In The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz put forth the idea that “Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance.” Using this approach they help clients to successful engage with their work, largely by removing performance barriers.
The book provides practical tips for making changes that lead to transformation. It also offers insight into why people adopt unhealthy habits and the difficulty of recognizing problems that need to be addressed through day-to-day routines.
Summary: Don’t just manage your time; channel your energy to what’s important
Jim and Tony explain the concept of maximizing energy, rather than simply managing time, and give real-life examples of how clients recaptured their passions in a way that allowed them to thrive professionally and maintain vital relationships at home.
The authors argue that building emotional, mental, and spiritual capacity (all relevant to professional performance as well as overall life satisfaction) is similar to increasing physical capacity. That is, interval training or sprinting (periods of stress and concerted effort) are beneficial if they are followed by adequate recovery.
But many of us feel we don’t have time for recovery and just plug away, slowing becoming disengaged from our work, our values, and our dreams. Along the way, we adopt habits that give us short-term relief (e.g., resting on the couch rather than exercising) but lead to poor long-term results.
Start here: Achieve your purpose by recognizing truth and taking specific actions toward your goal (this process will energize you!)
The change process they propose is based on three elements: Purpose-Truth-Action. The idea is that if you have a higher purpose and you face the truth (you realize that your behavior is misaligned with your true calling, sets of beliefs, or deepest values), then you’ll be motivated to take action.
The book contains numerous case studies illustrating this process, including one on a man dubbed Roger B. who needed to make a series of changes (most of the clients just had one weakness or performance barrier) that led to transformation. These changes are typically two-fold: 1) one-time action steps and 2) new rituals (or habits) that become embedded in your routine. Here are some of the big lessons from the book:
Facing the truth inspires change
The most meaningful chapter to me was entitled: “Face the Truth: How Are You Managing Your Energy Now?” Here the authors describe the idea that transformation is ignited when you glimpse reality and instead of being overwhelmed, frustrated, or scared with the changes you need to make, you feel energized (or at least willing!) to begin the difficult work of correcting problems in your life.
Facing the truth about the gap between who we want to be and who we really are is never easy. Each of us has an infinite capacity for self-deception. Until we can…look honestly at ourselves, we have no starting point for change. When we fear the truth, we become more defensive, rigid and constricted. Like an anesthetic, avoiding the truth numbs us from pain, but it also cuts us off from freely and fully engaging in the world…To be effective in the world, we must find a balance between looking honestly at the most painful truths and contradictions in our lives and engaging in the world with hope and positive energy. Facing the truth requires that we retain an ongoing openness to the possibility that we may not be seeing ourselves-or others-accurately…[be] confident enough to be wrong without feeling diminished as a result.
These words describe how I have felt. At first, facing the truth is painful and then it’s empowering. An example from the gospels is Jesus’s encounter with the woman at the well. He confronts her with truth, which then prompts the woman to realize that Jesus is the awaited messiah and make changes in her own life.
Use stress and recovery to achieve transformation
The authors worked first with professional athletes and then adapted those techniques to working with high-performing professionals mainly in the corporate world. As an athlete, I easily grasped what they meant about stress and recovery though I know that these concepts are foreign to many people.
You gain strength through proper recovery. When you work out, you break down your muscles; in the recovery phase, your body rebuilds those muscles but makes them stronger to withstand future (anticipated) stress. And this stress comes from doing things that push beyond your previous limits, like running at a faster pace, or cycling for a longer distance, without overdoing it or injuring yourself.
Similarly, in other phases of your life, you need to push yourself to learn new things or work intensively to increase your capacity. But you also need to allow enough time for rest and recovery rather than going nonstop all the time.
You don’t have to do this stress-and-recovery stuff but it can lead to transformation. For example, when I started adding speed and hill workouts to my running routine (rather than just running for a certain distance or time at an ambling pace), I was able to become a pretty good runner (from a 39-minute 5K to a 26-minute 5K). To an extent, then, I gained physical transformation from this process.
Develop transforming rituals that become part of your routine
The authors develop rituals for their clients to follow. These rituals deal with specific performance barriers that they identified by surveying the client and his or her colleagues. Typically, these are just 1-3 habits that need to be integrated in daily routines.The idea behind the rituals is that they become natural and necessary to the client, not simply another item in an already too long to-do list. And, when the client experiences the positive results of the ritual, then they continue embracing the habit.
The majority of the case studies in the book focused on one issue. But the Roger B. case involved multiple problems. Transformation involves a series of changes made over time so Roger’s story is most illustrative of the transformative power of full engagement.
So, you’ll get benefit from making one or two small changes. But to be transformed, you’ll have to keep at the change process.
It may seem that rituals, performance, and energy management don’t have much to do with transformation. But if you go through such a process (Purpose-Truth-Action), you can experience dramatic changes in your life: “Learning to manage energy more efficiently and intelligently has a unique transformative power, both individually and organizationally.”
Even if your life is humming along, The Power of Full Engagement will inspire you to make purposeful and positive changes.