A few years ago, my friend Doug asked me a deceptively simple question—What good is your time if you bring no energy to it?
At the time, I had become a time management fanatic, trying to make every moment productive.
His question stunned me—and it also made sense immediately.
That is when he shared an idea that performance psychologists have been using for decades—manage your energy.
Only then you can really make the most of your precious time.
The Big Idea—If leaders want to perform at high levels over several decades, they must have disciplined and systematic recovery routines—the same way that world-class athletes do. They must develop routines that support an optimal rhythm between stress and recovery.
A story to illustrate
A few years ago, a friend of mine wanted to build a chest like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
He got a little carried away and stacked his bench press days too close together, piling on weights before his muscles had recovered.
A torn pectoral muscle that sidelined his workouts for months, not to mention crushing his dream of looking like Arnold on the beach that summer.
Most hard-charging leaders have no problem with work ethic. They know how to stress the muscle—which is essential for growth. It’s the discipline of recovery they often struggle with.
What performance psychologists say
In their classic Harvard Business Review article, The Making of a Corporate Athlete, performance psychologist Jim Loehr and his partner Tony Schwartz explain how they took 20 years of training world-class athletes and applied those same principles to business leaders—with tremendous success.
They also have an entire book dedicated to the subject.
Consider this—most professional athletes have an average career of 7 years, but business leaders could have a career of 50+ years! Therefore, business leaders desperately need disciplined recovery practices to sustain performance.
And most importantly—if leaders push too hard for too long—it often comes at a huge cost to their health or relationships.
Even John Maxwell—widely considered to be the modern expert on leadership—had a heart attack at age 50 because he admittedly ignored his health for years while he was so focused on his work.
Loehr and Schwartz argue that nearly all leadership training programs focus almost completely on mental aspects of performance—while failing to tap into the power of physical, emotional, and spiritual practices.
In their model, they teach leaders to manage their Physical, Emotional, Mental, and Spiritual energy (in this order).
They call it the High-Performance Pyramid.
In one case example they share, a 39-year-old driven executive began working out, taking weekends off, spending more time with family, and taking several breaks during his day. During the next two years, his income went up by more than 65%.
Now let’s explore how you can do the same.
Turn information into action
Physical Energy—The body is our fundamental source of energy and the foundation of all performance. To boost your energy you can eat 6 small meals per day, go to bed early and wake up at the same times, and do at least two 30-minute weight training workouts per week. Additionally, chronobiologists have found that our glucose and hormone levels drop about every 90 minutes. Therefore, they recommend that people seek some kind of recovery every 90 minutes such as:
- Eat something
- Move physically
- Change tasks mentally
Emotional Energy—Leaders must learn to manage their emotional states. Negative emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, impatience, or resentment—are toxic to your leadership impact. Science also supports the fact that negative emotional states over time can be very harmful to your physical health. Here are some things you can do to change your emotional state:
- Listen to music
- Change your environment to change your mood
- Spend more time with loved ones by improving work-life balance (Close relationships are the most powerful source of positive emotions)
- When you notice early signs of problems with your children, your marriage, or your stress level—don’t wait for it to blow up, be proactive and address it right away
Mental Energy—This includes things like focus, time-management, problem solving, and mindset. Anything that disrupts focus, dissipates energy, and harms performance. Here are a few things they recommend:
- Numerous studies show that meditation is a critical skill to create mental clarity, enhance focus, and promote energy recovery
- Prioritizing and time management are also essential
- Block out chunks of uninterrupted time to do activities that demand intense focus
- Know what time of day you are mentally sharpest and do your important work at those times
Spiritual Energy—By spiritual energy, Loehr and Schwartz simply mean, “the energy that is unleashed by tapping into your deepest values and sense of purpose.” When people feel that what they are doing is deeply meaningful, they bring more energy to it. Organizational studies often show that people who feel their work has little meaning have more absences, tardiness, low engagement, and poor productivity.
- Take the time to find a job that is aligned with your values
- Reflect regularly on how you can consciously assign meaning to certain aspects of your job
- This quote by Friedrich Nietzsche captures the point—”He who has a why can bear almost any how.” Take the time to identify your Why.
Whether you are a CEO or a busy mom, everyone can use these strategies to have more impact.
And it’s not just good for individuals—it’s a great strategy for organizations and families to adopt as well.
“When people feel consistently strong and resilient—physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually—they perform better, with more passion, for longer. When this happens, they win, their families win, and the corporations that employ them win.” -Loehr & Schwartz, 2001
Have a great weekend!
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- The Making of a Corporate Athlete– Harvard Business Review
- The Power of Full Engagement—Loehr & Schwartz
- The Happiness Advantage– Shawn Achor