, your mission must not be to never make a mistake and to avoid handing over any work that is less than perfect. This would be a mission with a negative character which would absorb more energy than it would offer and which appears to emanate from a threat (mistakes). It is better to connect to a positive purpose, such as the fact of doing a good job, which is quite similar.
From the extrinsic to the intrinsic:
Extrinsic motivation comes from a need to have something of which we do not seem to have enough. For example, social recognition, money, approval or even love. In contrast, intrinsic motivation comes from the fact of enjoying an activity for the activity itself. A study by the University of Rochester demonstrated that people whose motivation was authentic (self-defined), showed more interest, excitement, confidence and especially perseverance, creativity and performance than those who were motivated by external demands or rewards.
From personal interest to the service of a cause:
Again, the main benefit is in the power of the motivation. It is certainly not uncommon for people to work hard for external rewards. However, the service of a cause can go much further, and the authors give the particular example of firefighters who are often willing to give their lives to save people. Having a mission beyond our personal interest also allows us to reconnect with ourselves, because it implies that we are not the plaything of external influences. In addition, it allows us to build and improve self-esteem.
Finally, values are of particular importance for our personal mission. They are what fuels the meaning of our life and help us to define our mission. In addition to this, with a well-defined mission, our life becomes a vehicle for the expression of our values, which contributes to giving it meaning, and therefore a lot of energy on a daily basis. In this chapter, the authors provide a process for defining our values that is very interesting to follow (during this process, one particularly instructive question is asked to help you define what is important for you: “Picture yourself at the end of your life. What are the three most important lessons that you have learned?”).
After completing this process, the reader is invited to formulate a personal vision, which will serve to boost motivation and to give life a clearer direction.
Chapter 9: Face the truth: how are you managing your energy now?
Once you have defined your values, the next step is to act in accordance with them. In general, this is not an easy thing to do. To do it, first of all you need to take a long hard look at your current situation and face reality: how do you manage your energy today? Facing harsh realities can bring uncomfortable feelings to the surface, such as anger, guilt, frustration, sadness or envy. Whatever the case, it is always more intelligent to look things squarely in the face, because not to do so will, over time, cause an escalation of repressed feelings, depression, apathy and therefore poor performance. Sometimes, the realities are so hard that the authors suggest coping with them in successive waves, taking time to recover and to assimilate them.
Lucidity releases energy, denial consumes energy
Facing up to reality releases large amounts of energy and conversely, denial consumes a lot of energy. It is perfectly normal that from time to time we do not live up to our values. Accepting this allows us to move forward and make progress. In contrast, denial means closing off a part of ourselves, one that we don’t really want to look at. It is therefore a strategy of disengagement which cuts off part of our own energy.
And yet, we consciously or unconsciously use a number of strategies to avoid facing up to reality and taking responsibility. Silence, rationalization, intellectualization, sometimes even somatization (transferring denial into physical pain such as back pain or other bodily pain) are examples. Similarly, there is not just one way of looking at things. Remaining convinced that our way of seeing things represents reality is one way to enter into denial. Indeed, any vision or set of beliefs is nothing more than a prism through which we look at reality. Lucidity, therefore, involves constantly remaining open to the possibility of being wrong.
Finally, openly accepting our limits is a better strategy because it stops us from being on the defensive and increases the amount of positive energy around us.
It is good common sense, but the authors do stress that the “reality” stage is crucial in order to create a point of departure for change and achieve better performance.
Chapter 10: Taking action: the power of positive rituals
The example of Ivan Lendl
Most the great athletes rely on positive rituals to be major competitors. A striking example of this is the tennis player Ivan Lendl. Physically, he was neither the strongest nor the greatest player. Despite this, he spent years ranked as the best player in the world. What made him different from other players was not only his great regularity when training, but how he also applied this regularity to all other areas of life. He followed a rigorous fitness program, ran sprints and middle distances, followed biking and muscle training sessions.
He also did balance and flexibility exercises and finally, ate according to a very specific diet based on his sporting activity. Seen from the outside, this would appear to be a very tough lifestyle which requires great discipline and an iron will. But in reality, this was probably not the case. Recent research shows that approximately only 5% of our actions are consciously directed. All the rest is down to habit. Lendl understood this, and he followed positive rituals, which had become automatic, and he was motivated by a deep sense of personal mission.
The power of positive rituals
Rituals of positive energy work for us in three ways:
- They allow us to manage our energy in the service of the mission we are following,
- They allow us to reduce the amount of willpower and discipline required (making our actions even easier),
- And they are a powerful way to put our values and our priorities into action.
Rituals are powerful ways to achieve the goals that we are pursuing. You can take the test: look at any area in which you have success in life, and you will find that you have habits that serve you in this field. If you are in very good physical health, you are surely in the habit of exercising. If you earn good money, you surely have a positive internal dialogue and well defined habits to move your career forward regularly. And, ff you have a lot of friends, you are surely in the habit of communicating and meeting new people.
Furthermore, when we have to deal with a problem or an unforeseen circumstance that upsets our confidence, we all have a tendency to return to our survival behavior and habits. Anger, impatience, flight all bubble back to the surface. Under these conditions, positive rituals become even more important because they act as milestones that can keep us energized and focused. The greater the storm we must face, the more important the rituals become.
The great strength of rituals lies in the fact that they conserve energy, in contrast to willpower and discipline, which require a conscious effort at every moment. The rituals help to give structure to our life. Consciously leading them allows us to take our lives in the direction we want. They create boundaries, which instead of locking us in allow us to restore our energy easily while preparing for the next challenge.
Establish new rituals
How can we acquire new positive rituals? The two key elements to take into account when creating a new ritual are the specificity of the timing and the accuracy of the ritual during the first 30 to 60 days. The more precise the timing and the more attention paid to accuracy during the implementation period (the first 30 to 60 days), the better the chances that the ritual will become an automatic habit. In determining exactly when and how the ritual is performed, there is no more need to think about it, which facilitates its establishment.
In addition, it is important to begin the change incrementally, that is to say little by little. Deciding to launch several new rituals intended to change our life at the same time risks making the task more difficult. It is one of the reasons why New Year resolutions are seldom kept. It is better to begin by changing a single habit by creating a ritual; then, 30 to 60 days later, initiate a second habit, and then a third etc. Implementing change in an incremental way may seem slow, but in reality it is faster and more efficient than starting several at the same time.
Chapter 11: The re-engaged life of Roger B.
The book ends with the result of the concrete example of Roger B. presented in Chapter 2.
At the beginning of his program of coaching, Roger was not very enthusiastic. In fact, it was his boss who, seeing that he was increasingly detached from this work, sent him to the authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwatrz. However, the process during which it is necessary to face the truth (described in Chapter 9) was the real trigger for him. He realized how low his physical energy was, and he was very surprised to see how his abilities in the area of relationships were of such poor quality. His colleagues and his family were given a questionnaire to describe him, and these outside opinions were a revelation to him. He was able to realize how noticeable his impatience and his negativity had become.
Roger was then brought to define not only his values, but also his personal mission. He realized that the important values for him were related to his family, to the fact of doing his best every day and the fact of treating others with respect and kindness. He was therefore able to realize how the manner in which he led his life differed from his personal aspirations.
Plan of action and transformation
Following the program of the authors of this book, he therefore established a plan of action to regain his energy, in line with his values on one hand, and his problems on the other (bad physical shape, impatience, negativity and superficial relationships). He began to establish positive rituals to serve his personal vision each day.
In the first two months following his consultation, the first actions put in place were mainly concerned with sport, diet and the time spent with his family. Now he was going to the gym 3 times a week for training. He also decided to eat breakfast each morning and more frequent and better quality meals during the day. Finally, he went home earlier, and made a stop along the way to relax, in order to greet his children with a smile on his face when he got home.
After two months, the results of these first three rituals had clearly emerged: he felt better physically, had significantly improved the quality of his relations with his family, and had also become more productive at work, to the point where his colleagues couldn’t understand what had changed in him!
Over the following three months, he continued to establish new positive rituals. The first of these was to write little notes to his children in the morning before leaving for work. He also established a ritual of eating breakfast with his wife, which gave him the opportunity to spend quality time with her. Finally, he started to reconnect with people who were dear to him but he did not see very often, calling one person who meant something to him on the phone every day on the way home from work (good friends he had fallen out of touch with, parents, relatives etc.). He also continued to work out, increasing the number of sessions to 4 per week.
Finally, he also decided, and his company accepted the decision, to work from home one day a week. This allowed him to be closer to his children, and he also very much appreciated the peace and quiet at home to move forward with projects requiring a lot of concentration.
Certainly, this progress was not always exactly linear, and sometimes Roger failed to perform his rituals, but on the whole, the progress he made was stunning. The book ends with a quote from Roger B, that I would like to add here:
“What surprises me most is that once my values became clear and I understood how to introduce new rituals, most of the changes were not so difficult to put in place. My life has acquired a certain rhythm. I can feel how my energy rubs off on the people around me. Now my challenge is simply to feel the pulse and follow the rhythm.”
Book Critique of The Power of Full Engagement:
The Power of Full Engagement was a valuable aid for me to get organized and succeed in being full of energy throughout the day. It was a factor in the success of my working days, thanks in particular to the suggestion about establishing rituals, which enabled me to create an immediate framework within which to advance toward my goals.
This book is filled with excellent ideas that seem so simple once they have been explained: for example the importance of breaks, the conscious use of rituals, management of energy rather than time management. It is common sense, but it can sometimes seem counter-intuitive. The ideas in the book often go against the tide of certain precepts usually applied in companies.
Taking energy management into account is part of a broad and comprehensive vision. From the physical to the spiritual, along with the emotional and mental, the system presented by the authors is a complete one. At first, it does not necessarily reflect the extent to which one’s values can have an influence on the efficiency of a business. And yet, when you read the book, the link becomes clear. The energy that we have every day is directly derived from the 4 dimensions (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual) highlighted in the book.
A tendency to repeat
Sometimes, the authors have a tendency to repeat themselves a little. The principles are the same in each chapter and for each type of energy: take breaks, seek out stress, introduce positive rituals, exercise the “muscles” and then give them time to recover in order to develop. Occasionally, we might issue the criticism that some of the good ideas have already been given in personal development books. However, the heart of this book is quite innovative and the principles developed contain great insight.
I particularly liked the fact that the principles described in this book were applied to high-level athletes for several years prior to becoming the subject of this book. Athletes are not interested in long theories that “sound good”. What they are looking for above all are concrete results: improve a time, resist pressure during a competition, increase the number of victories. Sport is therefore an excellent laboratory in which to test the effectiveness of a method, which strengthens the validity of the principles supported by the authors.
Through the research into high performance, an entire system encompassing the various components of the human being converges in the same direction: take back control of our lives, increase our energy and efficiency, cope with external requests but also be truer and closer to the person that we really are. To conclude, I particularly enjoyed this book.
- The comments have great insight and are well documented.
- A complete and innovative vision
- A program full of common sense, principles tested many times in many areas.
- A slight tendency to be repetitive.
- A few ideas that have already been seen in the field of personal development.
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