My rating: 78/100
See Book Notes for other books I have read. If you like my notes, go buy it!
Tagline: Managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance and personal renewal
I read this book after hearing about it from Josh Waitzkin in The Art of Learning, which I took notes on here. Although not quite as profound as The Art of Learning, this book had a few really key insights for top performers that were very helpful to me in refining my daily rituals.
The first concept is intermittent energy renewal, I guarantee you have experienced the consequences of poor energy renewal – low energy, lack of focus, procrastination, etc. Essentially this is the same concept as when marathon runners “bonk”, completely running out of energy near the end of the race. They have expended all of their energy without resting and recovering. One might say the purpose of a marathon is to push you beyond your limits, but most of us are not running marathons daily so we need to be more conscious of taking regular breaks to recover our depleted energy. I have been using the Pomodoro method recently, but found that 25/5 minute split work/rest to be too short of a time to remain focused, and have been experimenting with an 80/10 or 90/10 split between work and rest. I have found it to be easier to stay focused. Another practical ritual to implement based on this principle is snacking throughout the day. If you have long spaces between meals, your blood sugar levels can drop drastically and affect your performance.
Deeper rest was another concept that was enlightening for me. Top performers find ways to make their rest periods deeper than everyone else. Michael Jordan would put a towel over his head and completely unplug during time-outs, Josh Waitzkin trained his body through interval training to recover faster in the same period of time between rounds, and Leonardo Da Vinci would take regular cat-naps throughout the day when he was painting. In my own life, I have implemented this concept by taking my breaks more seriously. In the past I would take regular breaks but I was always doing something else like checking socials or making coffee. Now I have implemented a more strict policy of doing absolutely nothing, that is, literally laying on the couch and staring at the ceiling. It is incredibly refreshing to let my mind wander and I feel as if my brain cells are reforming their ranks for battle. I regularly take naps during the day, but I have now implemented a policy where I will put in earplugs and put on an eye mask to block out light. I find my rest is deeper and I don’t need as long of a nap to recover.
Finally, another eye-opening concept for me was supercompensation. The idea is that we must deliberately expose ourselves to stress to expand our capabilities. This concept is blindingly obvious when you’re a weightlifter, but I had never made the extension of this concept to our emotional, mental, and spiritual selves. If you find yourself overwhelmed and trying to further and further unplug from life to get some relief, running away from stress to release pressure, perhaps what you need is actually to face that stress head on in a methodical manner, exposing yourself slowly to more and more until you can handle it. This is true in psychotherapy where a therapist has the patient slowly expose themselves to their fear in order to overcome it.
- Full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
- Because energy capacity diminishes both with overuse and with underuse, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal.
- To build capacity, we must push beyond our normal limits, training in the same systematic way that elite athletes do.
- Positive energy rituals – highly specific routines for managing energy – are the key to full engagement and sustained high performance.
- To build capacity, we must systematically expose ourselves to more stress – followed by adequate recovery. Challenging a muscle past its current limits prompts a phenomenon known as supercompensation.
- A short nap of just forty minutes improved performance by an average of 34 percent and alertness by 100 percent
- As little as 5 percent of our behaviors are consciously self-directed. We are creatures of habit and as much as 95 percent of what we do occurs automatically or in reaction to demand or an anxiety.
- The most important role of rituals is to insure an effective balance between energy expenditure and energy renewal in the service of full engagement.
Part 1: The Dynamics of Full Engagement
Chapter 1: Fully Engaged: Energy, Not Time Is Our Most Precious Resource
Performance, health and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy.
Life is a marathon
Downtime is wasted time
Rewards fuel performance
The power of positive thinking
Life is a series of sprints
Downtime is productive time
Purpose fuels performance
The power of full engagement
Conventional wisdom holds that if you find talented people and equip them with the right skills for the challenge at hand, they will perform at their best. In out experience that often isn’t so. Energy is the X factor that makes it possible to fully ignite talent and skill.
Along the way, we discovered something completely unexpected: The performance demands that most people face in their everyday work environments dwarf those of any professional athletes we have ever trained.
The challenge of great performance is to manage your energy more effectively in all dimensions to achieve your goals. Four key energy management principles drive this process.
Principle 1: Full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
Principle 2: Because energy capacity diminishes both with overuse and with underuse, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal.
Principle 3: To build capacity, we must push beyond our normal limits, training in the same systematic way that elite athletes do.
Principle 4: Positive energy rituals – highly specific routines for managing energy – are the key to full engagement and sustained high performance.
Making changes that endure, we have found, is a three-step process that we call Purpose-Truth-Action. All three are necessary and none is sufficient by itself.
Answer the question “How should I spend my energy in a way that is consistent with my deepest values.
In the stage of our process, Face the Truth, the first question we ask clients is “How are you spending your energy now?”
The third step in your change process is to Take Action to close the gap between who you are and who you want to be.
Some of our existing habits serve us well, but others are more expedient.
Chapter 2: The Disengaged Life of Roger B.
Chapter 3: The pulse of high performance: balancing stress and recovery
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.
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.
In the early 1950s, researchers discovered that sleep occurs in smaller cycles of 90 to 120 minute segments.
In the 1970s, further research showed that a version of the same 90 to 120 minute cycles – ultradian rhythms (ultra dies, “many times a day”) – operates in our everyday lives.
Imagine two players of relatively equal talent and fitness in the third hour of a match. One has been regularly recovering between points, while the other has not. Clearly, the second player will be far more physically fatigued.
Any addictive behavior – including work – prompts a highly linear form of energy expenditure.
death by overwork – karoushi 過労死
What happens when increased demand overwhelms our capacity and even a full tank is not enough? The answer is paradoxical. To build capacity, we must systematically expose ourselves to more stress – followed by adequate recovery. Challenging a muscle past its current limits prompts a phenomenon known as supercompensation.
Expanding capacity requires a willingness to endure short-term discomfort in the service of long-term rewards.
Rebuilding energy capacity requires gradually reexposing ourselves to the demands of the world that dealt us the setback in the first place. So long as sufficient healing has occurred, it is often possible to build capacity beyond our previous limits.
The key to expanding capacity is both to push beyond one’s ordinary limits and to regularly seek recover, which is when growth actually occurs.
My note: What does deep periods of recovery look like? What activities? Short walk, eat a snack, drink water, stretch…
Chapter 4: Physical Energy: fueling the fire
One of the simplest antidotes to anger and anxiety is to take deep abdominal breaths.
Breathing in to a count of three and out to a count of six, lowers arousal and quiets not just the body but also the mind and the emotions.
Drinking at least 64 ounces of water at intervals throughout the day serves performance in a range of important ways. Dehydrate a muscle by as little as 3 percent, for example, and it will lost 10 percent of its strength and 8 percent of its speed.
Sleep researcher Claudio Stampi undertook a study in which subjects were deprived of normal sleep, and instead took twenty to thirty-minute naps every four hours. Naps represent a form of strategic recovery. Stampi found that napping workers were able to maintain a surprisingly high level of alertness and productivity over twenty four hours, even in the absence of a more prolonged sleep.
NASA’s Fatigue Counter Measures Program has found that a short nap of just forty minutes improved performance by an average of 34 percent and alertness by 100 percent. In another recent study by Harvard researchers, subjects whose performance on a series of tasks dropped by as much as 50 percent in the course of a day were able to completely restore their highest levels of performance after a one-hour nap in the early afternoon.
Our own experience is that interval training is preferable to continuous exercise and stress.
Interval training is a means by which to build more energy capacity and to tolerate more stress, but also to teach the body to recover more efficiently.
On average, we lost nearly one-half pound of muscle mass per year after the age of forty in the absence of regular strength training.
The growing consensus among physiologists is that muscle loss, more than any single factor, is responsible for both the frailty and the diminished vitality with old age.
In short, minimizing or avoiding stress is just as destructive to capacity as excessive stress without recovery.
- Physical energy is the fundamental source of fuel in life.
- Physical energy is derived from the interaction between oxygen and glucose.
- The two most important regulators of physical energy are breathing and eating.
- Eating five to six low-calorie, highly nutritious meals a day ensures a steady resupply of glucose and essential nutrients.
- Drinking sixty-four ounces of water daily is a key factor in the effective management of physical energy.
- Most human beings require seven to eight hours of sleep per night to function optimally.
- Going to bed early and waking up early help to optimize performance.
- Interval training is more effective than steady-state exercise in building physical capacity and in teaching people how to recover more efficiently.
- To sustain full engagement, we must take a recovery break every 90 to 120 minutes.
Chapter 5: Emotional Energy: transforming threat into challenge
No single factor more clearly predicts the productivity of an employee than his relationship with his direct superior.
Simply changing channels is an effective method to refuel emotionally.
There are times when demand overwhelms our emotional capacity, even if we are regularly seeking renewal. Just as there is only so much weight you can lift without running up against your limits, so there is only so much emotional demand you can tolerate without turning negative. The best way to build and emotional muscle, much like a physical muscle, is to push past your current comfort zone and then recover.
- In order to perform at our best, we must access pleasant and positive emotions: the experience of enjoyment, challenge, adventure, and opportunity.
- The key muscles fueling positive emotional energy are self-confidence, self-control, interpersonal effectiveness and empathy.
- Negative emotions serve survival but they are very costly and energy inefficient in the context of performance. [My note: I would disagree with this statement.]
- The ability to summon positive emotions during periods of intense stress lies at the heart of effective leadership.
- Access to the emotional muscles that serve performance depends on creating a balance between exercising them regularly and intermittently seeking recovery.
- Any activity that is enjoyable, fulfilling and affirming serves as a source of emotional renewal and recovery.
- 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.
Chapter 6: Mental Energy: appropriate focus and realistic optimism
Much as it is true physically and emotionally, mental capacity is derived from a balance between expending and recovering energy. The capacity to stay appropriately focused and realistically optimistic depends on intermittently changing mental channels in order to rest and rejuvenate.
Attributional Style Questionnaire (ASQ) – used to measure people’s optimism.
The key to mental recovery is to give the conscious, thinking mind intermittent rest.
In his provocative book, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, author Michael Gelb poses a wonderfully revealing question: “Where are you when you get your best ideas?” Gelb has asked this question to thousands of people over the years, and the most common answers he gest include “in the shower,” “resting in bed,” “walking in nature,” and “listening to music.” We ask our own clients a similar question and their answers have ranged from taking a job to meditating to dreaming to sitting on the beach. “Almost no one,” Gelb writes, “claims to get their best ideas at work.”
Prolific and productive as Leonardo da Vince was, Gelb points out, the artist took regular breaks from his work. Rather than sleeping extended hours at night, he relied on numerous catnaps during the day. While da Vinci was working on the Last Supper, he sometimes spent several hours in the middle of the day appearing to be lost in daydreams, in spite of entreaties from his employer, the prior of Santa Maria delle Grazie, to work more steadily. “The greatest geniuses,” da Vinci told his patron, “sometimes accomplish more when they work less.” In his Treatise on Painting, da Vinci wrote, “It is a very good plan every now and then to go away and have a little relaxation … When you come back to the work your judgement will be surer, since to remain constantly at work will cause you to lose the power of judgement.”
The brain gets sharper the more it’s used. Indeed it improves with use.
Time management, we tell our clients, is not an end in itself. Rather it serves the higher goal of effective energy management.
- Mental capacity is what we use to organize our lives and focus our attention.
- The mental energy that best serves full engagement is realistic optimism – seeing the world as it is, but always working positively toward a desired outcome or solution.
- The key supportive mental muscles include mental preparation, visualization, positive self-talk, effective time management and creativity.
- Changing channels mentally permits different parts of the brain to be activated and facilitates creativity.
- Physical exercise stimulates cognitive capacity.
- Maximum mental capacity is derived from a balance between expending and recovering mental energy.
- 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.
- Continuing to challenge the brain serves as a protection against age-related mental decline.
Chapter 7: Spiritual Energy: He who has a why to live
- Spiritual energy provides the force for action in all dimensions of our lives. It fuels passion, perseverance and commitment.
- Spiritual energy is derived from a connection to deeply held values and a purpose beyond our self-interest.
- Character – the courage and conviction to live by our deepest values – is the key muscle that serves spiritual energy.
- The key supportive spiritual muscles are passion, commitment, integrity and honesty.
- Spiritual energy expenditure and energy renewal are deeply interconnected.
- Spiritual energy is sustained by balancing a commitment to a purpose beyond ourselves with adequate self-care.
- Spiritual work can be demanding and renewing at the same time.
- Expanding spiritual capacity involves pushing past our comfort zone in precisely the same way that expanding physical capacity does.
- The energy of the human spirit can override even severe limitations of physical energy.
Part 2: The Training System
Chapter 8: Defining Purpose: The rules of engagement
Too often our motivation for a behavior is expedient rather than value driven. We do what makes us feel good in the moment or fills a hole or lessens our pain.
- The search for meaning is among the most powerful and enduring themes in every culture since the origin of recorded history.
- The “hero’s journey” is grounded in mobilizing, nurturing and regularly renewing our most precious resource – energy – in the service of what matters most.
- When we lack a strong sense of purpose we are easily buffeted by life’s inevitable storms.
- 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.
- A negative source of purpose is defensive and deficit-based.
- Intrinsic motivation grows out of the desire to engage in an activity because we value it for the inherent satisfaction it provides.
- Values fuel the energy on which purpose is built. They hold us to a different standard for managing our energy.
- A virtue is a value in action.
- A vision statement, grounded in values that are meaningful and compelling, creates a blueprint for how to invest out energy.
Chapter 9: Face the Truth: How are you managing your energy now?
“Every form of addiction is bad,” wrote Carl Jung, “no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.”
How much negative energy do you invest in defense spending – frustration, anger, fear, resentment, envy – as opposed to positive energy utilized in the service of growth and productivity?
James Hillman – “Loving oneself is no easy matter … because it means loving all of oneself, including the shadow where one is inferior and socially so unacceptable. The care one gives this humiliating part is the cure … [but] the moral dimension can never be abandoned. Thus is the cure a paradox requiring two incommensurables: the moral recognition that these parts of me are burdensome and intolerable and must change, and the loving laughing acceptance which takes them just as they are, joyfully, forever. One both tries hard and lets go, both judges harshly and joins gladly …”
- Facing the truth frees up energy and is the second stage, after defining purpose, in becoming more fully engaged. Avoiding the truth consumes great effort and energy.
- At the most basic level, we deceive ourselves in order to protect our self-esteem. [my thoughts on this: when we are able to let go of our self-esteem, our ego, we are then free to release all the energy we expend in protecting it for use in other areas.]
- Some truths are too unbearable to be absorbed all at once. Emotions such as grief are best metabolized in waves.
- Truth without compassion is cruelty – to others and to ourselves.
- What we fail to acknowledge about ourselves we often continue to act out unconsciously.
- 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 10: Taking Action: The power of positive rituals
A growing body of research suggests that as little as 5 percent of our behaviors are consciously self-directed. We are creatures of habit and as much as 95 percent of what we do occurs automatically or in reaction to demand or an anxiety.
The bigger the storm, the more inclined we are to revert to our survival habits, and the more important positive rituals become.
Nightly bedtime rituals offer parents and children an opportunity to tell each other what they believe about all kinds of matters. The sheer act of doing the bedtime ritual expresses a belief in a certain kind of parent-child relationship where warmth and affection and safety are available.
“We should not cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing,” wrote philosopher A. N. Whitehead, back in 1911. “The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of operations which we can perform without thinking about them.”
The most important role of rituals is to insure an effective balance between energy expenditure and energy renewal in the service of full engagement.
My note: Find this balance and exploit it!
One example of a successful work schedule: begin workdays at 6:30 and write for ninety minutes before doing anything else.
The more exacting the challenge, the more rigorous our rituals need to be.
My note: It’s obvious rituals are important, how much more important then is it that irregular or infrequent, yearly or quarterly rituals have a standard procedure?
A broad and persuasive array of studies confirms that specificity of timing and precision of behavior dramatically increase the likelihood of success.
My note: Set firm deadlines, work times, and work locations. The more autonomy one has over oneself the more difficult this becomes, and likewise the more important it is to enforce these restrictions.
Chapter 11: The Reengaged Lift of Roger B.
Most important physical energy management strategies.
- Go to bed early and wake up early.
- Go to sleep and wake up consistently at the same times.
- Eat five to six small meals daily.
- Eat breakfast every day.
- Eat a balanced, healthy diet.
- Minimize simple sugars.
- Drink 48 to 64 oz of water daily.
- Take breaks every ninety minutes during work.
- Get some physical activity daily.
- Do at least two cardiovascular interval workouts and two strength training workouts per week.
Foods With Low Glycemic Index:
Almonds, Apples, Beans, Cabbage, Cashews, Cherries, Chicken, Cottage cheese, Dried apricots, Eggs, grapefruits, Green vegatables, Lentils, Milk, Mozzarella cheese, Nutrition bars – some, Nutrition shakes, Oranges, Peaches, Peanut butter, Peanuts, Pears, Pecans, Pistachios, Plums, Prunes, Pumpkin seeds, Soy milk, Split peas, Sunflower seeds, Tomato soup, Tomatoes, Tuna, Turkey, Walnuts, Yogurt (plain)