This book transformed the way I think, feel, behave and make decisions, and also the way I think about thinking, feeling, behaving and making decisions.
The Power of Full Engagement: Managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance and personal renewal (by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz) really excited me when I first read it, about seven months ago. I read it again recently and it inspired me all over again. The premise is in the title – we should be focused on managing our energy rather than our time if we want to live life fully.
Since getting glandular fever in my early twenties, I’ve struggled with energy. My main attempt to fix this has been to cut more and more stuff out of my life in order to rest – stuff like socialising, exercise, and staying up late. This book changed the way I approached this issue, opening my eyes to the other things that drain my energy like how I manage my emotions, the way I think, and whether I’m living by my values.
What did I learn and how did it change things for me?
There are four sources of energy in a human being – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual – and you need to manage them all
- I thought energy was only physical. I thought you got it from exercising, eating well, and sleeping, and that you were drained of it by doing the opposite. But there are other sources – emotional, mental and spiritual – and they also influence how much energy you have. Emotional energy is about your emotions and interactions with people; mental is about your thoughts and intellectual engagement; and spiritual (in a non-religious sense) is about living by your core values. If you aren’t taking care of these things, they will deplete your energy. If you are, you will have more energy.
- I’ve never thought of emotional and mental as separate. I don’t know why, because it’s obvious now – emotional is how I feel, and mental is how I think. For emotional stuff, I get energy from enjoying myself (who knew having fun was so important!) and connecting with people. For mental stuff, I get energy from creativity and breaks from work. Equally, the things that drain me emotionally (impatience, frustration, anger) are quite different from the things that drain me mentally (boredom, pessimism). It’s useful having these distinct concepts because it helps me figure out what’s going on in my head and why.
- I’ve never even considered that spiritual issues can impact your energy. But this was the area of the book that influenced me most. Again, it’s not a religious spirituality, but more about living by your values. Living out of line with your values is super exhausting, but when you live in line with them you suddenly feel strong, less vulnerable, and less afraid. More on this below.
- I was doing pretty badly on all of four! I did the online test (really confusing to find it online, I think it’s this one). You’re supposed to be at like 85% on each of the four sources to be ‘fully engaged’. I was sitting at about 20-40% for all of them. Not good. It’s gone up a lot in the last six months (to 40-70% across the four), which is probably mostly because I’ve taken this year off but also some other things, including some things I did because of this book.
I finally get the whole personal values thing, and I know what mine are
- I’d been wanting to find out my values for a while. I knew they were important in some way, but I didn’t know much more. I watched a documentary about kids and their development, called Life at Seven. What struck me was that seven-year-olds could have values. I thought values were adult things. One girl identified health as a value, and I’m like ‘what does a seven-year-old know about health?’ Turns out her dad had had a major health scare, and now she wanted to be a doctor. It all lined up. I wanted my things to all line up!
- It’s pretty simple to figure out what your values are, but the book doesn’t really take you through it in detail. I’d done some work with my psychologist a year or so before and identified one value (connectedness), but while using this book I identified several more. I started with the list of values in the book (there are similar lists on the internet), circling ones that were important to me, and adding any extras. Then I whittled them down by comparing two and deciding which was more important. I’d literally say to myself ‘which is more important to me, connectedness or honesty?’ Sometimes I used situations from my life to help me decide – actually, almost always. First time around I ended up with a long list, which I just settled on. This time, I grouped the long-list values that were similar, for example, I grouped authenticity, genuineness, honesty and accountability. They might not group into a category for someone else, but whatever the underlying value was for me, it resulted in this grouping. Then I chose the word I felt represented what I wanted here, which was genuineness. I ended up with five values: genuineness, kindness, fun, connectedness and self-care.
- My first go I was a little too earnest; my second go felt more like me. The first time I don’t think I got the right reflection of myself – it was a bit too angelic, it was the person I thought I should be rather than the person I actually am. Also I just got better at articulating them. Even just telling people what my values are makes me think ‘is that quite right?’. My ‘fun’ value was originally ‘playfulness’ but it felt weird when I told it to people. I imagine in several years’ time they might have shifted too.
- I don’t know why I have to explicitly identify my values in order to live by them. You’d think that if these things were really important to me, I would live by them automatically. But it seems I have to do it consciously. Maybe some people do it naturally, but not me. And the book does seem to indicate it doesn’t come easily for everyone.
Living by your values gives you energy and makes you the person you want to be
- When I don’t live in line with my values I feel crappy without knowing why. When first reading this book, there was a person in my life who I was friendly with but who I didn’t like. I was trying really hard to like them but it was making me feel terrible and I couldn’t figure out why. Then, when I was doing my values with this book I wrote down ‘integrity in relationships’ as a value (which I now articulate as ‘genuineness’). It was a lightning bolt. I knew I didn’t like this person but I had been leading them on because, when I was honest with myself, I realised I wanted to get something out of them. Awful, I know! That’s where my source of discomfort was coming from. So I (politely) stopped encouraging the friendship and pursuing the benefits of it, because I wanted there to be integrity in our relationship even if it wasn’t a friendly relationship. I stopped feeling so shit and stopped ruminating on it, both of which had been draining my energy.
- If you do stuff in line with your values, you become the person you want to be – your values become virtues. If you value genuineness but you don’t live by it, you’re denying being your true self. You’re creating a different person to the one you are at heart. Articulating my values and practising them in my daily behaviours is hopefully building virtues in me, so that I or others can say that I am genuine, kind, fun, connected to others, and looking after myself.
- There’s actually no point saying you value something if you don’t live by it. It’s like in Game of Thrones, the Lannister’s unofficial motto is ‘A Lannister always pays his debts’. There would be no point saying this if the Lannisters didn’t live by it, i.e. if they didn’t pay their debts. After a couple of times no one would let them become indebted to them anymore. But if they do always pay their debts, people will know this about them and believe it and then help them escape from prison or something.
You can build your values and energy-management practices into your life through habits
- To manage my energy sources better, things had to change. I had some good habits already but not many, and I still had shortcomings in all four sources. The book has good suggestions on the kinds of changes to make depending on your current issues. Some of my changes include doing stuff for pure pleasure (VERY hard for me), more positive thinking, and not focusing on the worst case possibility when things go a little bit wrong.
- Your daily routine can incorporate your values. Aristotle said ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.’ More recently, I read an article called ‘Tell Me What You Did Today, And I’ll Tell You Who You Are’ which basically says if you want to achieve goals or be a certain kind of person, what you did today should have contributed to this in some way. Pretty obvious but it is so easy to decide to put things off til tomorrow. Now I face the fact that I live life in 24-hour periods, so if I want to achieve something or live in a certain way, I need to do something that contributes to that today. I can’t be rigid about it or I’ll go crazy, but I check back in with that idea regularly.
- Making these things into habits makes them easier to implement. Ok so I’ve just said I have to do things every 24 hours or so to achieve long-term goals, but that’s already making me freak out. Making these things habits that I don’t question makes it so much easier. Instead of having to decide whether or not to do something, habits take that emotional tussle out of your hands. I have developed a daily routine/set of habits that helps me get the stuff that I want done: writing first thing, attractive easy tasks later in the day, some exercise, and 10 000 steps. At the end of the day, I have contributed to my goals of writing regularly, keeping fit, and a bunch of other things. I know this is in the context of not working a corporate job as I was before, but at least there’s hope that if I can do it in this lifestyle it might be possible. And if you build habits around your values, it will also do that work of virtue-building for you.