Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance.
We grow at all levels by expending energy beyond our normal limits, and then recovering. Expanding capacity requires a willingness to endure short-term discomfort in the service of long-term reward.
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 f or managing energy--are the key to full engagement and sustained high performance.
The breath is a powerful tool for self-regulation--a means both to summon energy and to relax deeply. Extending the exhalation, for example, prompts a powerful wave of recovery. 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 emot ions. Deep, smooth and rhythmic breathing is simultaneously a source of energy, alertness and focus as well as of relaxation, stillness and quiet--the ultimate healthy pulse.
The longer, more continuously, and later at night you work, the less efficient and more mistake-prone you become.
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.
To sustain full engagement, we must take a recovery break every 90 to 120 minutes.
Any activity that is enjoyable, fulfilling and affirming tends to prompt positive emotions. The key, we have found, is making such activities priorities, and treating the time that you invest in them as sacrosanct.
In situations in which Paul's irritation continued to rise, he took a deep abdominal breath and relaxed the muscles in his shoulders and his face. Doing so helped to short-circuit his fight-or-flight response and reduce his level of arousal. Once he felt less reactive, he tried to think of a way of transforming his initial experience of frustration into an opportunity. Smiling literally reduces arousal and short-circuits the "fight-or-flight" response. It is nearly impossible to smile and to feel angry at the same time.
Take a moment to consider how broad a range of emot ional muscles you have in your own life. In all likelihood you will discover that you have considerably more strength on one side of the spectrum than on the other. Notice, too, the judgment that you br ing to the relative merits of opposing qualities. No emotional capacity better serves depth and richness more than the willingness to value feelings that seem contradictory and not to choose up sides between them. To be fully engaged emotionally requires celebrating what the Stoic philosophers called anacoluthia--the mutual entailment of the virtues. By this notion, no virtue is a virtue by itself. Rather, all virtues are entailed. Honesty wi thout compassion, for example, becomes cruelty. We are, in effect, the sum of our complexities a nd contradictions. Practically, we must focus on building emotional capacity wherever it is t hat we are most out of balance. The ultima te goal is to move more freely a nd flexibly between our own opposites.
When it comes to the everyday challenge of performance, the energy of negative thinking is almost invariably undermining and counterproductive. Realistic optimism--seeing the world as it is, but always working positively towards a desired outcome or solution-- better serves most of the challenges we face.
The consequences of insufficient mental recovery range from increased mistakes of judgment and execution to lower creativity and a failure to take reasonable account of risks. The key to mental recovery is to give the conscious, thinking mind intermittent rest.
As Frankl saw it, we must make our own meaning--actively build spiritual capacity. Doing so necessarily involves discomfort. "Mental health is based on a certain degree of tension," he wrote, " the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. . . . What man actually needs is not a tensionless state, but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task."
From our work with athletes we learned that visualizing a performance challenge in advance is a very effective way to allay anxiety and to perform without awkwardness or self-consciousness.
Face The Truth
It is both a danger and a delusion when we become too identified with any singular view of ourselves--for better or for worse. We open to a more complete picture when we can step back and develop the capacity for self-observation. By broadening our perspective, we can become the audience for the drama in our lives rather than becoming identified with the drama itself. The practice of Vipassana meditat ion is sometimes referred to as "witnessing"--observing our thoughts, feelings and sensations without getting caught up in them. As the psychiatrist Robert Assagioli puts it, we may move from a feeling of "I am overwhelmed by my anxiety" to the more dispassionate "My anxiety is trying to overwhelm me." In one, we are victims. In the other, we have the power to make choices and take action.
"How is that me?" Difficult and unpleasant as it may be to accept, we often feel most hostile to those who remind us of aspects of ourselves that we prefer not to see.
"How might the opposite of what I'm thinking or feeling also be true?"
If the truth is to set us free, facing it cannot be a one-time event. Rather, it must become a practice. Like all of our "muscles," selfawareness withers from disuse and deepens when we push past our resistance to see more of the truth. We fall asleep to aspects of ourselves each and every day. Much as we must keep returning to the gym and pushing weight against resistance in order to sus tain or increase our physical strength, so we must persistently shed light on those aspects of ourselves that we prefer not to see in order to build our mental, emotional and spiritual capacity.
Taking Action: The Power of Positive Rituals
Positive energy rituals are powerful on three levels. They help us to insure that we effectively manage energy in the service of whatever mission we are on. They reduce the need to rely on our limited conscious will and discipline to take action. Finally, rituals are a powerful means by which to translate our values and priorities into action--to embody what matters most to us in our everyday behaviors.
The bigger the storm, the more inclined we are to revert to our survival habits, and the more important positive rituals become.
Far from precluding spontaneity, rituals provide a level of comfort, continuity and security that frees us to improvise and to take risks.
Our dual challenge is to hold fast to our rituals when the pressures in our lives threaten to throw us off track, and to periodically revisit and change them so that they remain fresh.
PRECISION AND SPECIFICITY
A broad and persuasive array of studies confirms that specificity of timing and precision of behavior dramatically increase the likelihood of success. The specificity and precision of rituals also makes it more likely that we will be able to produce them under pressure. Bill Walsh, the brilliant former coach of the San Francisco 49ers, put it simply in describing his approach to football: "At all times the focus must be on doing things properly. Every play. Every practice. Every meeting. Every situation. Every time." Walsh's point applies to any performance venue. Practice makes perfect only if the practice is perfect--or at least aims for perfection. If you c annot perform a particular task effectively when you are feeling relaxed and unpressured, it is unlikely that you will be able to do so when the pressure is high, or when you are in the midst of a crisis. Building precise rituals makes it possible to push away the distractions and fears that arise under pressure. "The less thinking people have to do under adverse circumstances, the better," explains Walsh. "When you're under pressure, the mind can play tricks on you. The more primed and focused you remain, the smoother you can deal with out-of-the-ordinary circumstances."
Defining a desired outcome and holding yourself accountable each day gives focus and direction to the rituals that you build. For many of our clients, the best way to do this is to create a daily accountability log. This exercise can be as simple as a yes or no check on a sheet kept by the side of your bed.