On the Power of Full Engagement

In their book The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz draw on years of experience helping some of the world’s greatest athletes perform at their best to help the rest of us achieve full engagement and high performance in whichever task we are engaged in.

The central claim of The Power of Full Engagement is that energy, rather than time, management is the key to high performance and full engagement. This claim is based on their understanding of the human as an oscillatory, rhythmic being who, by her physiological nature, must oscillate between periods of energy expenditure and energy renewal. Loehr and Schwartz identify four core interrelated areas in which human beings expand their energy: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. The opposite of a balanced rhythmic life is a highly linear life where “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.” 30

Loehr and Schwartz establish four core energy management principles underpinning their theory:

I. Full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. 9

II. Because energy diminishes both with overuse and with underuse, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal. 11

III. To build capacity we must push beyond our normal limits, training in the same systematic way that elite athletes do. 13

IV. Positive energy rituals—highly specific routines for managing energy—are the key to full engagement and sustained high performance. 14

They also set out a three-step program to achieve lasting positive changes, which they refer to as Purpose-Truth-Action. The book is packed with resources, including the complete Full Engagement Training System that Loehr and Schwartz administer to the various CEOs coming to them in the hopes of improving their performance, engagement and life satisfaction. The training system takes the reader through the three stages of the change process, providing prompts to deeply examine strengths and weakness in the four core energy areas (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual), as well as defining precise steps to enact positive and lasting change.

Loehr’s and Schwartz’s thesis is immensely helpful to the rethinked*annex project as I believe it is of crucial importance that the various ideas I experiment with not be isolated into imagined silos. Everything is interrelated and energy management, rather than time management, provides a way to integrate the various aspects of one’s life into a coherent, balanced and fulfilling whole. I am excited to complete the engagement training system and hope it will help me engage fully with the different but inherently interrelated ideas of the project. Check back in the next few weeks for a follow-up post on my progress with the engagement training system.


Source: Loehr, Jim, and Tony Schwartz. The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. The Free Press: New York, 2003. Print.


Managing energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance. Performance is grounded in the skillful management of energy. 17

Great leaders are stewards or organizational energy. They begin by effectively managing their own energy. As leaders, they must mobilize, focus, invest, channel, renew and expand the energy of others. 17

Full engagement is the energy state that best serves performance. 18

Principle I: Full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. 18

Principle II: Because energy diminishes both with overuse and with underuse, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal. 18

Principle III: To build capacity we must push beyond our normal limits, training in the same systematic way that elite athletes do. 18

Principle IV: Positive energy rituals—highly specific routines for managing energy—are the key to full engagement and sustained high performance. 18

Making change that lasts requires a three-step process: Define Purpose, Face the Truth, and Take Action. 18


Our most fundamental need as human beings is to spend and recover energy. We call this oscillation. 46

The opposite of oscillation is linearity: too much energy expenditure without recovery or too much recovery without sufficient energy expenditure. 46

Balancing stress and recovery is critical to high performance both individually and organizationally. 46

We must sustain healthy oscillatory rhythms at all four levels of what we term the “performance pyramid”: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. 47

We build emotional, mental and spiritual capacity in precisely the same way that we build physical capacity. We must systematically expose ourselves to stress beyond our normal limits, followed by adequate recovery. 47

Expanding capacity requires a willingness to endure short-term discomfort in the service of long-term reward. 47


Physical energy is the fundamental source of fuel in life. 71

Physical energy is derived from the interaction between oxygen and glucose. 71

The two most important regulators of physical energy are breathing and eating. 71

Drinking 64 ounces of water daily is a key factor in the effective management of physical energy. 71

Most human beings require seven to eight hours of sleep per night to function optimally. 71

Going to bed early and waking up early help to optimize performance. 71

Interval training is more effective than steady-state exercise in building physical capacity and in teaching people how to recover more efficiently. 71

To sustain full engagement, we must take a recovery break every 90 to 120 minutes. 71


In order to perform at our best, we must access pleasant and positive emotions: the experience of enjoyment, challenge, adventure and opportunity. 92

The key muscles fueling positive emotional energy are self-confidence, self-control, interpersonal effectiveness and empathy. 92

Negative emotions serve survival but they are very costly and energy inefficient in the context of performance. 92

The ability to summon positive emotions during periods of intense stress lies at the heart of effective leadership. 92

Access to the emotional muscles that serve performance depends on creating a balance between exercising them regularly and intermittently seeking recovery. 92

Any activity that is enjoyable, fulfilling and affirming serves as a source of emotional renewal and recovery. 93

Emotional muscles such as patience, empathy and confidence can be strengthened in the same way that we strengthen a bicep or a triceps: pushing past our current limits followed by recovery. 93


Mental capacity is what we use to organize our lives and focus our attention. 108

The mental energy that best serves full engagement is realistic optimism—seeing the world as it is, but always working positively towards a desired outcome or solution. 108

The key supportive mental muscles include mental preparation, visualization, positive self-talk, effective time management and creativity. 109

Changing channels mentally permits different parts of the brain to be activated and facilitates creativity. 109

Physical exercise stimulates cognitive capacity. 109

Maximum mental capacity is derived from a balance between expending and recovering mental energy. 109

When we lack the mental muscles we need to perform at our best, we must systematically build capacity by pushing past our comfort zone and then recovering. 109

Continuing to challenge the brain serves as a protection against age-related mental decline. 109


Spiritual energy provides the force for action in all dimensions of our lives. It fuels passion, perseverance and commitment. 127

Spiritual energy is derived from a connection to deeply held values and a purpose beyond our self-interest. 127

Character—the courage and conviction to live by our deepest values—is the key muscle that serves spiritual energy. 127

The key supportive spiritual muscles are passion, commitment, integrity and honesty. 127

Spiritual energy is sustained by balancing a commitment to a purpose beyond ourselves with adequate self-care. 127

Spiritual work can be demanding and renewing at the same time. 127

Expanding spiritual capacity involves pushing past our comfort zone in precisely the same way that expanding physical capacity does. 127

The energy of the human spirit can override even severe limitations of physical energy. 127


The search for meaning is among the most powerful and enduring themes in every culture since the origin of recorded history. 146

The ‘hero’s journey’ is grounded in mobilizing, nurturing and regularly renewing our most precious resource—energy—in the service of what matters most. 146

When we lack a strong sense of purpose we are easily buffeted by life’s inevitable storms. 146

Purpose becomes a more powerful and enduring source of energy when its source moves from negative to positive, external to internal and self to others. 146

A negative source of purpose is defensive and deficit-based. 147

Intrinsic motivation grows out of the desire to engage in an activity because we value it for the inherent satisfaction it provides. 147

Values fuel the energy on which purpose is built. They hold us to a different standard for managing our energy. 147

A virtue is a value in action. 147

A vision statement, grounded in values that are meaningful and compelling, creates a blueprint for how to invest our energy. 147


Facing the truth frees up energy and is the second stage, after defining purpose, in becoming more fully engaged. 164

Avoiding the truth consumes great efforts and energy. 164

At the most basic level, we deceive ourselves in order to protect out self-esteem. 164

Some truths are too unbearable to be absorbed all at once. Emotions such as grief are best metabolized in waves. 164

Truth without compassion is cruelty—to others and to ourselves. 164

What we fail to acknowledge about ourselves we often continue to act out unconsciously. 164

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. 164

Facing the truth requires that we retain an ongoing openness to the possibility that we may not be seeing ourselves—or others—accurately. 164

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. 164

Accepting our limitations reduces our defensiveness and increases the amount of positive energy available to us. 164


Rituals serve as tools through which we effectively manage energy in the service of whatever mission we are on. 181

Rituals create a means by which to translate our values and priorities into action in all dimensions of our life. 181

All great performers rely on positive rituals to manage their energy and regulate their behavior. 181

The limitations of conscious will and discipline are rooted in the fact that every demand on our self-control draws on the same limited resource. 181

We can offset our limited will and discipline by building rituals that become automatic as quickly as possible, fueled by our deepest values. 182

The most important role of rituals is to insure effective balance between energy expenditure and energy renewal in the service of full engagement. 182

The more exacting the challenge and the greater the pressure, the more rigorous our rituals need to be. 182

Precision and specificity are critical dimensions of building rituals during the thirty- to sixty-day acquisition period. 182

Trying not to do something rapidly depletes our limited stores of will and discipline. 182

To make lasting change, we must build serial rituals, focusing on one significant change at a time. 182

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