THE POWER OF FULL ENGAGEMENT
THE POWER OF FULL ENGAGEMENT: Managing energy not time is the key to high performance and personal renewal.
Chapter One: Fully Engaged: Energy, Not Time, Is Our Most Precious Resource
There is a great paradox in this world.
Technology was supposed to make our life easier.
At the same time, everything is accelerating. Our rhythms are rushed. It seems as if we never take any break. We have little sleep, we content ourselves with poor energy and most of the time we feel exhausted.
The authors highlight how we are constantly facing more demands. “We use words like obsessed, crazed and overwhelmed not to describe insanity”. We even think that multitasking is a virtue.
The following scenes become too common nowadays:
- Your energy suddenly drops off in the middle of a meeting and you can no longer stay focused,
- You become easily irritable, impatient and negative because your energy is low,
- You get back home feeling totally exhausted, bringing low energy and rarely giving full attention to your children and wife.
As a matter of fact, most people misuse their energy. They have poor eating habits, they rarely if never work out and many sleep less than they should.
But as the authors highlighted: “Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance.” Efficiency, health and even happiness are rooted in the ability to manage energy throughout the day.
“We often fail to take into account the importance of energy at work and in our personal lives. Without the right quantity, quality, focus and force of energy, we are compromised in any activity we undertake.”
“The ultimate measure of our lives is not how much time we spend on the planet, but rather how much energy we invest in the time that we have.”
Think about it, everything you do requires energy: interacting with your staff, leading a new project, spending quality time with family, friends, and colleagues. As you get more energy, it spills over into other areas of your life.
In this sense then, “Performance, health and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy.”
“The more we take responsibility for the energy we bring to the world, the more empowered and productive we become. The more we blame others or external circumstances, the more negative and compromised our energy is likely to be.”
Full engagement defined
Full engagement includes managing your energy individually and organizationally.
What the authors call full engagement requires a large amount of physical energy, a good emotional connection, the ability to concentrate (mental energy) and finally the ability to be aligned with personal values and a goal that goes beyond one’s immediate personal interest (spiritual energy).
“To be fully engaged, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest.”
One who is fully engaged feels eager to wake up and go to work in the morning. Similarly, she’s happy to get back home in the evening and sets clear boundaries between the two.
“It means being able to immerse yourself in the mission you are on, whether that is grappling with a creative challenge at work, managing a group of people on a project, spending time with loved ones or simply having fun. Full engagement implies a fundamental shift in the way we live our lives.”
Yet, many employees are disengaged at work. We are the only one who’s unhappy at work; our colleagues are likely to be so too.
The book “the power of full engagement” highlights new paradigms:
A living laboratory
The authors first learned about the importance of energy as they worked with world-class athletes.
They wanted to know what it takes “to perform consistently at the highest levels under intense competitive pressures.”
For thirty years, the authors trained top athletes like Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Tom and Tim Gullikson, Sergi Bruguera, Gabriela Sabatini and Monica Seles.
Think about it, they never worked on the athletes’ technical or tactical skills. Yet, most of the high-performers became top-ranked player in the world, some won U.S. Open titles and others got worldwide celebrities. How was that possible?
The focused only on energy management
Actually, the authors went against conventional wisdom and focused solely on energy management. They discovered that “Energy is the X factor that makes it possible to fully ignite talent and skill.”
As the authors pointed out “We focused instead on helping them to manage their energy more effectively in the service of whatever mission they were on.”
In their mission, they get noticed and quickly received requests from the FBI hostage rescue teams, U.S marshals, and mostly executives, entrepreneurs, managers and salespeople.
To their surprise, the authors of “the power of full engagement” discovered how professionals requested their service much more than the professional athletes.
As they carried further research, they realized that most professionals are required to perform at their best for eight, ten and even twelve hours straight a day. In the meantime, professionals don’t have off-season like athletes but only a few weeks of short vacation. And finally, professionals adopt this lifestyle until they retire without any significant breaks.
Athletes on the other hand have off-season, for 90% of their time they train and perform only for 10%. “Finally, professional athletes have an average career span of five to seven years. If they have handled their finances reasonably well, they are often set for life. Few of them are under pressure to run out and get another job.”
Four (4) key energy management principles
As we’ve seen, more and more professionals wanted to know how to perform at their best by managing their energy more effectively.
In the power of full engagement, the authors present four key energy management principles that drive this process.
“They lie at the heart of the change process that we will describe in the pages ahead, and they are critical for building the capacity to live a productive, fully engaged life.”
PRINCIPLE 1: Full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
Managing your energy individually and organizationally requires multiple dimensions. We need physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy. These four dimensions are interdependent and influence each other. It’s crucial to skillfully manage each of these interconnected dimensions of energy.
Full engagement requires both high quantity (low to high) and positive quality energy (negative to positive).
Based on the quadrant above, you want for example a surgeon to be fully engaged which is to say, high positive (confident, joyful, invigorated) instead of depressed, angry or fearful. Here, the consequences of disengagement are tragic.
As a leader, you also want to be fully engaged and high positive because you want to influence others, bring them positive energy and lead in a confident way.
PRINCIPLE 2: Because energy capacity diminishes both with overuse and with underuse, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal.
“To maintain a powerful pulse in our lives, we must learn how to rhythmically spend and renew energy.”
We not only need to engage all of the four dimensions mentioned above, we also have to alternate between periodic full engagement and strategically chosen disengagement.
When we work out, we train our muscles and leave time for rest, it’s also vital to alternate periods of effort and periods of recovery.
In life, you want to look like sprinters not marathoners. The first look powerful, muscly and with high energy, the second however look “gaunt, sallow, slightly sunken and emotionally flat”.
“We, too, must learn to live our own lives as a series of sprints—fully engaging for periods of time, and then fully disengaging and seeking renewal before jumping back into the fray to face whatever challenges confront us.”
PRINCIPLE 3: To build capacity, we must push beyond our normal limits, training in the same systematic way that elite athletes do.
Contrary to what one might imagine, stress shouldn’t be an enemy. In fact, it is useful for our personal growth. Just as a strength-building athlete must necessarily go beyond his or her limits to develop muscles, stress helps us to strengthen ourselves.
Growth happens when we expend energy beyond our ordinary limits and then recover.
“We build emotional, mental and spiritual capacity in precisely the same way that we build physical capacity”
Nietzsche put it very well: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
PRINCIPLE 4: Positive energy rituals—highly specific routines for managing energy—are the key to full engagement and sustained high performance.
In order to efficiently manage your energy, you’ll need to create positive rituals.
“The power of rituals is that they insure that we use as little conscious energy as possible where it is not absolutely necessary, leaving us free to strategically focus the energy available to us in creative, enriching ways”
Read my article “Atomic habits” by James Clear to learn how to create a habit
The change process
In the long run, you’ll need to make things happen and work so that the change lasts. How can you build and sustain the multidimensional energy needed over the long haul?
The authors describe three steps to help you make things happen:
- Define purpose (clearly define a vision, set a direction and values)
- Face the truth (gather objective, credible and comprehensive data)
- Take action (build a personal development plan)
Read my article “The power of habit by Charles Duhigg”
The power of full engagement Chapter Two: The Disengaged Life of Roger B.
Sent by his boss, Roger B. came to work with the authors in their training facility in Orlando. At first sight, he looked successful in every way. With a six-figure salary, he was one of the leaders and became sales manager for a large software company. He married a woman he deeply loved and had two kids.
But Roger confided that his boss was increasingly dissatisfied, disappointed and frustrated with his performance at work. To his boss, Roger B. went from an A-level performer to a C plus a best.
In the previous chapter, the authors suggest three steps to make things happen (define purpose, face the truth, and take action).
A highly detailed questionnaire measured Roger B’s behavioral patterns, identifying how he spends and recovers energy in all dimensions of his life. Facing the truth also included physical tests (cardiovascular, strength, flexibility etc…).
As they worked with Roger B, the authors discovered five primary performance barriers in him: “Low energy, impatience, negativity, lack of depth in relationships, and lack of passion.”
They also found out that all performance barriers were “attributable to poor energy management—either in the form of insufficient energy renewal, insufficient energy capacity or, more typically, both.”
Physical is fundamental
Roger B. poorly managed his physical energy and that created most of his performance barriers. His eating habits explained everything as he would take pizzas, coffee, cookies, hamburger, fries, pasta, chicken, potatoes, colas etc…
To the authors, it was no wonder why he gained weight and why he had several problems with low energy.
While Roger barely ate anything balanced and nutritious, he also skipped exercise and regularly consumed alcohol. His energy would badly flag by 4:00 pm so much so that when he got back home in the evening, the last thing he wanted was to do cardiovascular exercises. His stationary bike -just like many people do- just sat unused.
“At least once or twice a week, the struggle to fall asleep reached the point that he took a sleeping pill.”
“Cumulatively, Roger’s choices took a severe toll not only on the quantity and quality of energy available to him, but also on his focus and his motivation.”
Running on empty
Roger also became impatient and negative. As he described himself as easygoing, gentle and self-deprecating, Roger B is now often sarcastic and edgy.
His negative emotions mostly stems from his low energy. He felt neglected at work. Even if he married a loving woman, they spent very little time together and deep conversations were rare.
Rachel, his wife too had many things on her plate and each other’s unavailability often created resentment to the couple.
Conversely, Roger B. spent little time with his children who also have problems in school. “When one of his daughters sought him out to play cards or Monopoly with her, he often begged off or suggested that they watch television together instead.”
The fight to focus
Roger B’s misuse of energy caused his third performance barrier: poor focus.
“Fatigue, unhappiness with his boss, frustration with Rachel, guilt about not spending more time with his children and the increased demands of his new job all made it difficult for him to stay focused mentally at work.”
For the first time, Roger admitted that he found himself distracted and inefficient.
Maybe you can relate to Roger’s life too. Most of the time, we spend much of our lives responding to external demands. We rarely stop and ask what gives meaning to our lives. So we lose passion and meaning altogether. We never ask what we really want from life.
In the power of full engagement, the authors highlighted: “The powerful source of energy that can be derived from connecting to a clear sense of purpose simply wasn’t available to Roger.”
Chapter Three: The Pulse of High Performance: Balancing Stress and Recovery
We can maximize performance by alternating periods of activity with periods of rest. Flavius Philo-stratus first advanced this concept as early as A.D. 245.
The authors talk about the science of periodization. The principle is simple: the body must replenish fundamental biochemical sources of energy after a period of activity.
“This is called “compensation” and when it occurs, energy expended is recovered. Increase the intensity of the training or the performance demand, and it is necessary to commensurately increase the amount of energy renewal.”
We understand the importance of recovery, mostly in the world of sports. Performance in companies however rarely considers the need for energy recovery. Problems occur when there is an imbalance between the expenditure and the recovery of energy.
It’s critical to balance stress and recovery. If we want to manage our energy in all facets of our lives, we must understand this.
“When we expend energy, we draw down our reservoir. When we recover energy, we fill it back up. Too much energy expenditure without sufficient recovery eventually leads to burnout and breakdown. (Overuse it and lose it.) Too much recovery without sufficient stress leads to atrophy and weakness. (Use it or lose it.)”
“Full engagement requires cultivating a dynamic balance between the expenditure of energy (stress) and the renewal of energy (recovery) in all dimensions. “
“We call this rhythmic wave oscillation, and it represents the fundamental pulse of life.”
The pulse of life
“Nature itself has a pulse, a rhythmic, wavelike movement between activity and rest. Think about the ebb and flow of the tides, the movement between seasons, and the daily rising and setting of the sun.”
“We are oscillatory beings in an oscillatory universe. Rhythmicity is our inheritance”
Our sleep for example is composed of two patterns: light sleep and deep sleep.
In the 1970s, we also discovered that the body adopts cyclic rhythms during the day. When we are engaged into an activity, the body craves a period of rest after 90 to 120 minutes.
The authors explain that we can override these natural cycles as the body releases stress hormones (adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol etc.), but if we do it long enough, the body will suffer.
It might be energizing in the short term but we’ll end up breaking down and burning out.
“Stress hormones that circulate chronically in our bodies may be temporarily energizing, but over time they prompt symptoms such as hyperactivity, aggressiveness, impatience, irritability, anger, self-absorption and insensitivity to others”
It is crucial to follow these natural rhythms by taking intermittent breaks. It is possible to force oneself to remain active even at the end of the cycle but this is paid for after a while by headaches or back pain, gastric problems as well as increased irritability and impatience and difficulty concentrating.
The time between points
To further highlight the importance of rest after efforts, Jim Loehr wanted to know what separates the world-class tennis players with the rest of the pack.
At first he noticed no obvious difference. As he observed what the top performers did between points, he suddenly realized something.
The world-class tennis players “instinctively used the time between points to maximize their recovery. Many lower-ranked competitors had no recovery routines at all.”
Heart rate measurements then showed that in the 16 to 20 seconds between each game point, players could slow their heart rate by almost 20 beats per minute. In comparison, many lower ranked players did not have these mini recovery rituals.
Recovery at work
Despite highly demanding jobs, successful professionals succeed because they regularly renew themselves. As they reported, it’s important to pace yourself and allow time for plenty of breaks.
In “The one thing by Gary Keller“, he recommends scheduling your rest time first and foremost before planning work or meetings.
High performance requires full engagement but also plenty of time for energy renewal. It can restore your physical but also your emotional energy.
A world hostile to rest
Observe how most people live a linear life. We spend too much energy without sufficient recovery or on the contrary too much recovery without enough energy expenditure.
Roger B. for example worked long hours and rarely took breaks. He even worked at home or when he commuted.
“We live in a world that celebrates work and activity, ignores renewal and recovery, and fails to recognize that both are necessary for sustained high performance.”
It’s a well-known fact that Japanese work up to sixty hours a week. It’s a less-known fact however that they record one of the highest death rates at work.
The authors coined the expression “karoshi” which can be translated literally as “death from overwork”.
They took the example of Nancy Woodhull, a founding publisher of USA Today. As a highly successful executive, Nancy enjoyed being very busy; she never took rest. She even took her Dictaphone to the pool to record her ideas. Less than ten years later, as the authors reported, Woodhull died of cancer at only 52 years old.
Death from overwork
There are still Karoshi in Japan and research showed five key factors that explain why people die at work:
- Extremely long hours that interfere with normal recovery and rest patterns
- Night work that interferes with normal recovery and rest patterns
- Working without holidays or breaks
- High-pressure work without breaks
- Extremely demanding physical labor and continuously stressful work
The question is: “Will you die at work too?” or would you finally understand that we need enough recovery after being fully engaged into an activity?
“We grow at all levels by expending energy beyond our normal limits, and then recovering.”
We shouldn’t avoid effort at all costs. Breaks are as important as stress for our personal growth. Life should be seen as a sprint (in which we fully engage and then disengage) rather than a long marathon.
The power of full engagement Chapter Four: Physical Energy, Fueling the Fire
It’s evident to take care of our physical energy if we’re athletes. It’s less evident however if we’re office workers. Oftentimes, we tend to dismiss the important role of physical energy in performance.
“In reality, physical energy is the fundamental source of fuel, even if our work is almost completely sedentary. It not only lies at the heart of alertness and vitality but also affects our ability to manage our emotions, sustain concentration, think creatively, and even maintain our commitment to whatever mission we are on.”
The power of full engagement: Energy basics
At the most basic level, physical energy comes from the interaction between oxygen and glucose.
In this sense, breathing and proper eating constitute the main foundation of physical energy.
“In practical terms, the size of our energy reservoir depends on the patterns of our breathing, the foods that we eat and when we eat them, the quantity and quality of our sleep, the degree to which we get intermittent recovery during the day, and the level of our fitness.”
“Building a rhythmic balance between physical energy expenditure and recovery ensures that the level of our energy reserves remains relatively constant.”
Most of the time however, we dismiss the importance of breathing. It’s only when we lack oxygen that we become aware of its importance. You might’ve experienced that before when you choked on a piece of food or when your mask underwater malfunctioned.
A few tips you can implement right now is to become more aware of your breathing. Extend your exhalation because it prompts good recovery. Breathe in to a count of three and breathe out to a count of six. Breathing not only affects your energy but also your emotions and your mind.
The power of full engagement: Strategic eating
The authors of the power of full engagement consider food as the second critical source of physical energy. It’s crucial to consume food that gets converted into glycogen. Eat so that your intake provides continuous glucose supply.
For instance, “foods high in fats, sugar and simple carbohydrates provide recovery, but in a much less efficient and energy-rich form than low-fat proteins and complex carbohydrates such as vegetables and grains.”
“Eating breakfast is critically important. It not only increases blood glucose levels, but also jump-starts metabolism.”
It’s better to give preference to foods with a low glycemic index and avoid fast sugars, which diffuse too quickly into the bloodstream and leave us quickly without energy. Low glycemic index foods get “a slower release that provides a steadier source of energy.”
Finally, the authors recommend 5 to 6 low-calorie, highly nutritious meals a day. For example, you can prepare small snacks in the mid-morning and afternoon, and by not eating excessively at mealtimes. The ideal is neither to feel the sensation of excessive hunger nor the feeling of being “stuffed”.
Properly drink water
Drinking water remains an undervalued source of physical energy. It’s even more of paramount importance when we recover.
Don’t drink only when you’re thirsty. By the time you feel thirsty, it is already too late, you have started to dehydrate.
“Dehydrate a muscle by as little as 3 percent, for example, and it will lose 10 percent of its strength and 8 percent of its speed. Inadequate hydration also compromises concentration and coordination.”
The power of full engagement: circadian and sleep
Besides eating and breathing, getting enough sleep deeply heals the body. It’s the most important source of recovery in our lives.
Proper sleep helps in our development. “In addition to its energy renewing function, sleep is also a period during which substantial growth and repair occurs—most of it at the deepest level of sleep, when slow-wave delta brainwaves are dominant.”
Psychologist Dan Kripke studied the sleep patterns of one million people over six years. He discovered that the mortality rates were the highest (2,5 times higher) for those sleeping less than four hours. Those who sleep more than ten hours also have a relatively high mortality rate (1,5 times higher). This is to say that sleep deprivation and too much sleep, significantly increase the risk of mortality.
“Shift workers also suffer a far higher incidence of coronary artery disease and heart attacks than do day workers.”
“The longer, more continuously and later at night you work, the less efficient and more mistake-prone you become.”
And finally, the authors recommend going to bed early and waking up early to gain full performance. “Most human beings require seven to eight hours of sleep per night to function optimally.”
The power of full engagement: our daily pulse
In chapter 3, we already talked about the importance of short breaks. The authors once again reiterate how crucial it is to take a break with a 90 to 120-minute interval. Our potential of engagement varies during our waking hours. Take a short break instead of overriding the low-cycle.
Know that “Somewhere around 3:00 or 4:00 P.M. we reach the lowest phase of both our ultradian and our circadian rhythms.”
For a strategic recovery then, prefer taking short naps. It occurs that long naps are more detrimental to us than not taking it at all. A nap shouldn’t exceed 30 to 40 minutes otherwise you’ll feel “groggy and even more fatigued”.
The power of full engagement: raising the bar
To gain more energy and higher performance, do not neglect the importance of strength and cardiovascular training. Interval training is preferable to continuous exercise.
“It involves short-to moderate periods of exertion alternated with short-to-moderate periods of rest or reduced effort. The underlying premise is that a greater amount of intense work can be accomplished if it is interspersed with periods of rest”
“The typical recommended exercise protocol is twenty to thirty minutes of continuous exercise, three to five days a week, at 60 to 85 percent of maximum heart rate.”
“Researchers found that a series of short doses of intense aerobic activity—each one sixty seconds or less— followed by complete aerobic recovery, had a profound positive impact on participants.”
“It can take many forms: sprinting, walking up stairs and down, bicycling and even weight lifting, so long as the effect is to rhythmically raise and lower heart rate.”
Another form of interval training is strength training, lifting weights. It consists of doing a few reps and then resting.
Take into account exercises that train your six major body parts: shoulders, back, chest, biceps, triceps and legs. The best of course is to get a personal trainer or follow a proven-program.
I personally prefer poly-articular exercises (which train lots of muscles) such as kettlebell swing, deadlift, squats etc.
Chapter Five: Emotional Energy: Transforming Threat into Challenge
“Physical and emotional energy capacity are inextricably connected.” If we pay little attention to renewing our physical energy, we might experience more anxiety, frustration and anger.
To perform at our best, we need to cultivate pleasant and positive emotions such as enjoyment, challenge, adventure and opportunity.
In the same way, Negative emotions are costly and inefficient. Toxic feelings (fear, frustration, anger and sadness) release more cortisol and can hinder our performance.
“In practical terms, the key “muscles” or competencies that fuel positive emotion are self-confidence, self-control (self-regulation), social skills (interpersonal effectiveness) and empathy.
Smaller, supportive “muscles” include patience, openness, trust and enjoyment.”
Leaders and managers should cultivate their emotional intelligence. They need to be more aware of how their feelings positively or negatively affect the people around them. Negative emotions from leaders would also affect the performance of their colleagues.
Even in sports, tennis players who are easily prompted to anger and impatience underperform on the court. Players who exalted positive emotions sustained their performance for a prolonged time.
The power of full engagement: enjoyment and renewal
Performance requires a period of full engagement followed by a period of disengagement. Just like physical energy, emotional energy can be renewed.
The difference is that filling the emotional energy tank goes through activity rather than inactivity.
“Any activity that is enjoyable, fulfilling and affirming tends to prompt positive emotions.”
Which activities make you happy and how many hours a week do you take for these activities? They are essential for your renewal.
Practicing enjoyable activities plays a key role in sustained performance. You’ll need to make such activities your priorities and include them in your routines.
“The depth or quality of emotional renewal is something else again. That depends on how absorbing, enriching and enlivening the activity turns out to be.” “The richer and deeper the source of emotional recovery, the more we refill our reserves and the more resilient we become.”
In other words, emotional energy is not measured by its quantity, but by its quality: positive and pleasant or negative and unpleasant).
Examples from the book
The authors take many examples from their clients. Erica R has anxiety and rigidity issues. She can’t relax and has hard times letting go. She took almost no time for herself. As a client, she was suggested to practice relaxing activities such as dances, reading fiction and gardening. In a short time, the different activities began to exert a strong pull on her. The activities impacted her life so positively that it also spilled to her professional life.
The power of full engagement: relationships as stress renewal
“One of the key factors in sustained performance is having at least one good friend at work.”
Relationships are vital for emotional energy renewal. It includes friendships, intimate relationships, family, meeting new people, collaborators etc…
Barbara P. had only a few friends. As a 37 year old marketing executive, she felt totally exhausted at the end of her working days. The authors suggested her taking some aerobic classes. She soon discovered that physical workout helped in her positive emotional renewal.
Yet, the most powerful source of positive renewal –as Barbara discovered- came from the relationships that she built with her aerobic classmates. “Where she had long felt isolated and unappreciated at work, Barbara found that she was able to relax, laugh and talk freely with her new friends.”
“Barbara found herself spending so much less energy on anger, resentment and frustration that she was more able to engage positively at work.”
“Any activity that is enjoyable, fulfilling and affirming serves as a source of emotional renewal and recovery.”
Jed R.: Lack of depth in relationships
Jed R to the contrary of Barbara B had lots of friends. But he suffered from a lack of depth in his relationships. He admitted that he poorly invested in his relationships, giving them neither time nor energy.
He described his relationships as the biggest void in his life; his connections with people were thin and superficial.
Jed then decided to build a series of rituals that would tackle his problems. He gave more time and energy to the key people in his life. He set more time with his wife; they now have more date night than before. Jed also created a weekly Monday night dinner out with his daughter.
At work, Jed invited his direct reports, who at first were hesitant, but quickly believed Jed’s sincerity and initiative.
As a result, by “Consciously and systematically devoting more time and energy to his family and to his colleagues left Jed feeling more connected at home and more invested in his work.”
The power of full engagement: expanding emotional capacity
“Emotional muscles such as patience, empathy and confidence can be strengthened in the same way that we strengthen a bicep or a tricep: pushing past our current limits followed by recovery.”
“The best way to build an emotional muscle, much like a physical muscle, is to push past your current comfort zone and then recover”
Chapter Six: Mental Energy: Appropriate Focus and Realistic Optimism
We use our mental energy for better organization in our lives and for better focus and attention.
Just like emotional energy, physical energy stimulates mental capacity.
To perform at our best, we need full and sustained concentration. “Anything that prompts appropriate focus and realistic optimism serves performance.”
“The key supportive muscles that fuel optimal mental energy include mental preparation, visualization, positive self-talk, effective time management, and creativity.”
Physical, emotional and mental energy are interdependent. They influence one and another. A lack in one domain causes poor capacities in another. Little sleep for example makes it more difficult to concentrate.
“Psychologist Martin Seligman spent several years studying the relationship between positive thinking and sales success.” He discovered that the top 10% optimistic salesmen sold 88% more than those in those top 10% pessimistic ones.
The data clearly showed how mental energy drove the persistence of successful salesman.
Applied to our daily lives, realistic optimism helps us perform better. Negative thinking on the other hand undermines our productivity.
Creativity and recovery
Perhaps even more than in the physical and emotional realms, intermittent recovery demonstrates its importance in the mental dimension of our lives.
Thinking is a mental activity that drains a lot of energy. The brain uses almost 25% of the body’s oxygen. A lack of sufficient mental recovery leads to increased mistakes of judgment, lack of creativity and difficulty concentrating.
We discovered that our best ideas came not during a demanding activity, but during rest. When asked where people got their best ideas, they replied: “in the shower, resting in bed, walking in nature or listening to music. Leonardo Da Vinci, well-known for his creativity, liked to take numerous catnaps during the day.
Finally, “creativity involves cycling between the left and right hemisphere modes of thinking.” “Changing channels mentally permits different parts of the brain to be activated and facilitates creativity. “ Recurrent breaks allow the two hemispheres of the brain to work alternately during creative work.”
“In short, the highest form of creativity depends on a rhythmic movement between engagement and disengagement, thinking and letting go, activity and rest. Both sides of the equation are necessary, but neither is sufficient by itself.”
Developing your mental muscles
“The key supportive mental muscles include mental preparation, visualization, positive self-talk, effective time management and creativity.” It is possible to train and develop these muscles.
The plasticity of the brain has long been a subject of debate. We discovered that the brain gets sharper when it’s used, but other organs don’t. For example, even moderate physical exercise increases mental capacity. In the long run, mental activities stimulate the brain and prevent mental decline.
“The brain itself operates like a muscle— atrophying from disuse and increasing in capacity with active use, even late in life.”
The power of full engagement: exercises you can do
You can implement new rituals to train your mental muscles. For example, set a few minutes every day to show gratitude and appreciation; touch on as many aspects of your life as possible.
To become more creative, think about an activity you especially enjoy. Practicing such an activity (or activities) helps you clear your mind of the pressures in your life. It will also stimulate the right-hemisphere of your brain that facilitates creativity.
The power of full engagement Chapter Seven: Spiritual Energy: He Who Has a Why to Live
Have you ever woken up and felt totally lost? You didn’t even want to get out of your bed because your life seems to have no purpose at all? To the authors, this lack of motivation might stem from a lack of spiritual energy. The amount of energy we have is mainly a function of our physical body. But the motivation or demotivation to spend this energy is a spiritual issue.
“Fundamentally, spiritual energy is a unique force for action in all dimensions of our lives. It is the most powerful source of our motivation, perseverance and direction.”
The power of full engagement: Spiritual basics
“Spiritual energy provides the force for action in all dimensions of our lives. It fuels passion, perseverance and commitment.”
The term “spiritual” is not used by the authors in a religious sense. They define it more simply as the connection to a set of personal values and a goal greater than one’s own self-interest.
“At a practical level, anything that ignites the human spirit serves to drive full engagement and to maximize performance in whatever mission we are on.” For example, a woman victim of gender based violence will be fully engaged in a non-profit that fights against gender based violence. She will also help the other people around her victims of such aggression.
Fuel your spiritual energy
To fuel your spiritual energy, you have to develop a solid character, “the courage and conviction to live by your values, even when doing so requires personal sacrifice and hardship”.
For example, freedom remains one of my deepest values. That’s why I decided to become an entrepreneur. Had I listened to my parents or my surroundings, I would’ve never developed my character. Had I chosen to get a normal job, I would’ve felt depleted, lacking spiritual energy and probably ended up regretting it my whole life.
“In Roger B.’s case, the disconnection from a compelling sense of purpose had robbed him of passion and of any clear sense of direction.” “He didn’t have a vision of what he wanted from life or where he was headed. The result was that all of his energy systems were compromised”
The first step then is to identify your main values and to live by these values. To achieve high performance, you’ll need to develop your character around your chosen values and work on a higher purpose, a mission that transcends your immediate personal interest.
As we’ve seen, the key muscle that serves spiritual energy is your strength of character. It takes faith, courage, creativity and lots of strengths to dare living according to one’s convictions.
Next, “the key supportive spiritual muscles are passion, commitment, integrity and honesty.”
Like any muscles, you can develop your strength of character and the other key supportive spiritual muscles mentioned above.
For example, Linda P, a successful executive was often judged by her colleagues as unreliable. Even if she defined herself as trustworthy, fair, straightforward and caring, her coworkers highlighted how she constantly made promises about work but failed to keep them.
Linda P then needed to train her “integrity” muscle because she lacked follow-throughs. To accomplish her goal, the authors recommended her two rituals. Whenever she makes a commitment, she has to ask two questions. “The first was “Is this something I need to do myself?” If her answer was yes, the second question was: “When does it need to be finished, and can I reasonably get it done by then?”
The second ritual was for her to add these commitments to her to-do-list with a due date.
Overtime, her colleagues trusted her much more. At work, she no longer felt overwhelmed and she created more balance in her life.
“What life expects from us”
“Expanding spiritual capacity requires subordinating our own needs to something beyond our self-interest.”
Viktor Frankl, a survivor from Nazi concentration camps and author of the book “Man’s search for meaning”, highlighted the importance of making our own meaning. This is to say that we don’t suddenly find our own meaning; we create it by deliberately working on a higher purpose.
Being purposeful in life helps us tremendously in refueling our spiritual energy. Having a sense of mission helps us overcome challenges that life throws in our way. Viktor Frankl shares in his book how the need to write a book helped him survive abuses and atrocities during his time at the concentration camps.
A larger vision will help you get through short-term pains for long term gains. As highlighted in the power of full engagement: “The energy of the human spirit can override even severe limitations of physical energy.”
Part Two: The Training System
Chapter Eight: Defining Purpose: The Rules of Engagement
“If growth and development take place from the bottom up—from physical to emotional to mental to spiritual—change is powered from the top down.”
Spiritual energy mostly comes from a deep connection with our values and from a sense of purpose. Purpose creates a destination.
In every culture, myths and stories revolve around one focal point: the search for meaning and purpose.
“The philosopher and mythologist Joseph Campbell described the search for meaning and purpose as “The Hero’s Journey.”
According to Campbell, self-transformation is human’s greatest challenge. The fact remains that most of us go on auto-pilot mode, we sleepwalk through life. Many people are too busy to seek their real purpose. We content ourselves with mediocre lives and never ask if there is something more in store for us.
When we don’t have a strong sense of purpose, we easily get side-tracked by external circumstances. To the authors, we lack deep roots –firm beliefs and compelling values-.
“If we lack a strong sense of purpose we cannot hold our ground when we are challenged by life’s inevitable storms. Instead, like Roger, we react defensively, blaming the storm or simply disengaging and ceasing to invest our energy. “
Measuring the power of purpose
Purpose gives us energy and power. It “fuels focus, direction, passion and perseverance”.
We should be proactive to create the meaning of our lives. According to Viktor Frankl “Man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
There are three characteristics that make purpose a more powerful and enduring source of spiritual energy:
A purpose needs to be positive, not negative; internal not external and focused on others not on self.
A negative purpose might motivate you in the short term but it is costly in the long term. A negative purpose also drains our energy. The release of toxic hormones creates an imbalance over time because we are motivated mainly by avoidance, fear and anger. In the book high performance habits, Brendon Burchard refers to this as “reactance” which are acts motivated by the will to fight back or act out against a perceived insult or threat.
“Purpose also becomes a more powerful source of energy when it moves from being externally to internally motivated.”
““Intrinsic” motivation grows out of the desire to engage in an activity because we value it for the inherent satisfaction it provides. Researchers have long found that intrinsic motivation tends to prompt more sustaining energy”
A purpose beyond one’s self
A purpose should be driven by a mission to serve others. It shouldn’t only consist of personal gains or self-interest. Serving a cause ignites a deeper sense of purpose.
Think about firefighters, doctors and medical staff who risk their lives during their work. Despite the danger, they are willing to save others at the cost of their lives if necessary; simply because they are driven by a purpose beyond themselves.
Values and virtues
By definition, a virtue is a value in action. If you value honesty, the virtue is to act according to that value, by always telling the truth, being totally open, even blunt when required.
The authors highlighted that “alignment occurs when we transform our values into virtues. Simply identifying our primary values is not sufficient. The next step is to define more precisely how we intend to embody the values in our daily lives— regardless of external pressures.”
I’ve always valued freedom and being an entrepreneur, taking risks and acting towards that goal is the embodiment of that value. I also realized that I gain much more energy when my thoughts, words and actions are aligned with this value. “The more we are committed to and guided by our values, the more powerful a source of energy they become.”
Explore your values
In the power of full engagement, the authors give a list of questions to help you identify your values. Set aside uninterrupted time to respond to the following questions:
- “Jump ahead to the end of your life. What are the three most important lessons you have learned and why are they so critical? “
- “Think of someone that you deeply respect. Describe three qualities in this person that you most admire. “
- “Who are you at your best? “
- ” What one-sentence inscription would you like to see on your tombstone that would capture who you really were in your life?”
They also give a set of values to help you identify yours.
A vision of full engagement
Finally, you need to create a vision, a road map. It is similar to the personal mission statement in the 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen Covey.
The reasons are twofold. A vision gives you direction. It also serves as an inspiration and a motivation. “A vision statement, grounded in values that are meaningful and compelling, creates a blueprint for how to invest our energy”.
Chapter Nine: Face the Truth: How Are You Managing Your Energy Now?
Once we define your purpose, it’s time to face the truth. We need to face the gap between who we want to be and who we really are deep down, doing so helps tremendously liberate energy.
There are a few steps to follow but first, we need to acknowledge how avoidance can be detrimental to this process.
We often adopt a series of defense-mechanisms that prevents us from seeing the truth. We protect our self-image, how we see ourselves. Denial cuts us from reality. But “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.”
The authors recommend going through an assessment test, evaluating our current situation.
The defense department
In the power of full engagement, we discover several forms of denials as explained by the authors.
“Numbing out” occurs when someone totally ignores any feelings upon objective and disturbing facts. A couple may prefer withdrawing rather than facing difficulties in their intimate lives.
“Rationalization” happens when we “rationally” justify our acts but it is still a defense mechanism against truth.
“Projection is an especially insidious defense against facing the truth—one that often lies at the heart of evil. It involves attributing one’s own unacknowledged impulses to others. We often see anger or hatred or arrogance or greed in those around us, rather than fully owning these same feelings in ourselves.”
To raise our awareness, we not only need to acknowledge the existence of a problem, we also have to face the truth about its consequences. It’s okay to say “I’m eating too much junk food” but you still need to know how it impacts your overall health (coronary diseases, overweight, poor self-image etc.)
Bear in mind
“A common form of self-deception is assuming that our view represents the truth, when it is really just a lens through which we choose to view the world. “
“Facing the truth requires that we retain an ongoing openness to the possibility that we may not be seeing ourselves—or others—accurately. “
“It is both a danger and a delusion when we become too identified with any singular view of ourselves. We are all a blend of light and shadow, virtues and vices. “
“Accepting our limitations reduces our defensiveness and increases the amount of positive energy available to us.”
Chapter Ten: Taking Action: The Power of Positive Rituals
Michael Phelps is well known to have adopted the same routine at every race. In the book “Essentialism the disciplined pursuit of less”, Greg McKewon highlights: “He arrived two hours early. He stretched and loosened up, according to a precise pattern: eight hundred mixer, fifty freestyle, six hundred kicking with the kickboard, four hundred pulling a buoy, and more. After the warm-up he would dry off, put in his earphones, and sit—never lie down—on the massage table. From that moment, he and his coach, Bob Bowman, wouldn’t speak a word to each other until after the race was over.
n the Power of full engagement, the authors take Ivan Lendl’s example. If he’s not the strongest player or the most physically gifted of his era, he succeeded in becoming the number one ranked player in the world for five years. How did he do that? Just like Michael Phelps, Ivan followed strict routines. “He developed a rigorous fitness regimen off the court, which included sprints, middle-distance runs, long bicycle rides and strength training. And he did regular ballet bar exercises to increase his balance and grace. He adhered to a low-fat, high complex carbohydrate diet and ate at very specific times.”
“Lendl also practiced a series of daily mental-focus exercises to improve his concentration—and regularly introduced new ones to assure that they remained challenging.”
“Discipline and strong will” might define Ivan Lendl, but he mostly developed positive routines and uplifting habits. A solid body of research highlights that 95% of our daily actions are automatic, products of our habits. Only 5% are consciously self-directed. Lendl decided to build leverage on the power of positive rituals.
The power of positive rituals
Positive energy rituals are powerful on three levels, they:
- Help us to manage our energy well in the service of our mission that we follow,
- They reduce the amount of willpower and discipline we need
- Finally, rituals are a powerful means to put our values and priorities into action.
Over time, our habits can help us or destroy us. We dismiss the long-term effects of our daily habits.
Despite the difficulties, “rituals can serve as anchors, ensuring that even in the most difficult circumstances we will continue to use our energy in service of the values that we hold most dear.”
When things get tough, we often get back to our automatic behaviors and to our survival habits. We take the path of least resistance and ignore the negative consequences. But we become more in control of our lives when we create positive rituals.
“Great performers, whether they are athletes or fighter pilots, surgeons or Special Forces soldiers, FBI agents or CEOs, all rely on positive rituals to manage their energy and achieve their goals.”
A limited resource
Our willpower and our energy are limited resources that need to be wisely managed. Repeated long enough, an action will become a habit. In fact, the brain always searches for ways to make a repeated behavior automatic. The truth is, conscious act depletes both our willpower and our energy.
“Since will and discipline are far more limited and precious resources than most of us realize, they must be called upon very selectively. Because even small acts of self-control use up this limited reservoir, consciously using this energy for one activity means it will be less available for the next one”
That’s why rituals are so powerful. Once we form rituals and habits, we execute the positive (or negative) behavior without consciously thinking about it. In the long run, a positive behavior repeated long enough will save energy but also help us achieve our goals.
Setting up new rituals
To create new routine and form a habit, I will suggest you the articles:
Atomic habits by James Clear
Essentialism the disciplined pursuit of less by Greg McKewon
The power of full engagement Chapter Eleven: The Reengaged Life of Roger B.
Skeptical as he was at the beginning, no one could predict Roger B’s transformation. The last chapter focuses on the changes he made and the follow-up after Roger worked with the authors.
While he constantly lacked motivation at the beginning, one of Roger’s biggest epiphanies happened when he first completed the second process, the “face the truth” step.
For example he realized that his wife or children would describe him as impatient and irritable. At one point, his daughter–while crying- Alyssa blurted out: ““All you ever do is yell at me. Why do you hate me so much?” It was as if she had put a knife to his heart, Roger told the authors.
Roger B. went through “a series of questions designed to help him surface his most deeply held values”.
He discovered that his top five values were: kindness, excellence, family, integrity and health.
The next step to him was to define his purpose and write a vision statement.
To make this vision come true, he created his first ritual which is to work out at least three times a week.
The second ritual was spending more quality time with his family. His plan focused on getting his energy back while spending more time with his wife. The morning ritual of eating a highly nutritive breakfast with Rachel soon became invaluable.
Finally, he started coming home early. He took a break on his way back home to relax before kissing his children with a smile when he met them.
Over the next couple of months, Roger launched two other rituals.
The first was devoting the final fifteen minutes of his morning commute to thinking through the day ahead and revisiting his primary values.
The second was making a call during his commute home to someone he cared about—his father and mother, one of his two siblings, or a friend. He could tell that his parents deeply appreciated hearing from him more often.
It was not always easy because most of the time, Roger B. reverted back to his old habits during the first weeks after he completed the training with the authors.
Rooms for improvement
“Not every aspect of Roger’s life was transformed. He admitted that he continued to smoke, especially on difficult days. He still wasn’t satisfied with his level of integrity and responsibility—following through in a timely way on his commitments.”
But as Roger B. regularly consulted the authors, feedback and adjustments helped him gain back his control and improve even more his life.
The power of full engagement ends with a quote from Roger B: “What amazes me most is that once my values became clear and I got the hang of building rituals, most of the changes I made weren’t that hard. My life acquired a certain rhythm. I can feel how much my energy has rubbed off on the people in my life. My challenge now is just to feel the pulse and keep the beat.”
Review: The power of full engagement
When the pupil is ready, the master arrives. I was looking for more books about productivity and personal management. This book came at the right moment.
While most self-help books focus on efficient time management, the power of full engagement emphasizes the importance of energy management.
The central premise is that high performance requires full engagement then strategic disengagement. As human beings, we work most effectively in oscillation rather than linearly. That’s also one of my biggest takeaways from this book.
The 4 dimensions of energy were a big revelation: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
The book reinforced my beliefs about the importance of physical energy. Once we work out regularly, it spills over to other areas of our lives.
I first discovered the importance of deep breathing with Tony Robbins’ book “Unlimited Power”, but “The power of full engagement” delves deeper into the subject.
One of the most important chapters I discovered here was the one on “spiritual energy”. As I already set morning routines and took care of my health, I realized that I sometimes lacked motivation. It was more of a spiritual energy issue because my values were not clear.
The authors made it clear that we need to have a strong sense of purpose to gain what they call here “spiritual energy”. I was all enthusiastic because it made so much sense.
The book offers valuable insights and realistic suggestions that are easily applicable.
I loved the easy read and love even more the clear and concise writing style. Well structured, it’s a powerful book with simple wisdom.