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The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz


Rating: (Recommended)



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Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz have taken what they’ve learned from their work with athletes and other clients and tell the rest of us how to get in touch with the natural cycles of stress and rest. Their new book, The Power of Full Engagement, provides lots of client examples and short personal stories.  Readers looking for the fact base behind their suggestions will come up short, but the stories, samples and text will resonate for many readers. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 3 (pp. 28-32):

The concept of maximizing performance by alternating periods of activity with periods of rest was first advanced by Flavius Philostratus (A.D. 170-245), who wrote training manuals for Greek athletes. Russian sports scientists resurrected the concept in the 1960s and began applying it with stunning success to their Olympic athletes. Today, "work-rest" ratios lie at the heart of periodization, a training method used by elite athletes throughout the world.

The science of periodization has become more precise and more sophisticated over the years, but the basic concept hasn't changed since it was first advanced nearly two thousand years ago. Following a period of activity, the body must replenish fundamental biochemical sources of energy. 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. Fail to do so and the athlete will experience a measurable deterioration in performance.

Energy is simply the capacity to do work. Our most fundamental

need as human beings is to spend and recover energy.

We need energy to perform, and recovery is more than the absence of work. It serves not just health and happiness, but also performance. Nearly every elite athlete we have worked with over the years has come to us with performance problems that could be traced to an imbalance between the expenditure and the recovery of energy. They were either overtraining or undertraining in one or more dimensions—physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. Both overtraining and undertraining have performance consequences that include persistent injuries and sickness, anxiety, negativity and anger, difficulty concentrating, and loss of passion. We achieved our breakthroughs with athletes by helping them to more skillfully manage energy—pushing themselves to systematically increase capacity in whatever dimension it was insufficient, but also to build in regular recovery as part of their training regimens.

Balancing stress and recovery is critical not just in competitive sports, but also in managing energy in all facets of our lives. 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.) Just think about an arm placed in a cast for an extended period of time in order to protect it from the "stress" to which it is ordinarily subjected. In a very short time, the muscles of the arm begin to atrophy from disuse. The benefits of a sustained fitness program decrease significantly after just one week of inactivity—and disappear altogether in as few as four weeks.

The same process occurs emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Emotional depth and resilience depend on active engagement with others and with our own feelings. Mental acuity diminishes in the absence of ongoing intellectual challenge. Spiritual energy capacity depends on regularly revisiting our deepest values and holding ourselves accountable in our behavior. 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 more powerful our pulse, the more fully engaged we can be. The same is true organizationally. To the degree that leaders and managers build cultures around continuous work—whether that means several-hour meetings, or long days, or the expectation that people will work in the evenings and on weekends—performance is necessarily compromised over time. Cultures that encourage people to seek intermittent renewal not only inspire greater commitment, but also more productivity.

Instead, most of us tend to live far more linear lives. We assume that we can spend energy indefinitely in some dimensions—often the mental and emotional—and that we can perform effectively without investing much energy at all in others—most commonly the physical and the spiritual. We become flat liners.



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. Likewise, all organisms follow life-sustaining rhythms—birds migrating, bears hibernating, squirrels gathering nuts, and fish spawning, all of them at predictable intervals.

So, too, human beings are guided by rhythms—both those dictated by nature and those encoded in our genes. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is an illness that is attributable both to changes in seasonal rhythms and to the body's inability to adapt. Our breathing, brain waves, body temperature, heart rates, hormone levels and blood pressure all have healthy (and unhealthy) rhythmic patterns.

We are oscillatory beings in an oscillatory universe.

Rhythmicity is our inheritance.

Oscillation occurs even at the most basic levels of our being. Healthy patterns of activity and rest lie at the heart of our capacity for full engagement, maximum performance and sustained health. Linearity, by contrast, ultimately leads to dysfunction and death. Just picture for a moment the undulating wave form of a healthy EEG or EKG—and then think about the implications of their opposite: a flat line.

At the broadest level, our activity and rest patterns are tied to circadian rhythms (circa dies, "around a day"), which cycle approximately every twenty-four hours. In the early 1950s, researchers Eugene Aserinsky and Nathan Kleitman discovered that sleep occurs in smaller cycles of 90- to 120-minute segments. We move from light sleep, when brain activity is intense and dreaming occurs, to deeper sleep) when the brain is more quiescent and the deepest restoration takes place. This rhythm is called the "basic rest-activity cycle" (BRAC). In the 1970s, further research showed that aversion of the same 90- to 120-minute cycles—ultradian rhythms (ultra dies, "many times a day")—operates in ourwaking lives.

These ultradian rhythms help to account for the ebb and flow of our energy throughout the day. Physiological measures such as heart rate, hormonal levels, muscle tension and brain-wave activity all increase during the first partofthe cycle—and so does alertness. After an hour or so, these measures start to decline. Somewhere between 90 and 120 minutes, the body begins to crave a period of rest and recovery. Signals include a desire to yawn and stretch, hunger pangs, increased tension, difficulty concentrating, an inclination to procrastinate or fantasize, and a higher incidence of mistakes. We are capable of overriding these natural cycles, but only by summoning the fight-or-flight response and flooding our bodies with stress hormones that are designed to help us handle emergencies.

The long-term cost is that toxins build up inside us. We can only push so hard for so long without 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. Override the need for oscillation long enough and the symptoms may extend to headaches, back pain, gastrointestinal disorders, and ultimately to heart attacks and even death.

Because the body craves oscillation, we will often turn to artificial means to make waves when our lives become too linear. When we lack sufficient energy to meet the demands in our lives, for example, we turn to stimulants such as caffeine, cocaine and amphetamines. When we can’t relax naturally, we may begin to rely on alcohol, marijuana and sleeping pills to cool down. If you are drinking several cups of coffee to stay alert during the day and a couple of drinks or several glasses of wine to disengage in the evening, you are simply making your own linearity.

Sometime back around 1980, I recall attending a week-long course titled, Creative Energy Management. Much of what I heard back then was reinforced in The Power of Full Engagement. Readers who find energy lagging may find some useful ideas in this interesting book.  

Steve Hopkins, July 25, 2003


ã 2003 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the August 2003 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: Power of Full Engagement.htm


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