Book Summary: The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

Book Cover for The Power of Full Engagement by Loehr and Schwartz

This summary of The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz outlines the key learnings from the book. The full title is a bit of a mouthful, but it was what initially drew me to the book—​after I started time-blocking​, I found my energy levels, not time, was my main bottleneck.

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Key Takeaways from The Power of Full Engagement

  • Energy, not time, is our most precious resource. Skilfully managing energy allows us to unlock full engagement.
  • We have four related but separate sources of energy or capacity:
    • Physical. Our quantity of energy (high or low).
    • Emotional. Our quality of energy (positive or negative).
    • Mental. Our focus of energy (broad or narrow, internal or external).
    • Spiritual. Our force of energy (self or others, internal or external, and positive or negative).
  • High performance involves balancing stress and recovery.
    • We tend to lead linear lives, when we should be leading rhythmic ones. Oscillation is natural — our bodies follow natural rhythms.
    • To grow stronger, we need to stress our physical muscles and then allow them to recover. The same is true for our emotional, mental and spiritual muscles.
    • Too much stress without recovery leads to breakdown. Too much recovery without stress leads to atrophy.
    • Most of us are overtrained mentally and emotionally but undertrained physically and spiritually.
  • How to unlock full engagement:
    • Define purpose. Change is driven by the top down. A spiritual source of purpose gives us direction and helps us withstand the storms of everyday life.
    • Face the truth. We need to face up to the gap between how we live now and how we want to live, letting go of any self-deception.
    • Take action. Positive energy rituals conserve our limited willpower and energy, and act as anchors that help us live by our values.

Detailed Summary of The Power of Full Engagement

The authors’ coaching experience

Loehr and Schwartz’s organisation spent over 30 years coaching world-class athletes. Because their techniques focused on managing energy instead of technical skills, they could work with athletes of all different sports.

Over time, their organisation branched out to other domains. They began working with FBI hostage rescue teams, US marshals, critical care workers in hospitals, and people in business. In many ways, the authors think people face higher demands in their work environments than world class athletes:

  • Athletes train 90% of the time to perform 10% of the time. Most other people have to perform almost constantly.
  • Athletes enjoy an off-season of 4-5 months per year. The ordinary worker only gets a few weeks off per year (and probably can’t fully disconnect).
  • Professional athletes’ careers span 5-7 years and are often set for life after that. Most of us work for 40-50 years without any significant breaks.

Part 1: The Theory

Energy, not time, is our most precious resource

Energy is the fundamental “currency” of high performance. Everything we do requires energy.

This may seem obvious, but is easy to overlook. Productivity books often focus on time management and assume unlimited energy. Yet the number of hours we have is fixed, but our quality and quantity of energy is not.

Loehr and Schwartz set out the premise of their book simply:

In a leadership context, too, energy is key. Great leaders have to manage their own energy, as well as organisational energy. When leaders and managers expect continuous work without adequate recovery, long-term performance will suffer.

Balance stress and recovery

Oscillation is natural

We tend to live very linear lives, when we should be leading rhythmic ones. Oscillation is natural and all around us — the sun rises and sets, seasons change, birds migrate.

Our own activity and rest patterns are tied to circadian (“around a day”) and ultradian (“many times a day”) rhythms. Our sleep and waking activities occur in 90-120 minute cycles:

  • In the first part of the cycle, our heart rate, hormonal levels, muscle tension, brainwave activity and alertness all increase.
  • After an hour or so, these measures start to decline.
  • After 90-120 minutes, the body begins to crave rest and recovery.

Many cultures have a mid-afternoon nap because we reach the lowest phase of both our ultradian and circadian rhythms around 3-4pm. Accidents are far more likely to occur in the mid-afternoon than any other daytime period.

Our bodies were designed to hunt by day, sleep at night and never travel more than a few dozen miles from sunrise to sunset. Now we work and play at all hours …
— Martin Moore-Ede in The Twenty-Four Hour Society, as quoted by Loer and Schwartz in The Power of Full Engagement

Instead of viewing life as a marathon run at a steady pace, we should view it as a series of sprints: fully engaged for some periods, then fully disengaged and recovering.

We need stress to build capacity

The only way to build capacity is by pushing beyond our normal limits. We build strength in a muscle by systematically stressing it. This prompts supercompensation, where the body builds more muscle fibres to prepare for next time. The same applies to life’s other dimensions — we grow by expending energy beyond our normal limits and then recovering.

We may instinctively recoil at pushing beyond our comfort zones. But to expand our long-term capacity, we must put up with the short-term discomfort.

Recovery is essential to high performance

After activity, the body has to replenish the sources of energy it has expended. The more intense the activity, the more energy renewal is needed.

People often view the need for recovery as a weakness, but it’s essential to high performance. Knowing that we’ll have an opportunity to recover afterwards allows us to fully engage. Otherwise, we cope by conserving and hoarding our limited energy.

Tennis players resting between points

Loehr studied hundreds hours of videotapes recording top tennis players’ matches. He couldn’t find any significant differences in what they did during points. The difference lay in what they did in the 16-20 seconds between points. The top players all used rituals to recover more efficiently and prepare for the next point.

Later, he hooked players up to heart monitors and found that, in the brief interval between points, the top players’ heart rates dropped as much as 20 bpm. Lesser competitors’ heart rates tended to remain high throughout the match. Overall, players with more linear heart rates — whether constantly high or constantly low — played worse.

The key is to balance stress and recovery

Energy capacity diminishes with both overuse and underuse. So we need to find a balance between expending energy (stress) and replenishing it (recovery).

Too much stress without recovery
It is not the intensity of energy expenditure that produces burnout, impaired performance and
physical breakdown, but rather the duration of expenditure without recovery.
— Loer and Schwartz in The Power of Full Engagement (emphasis added).

As noted above, after 90-120 minutes of activity, our bodies start to crave rest and recovery. We can override this, but only by summoning our flight-or-flight response and releasing stress hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. These hormones can give us a rush, and this high can even feel addictive.

But the stress hormones also have negative side effects, such as hyperactivity, aggressiveness, impatience, irritability, anger, self-absorption and insensitivity. If we keep overriding our natural need for oscillation, we lose the capacity to “shut off”, even on vacation. Over time, this can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, back pain, gastrointestinal disorders, heart attacks and even death.

Too much recovery without stress

If you’ve suffered a violent injury or setback, the first step is to remove the stressor and allow time for healing and recovery. For example, if you’ve broken your arm, the doctor will put it in a cast to protect it from further stress. Soon, however, your arm will atrophy in that cast and lose strength. Rehabilitation involves gradually exposing your arm to increasing doses of stress.

Full engagement requires us to skilfully manage 4 sources of energy

Full engagement involves managing a dynamic balance for 4 sources of energy:

  • Physical. Our physical capacity is defined by quantity of energy (high/low).
  • Emotional. Our emotional capacity is defined by quality of energy (positive/negative).
  • Mental. Our mental capacity is defined by focus of energy (broad/narrow and internal/external).
  • Spiritual. Our spiritual capacity is defined by force of energy (self/others, internal/external, and positive/negative).
    All four dimensions are critical. They are separate but related, in that changes in one dimension will affect the other dimensions.

Most people tend to be undertrained physically and spiritually (not enough stress), but overtrained emotionally and mentally (too much stress).

Physical energy

Physical energy is the fundamental source of fuel and affects our other capacities:

  • Emotional. When our physical energy depletes, we start to feel negative emotions.
  • Mental. Our brains are physical organs. Physical exercise drives more blood and oxygen to the brain, which can help us concentrate and think creatively.

Much of the advice about physical energy is stuff you’ve likely heard elsewhere about the importance of things like:

  • Breathing. Breathing is one of the most important rhythms in our lives, one we often take for granted. It can help us summon energy and relax. Anxiety or anger makes our breathing fast and shallow, which reduces our available energy and makes it harder to return to a mental and emotional equilibrium. To lower arousal, breathe in to a count of 3 and out to a count of 6.
  • Eating well. Eat breakfast (to jumpstart your metabolism), eat low glycaemic index (GI) foods (as they release energy more steadily), and eat 5-6 small meals per day (to ensure a steady supply of energy). Portion control is crucial — aim for the middle of the hunger scale (satisfied) rather than the extremes (ravenous or stuffed).
  • Drinking water. Drink 64 ounces (1.9L) of water per day. The authors claim that, by the time you feel thirsty, you may have already been dehydrated for a long time. [A Science Vs podcast casts doubt on this widespread idea.]
  • Caffeine. Don’t drink caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea or diet colas. Caffeine is a diuretic, so it prompts dehydration and fatigue in the long run.
  • Sleeping. Sleep replenishes our energy levels and allow our bodies to grow and repair themselves (mostly in the deep sleep stage). Too much or too little sleep both seem to significantly increase the risk of mortality. The broad scientific consensus is that, on average, we need 7-8 hours per night to function optimally. Naps can also be an effective form of recovery if carefully timed — 20-30 minutes is good, but after 30-40 minutes, many nappers feel more tired than if they hadn’t napped at all.
  • Exercise. Strength and cardiovascular training are both essential for full performance. For both, the authors tout the benefits of interval training (which is inherent in strength training, anyway).
Emotional energy

Again, the key is to balance stress and recovery. If you constantly spend emotional energy without recovery, you’ll get run down.

Build emotional capacity by moving between opposites

Many emotional opposites exist. Some examples include:

  • toughness vs tenderness;
  • self-control vs spontaneity;
  • honesty vs compassion;
  • generosity vs thrift;
  • confidence vs humility.

Most people are naturally stronger on one side than the other. They may even view the other side somewhat critically to avoid holding contradictory ideas. It’s probably true for your own life.

But many of these opposites are important emotional muscles. To be fully engaged emotionally, we should build emotional capacity where we are most out of balance. The goal is to move freely and flexibly between the opposites.

Positive emotions are more sustainable than negative ones

Positive and pleasant emotions, such as enjoyment, challenge and adventure, enable us to perform at our best. Key sources of positive emotional energy are self-confidence, self-control, interpersonal effectiveness and empathy. These sources are a sustainable fuel for performance and can create positive reinforcing cycles.

Negative emotions, such as fear, frustration, anger and impatience, can also fuel performance. But they are costly, inefficient, and infectious. Negative emotions release stress hormones like cortisol, which can come with negative side effects over time.

Sources of emotional replenishment

Two sources of emotional energy are:

  • Enjoyable and fulfilling activities. These tend to produce positive emotions. They may feel like huge indulgences at first, especially if you’re a busy working parent with many obligations. But the recovery that these activities provide can create a positive impact that spills over into your professional and family lives, and most people don’t spend nearly enough time engaging in such activities.
  • Healthy relationships. A strong relationship involves a rhythmic “give and take”. If you do most of the giving and receive little in return, you may feel a sense of deficit and emptiness. The depth of your relationships also matters, as the case study below shows.
We return home from long days at work feeling exhausted and often experience our families not as a source of joy and renewal, but as one more demand in an already overburdened life.
— Loehr and Schwartz in The Power of Full Engagement

Case study: Jed — thin and superficial relationships

Jed had a family and was well-liked, but felt that his relationships were generally thin and superficial because he did not devote enough time in them.

He started building a series of rituals to invest more time with the people in his life:

  • Wife: they set up a 90-minute catchup on Saturday mornings to talk, and a date night every other Wednesday.
  • Daughter: they started going out for dinner every Monday (which also let his wife take a class at the local community college).
  • Work reports: he set up a lunch with one of his direct reports each Friday.
    Jed found these rituals gave him positive energy, and make him feel more connected at home and at work.
Mental energy

Thinking uses up a lot of energy — the brain represents 2% of the body’s weight but requires almost 25% of its oxygen. Our physical and emotional capacities affect our mental energy. It’s difficult to concentrate when we are physically tired or when we’re experiencing negative emotions.

Build mental capacity by challenging the brain

Again, building mental capacity requires a rhythmic balance between stress and recovery — the brain gets sharper the more we use it. The key supportive “muscles” fuelling mental energy include mental preparation, visualisation, positive self-talk, effective time management and creativity.

Challenging the brain protects us from mental decline as we age. When we learn something new, it builds new connections to brain cells. Those extra connections increase the redundancy in the system, so the impact of a few brain cells or connections getting damaged (e.g. with Alzheimer’s) is reduced.

Rational optimism helps with performance

Psychologist Martin Seligman surveyed a large group of insurance salesman and found a positive correlation between optimism and sales performance. Pessimistic salesmen were worse performers and also much more likely to quit their jobs.

But blind optimism is dangerous. Negative thoughts play a useful role because they direct our attention to needs that aren’t being met. We must be able to see the world as it is, yet be optimistic enough to persist toward a desired outcome.

Creativity requires different parts of our brain

Recovery allows us to activate different parts of our brains. Most of us rely more on our rational, analytic left-hemisphere at work. The right hemisphere, by contrast, is better at visual and spatial tasks and seeing how things relate to each other.

The creative process involves 5 stages:

  1. First insight. The initial inspiration is associated with the right hemisphere.
  2. Saturation. Here, you gather information in a methodical, step-by-step way from multiple sources. It’s a left-hemisphere stage.
  3. Incubation. Mulling over ideas is associated with the right-hemisphere.
  4. Illumination. This is the “breakthrough” point, again usually associated with the right hemisphere.
  5. Verification. This is where you analyse and translate the creative breakthrough into a language to communicate to others. It depends more on the left-hemisphere.

The 3 stages that rely on the right hemisphere tend to occur unconsciously, when we’re not actively working on the problem. Often this is after the left hemisphere’s search for a solution has come up short. Michael Gelb, an author, surveyed thousands of people and found that they usually get their best ideas while in the shower, in bed, listening to music, or on a walk. Rarely do people get their best ideas at work.

Spiritual energy

This source of energy comes from our connection to a deeply held set of values and to a purpose bigger than ourselves.

Spiritual energy is a powerful source

Spiritual energy is the most powerful source of motivation and direction. We often discover the importance of spiritual energy in the aftermath of a tragedy, when our other sources of energy (physical, emotional and mental) are drained.

Example: Spiritual energy in World Trade Centre aftermath

Cantor Fitzgerald was a company with its headquarters in the World Trade Centre during the September 11 terrorist attacks. Shortly after the attack, the chairman announced that 25% of the firm’s profits for the next 5 years would go to the families of employees who had been killed.

This mobilised the remaining employees to work harder, for a purpose beyond themselves. Some even worked 12 to 16 hour days. (This, however, created a longer term risk that they would burnout, because they weren’t adequately replenishing their other energy reserves.)

Build spiritual capacity by sticking to your values in the face of hardship

Our key spiritual “muscle” is character (the conviction to live by our deepest values). Supportive spiritual muscles include passion, commitment, integrity and honesty.

Like everything else, we build spiritual capacity when we stretch those spiritual muscles. This means living by our values despite personal sacrifice and hardship.

What man actually needs is not a tensionless state, but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.
— Victor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning, as quoted in The Power of Full Engagement
Renewing spiritual energy

Some activities can renew spiritual energy without spending much of it. Examples include walking in nature, reading an inspirational book, listening to music, and listening to a great speaker.

Other activities are both renewing and demanding at the same time. Examples include meditation, prayer, reflection, spending time with children and serving other people. This last one in particular can feel threatening, as it requires us to set aside our self-interest — and if we don’t look out for ourselves, who will? Yet if we’re too preoccupied with our own fears and concerns, this will actually drain energy and impede performance. So we have to balance our commitment to a deeper purpose with adequate self-care.

Part 2: How to make the change

Growth happens from the bottom up — from physical to emotional to mental to spiritual. Change, on the other hand, happens in the opposite direction — starting with a spiritual source of purpose.

Making lasting change involves a three-step process:

  • Define Purpose. Work out what your values are, and how to spend your energy in a way consistent with that. Most of us spend our time reacting to immediate crises and to others, rarely taking the time to reflect on what truly matters to us.
  • Face the Truth. Look at how you’re spending your energy now and gather data. This may require a delicate balance, as some truths stir up negative emotions.
  • Take Action. Use positive energy rituals to help you conserve energy and make it easier to live by your values.


Purpose is a unique source of energy and power. A strong sense of purpose fuels us and helps us hold our ground when our lives are disrupted.

Deep roots stop us from being buffeted by winds

The city of Orlando, Florida, planted a long line of trees along the highway, which kept falling down. The city kept sending workers to try and prop up the trees, but they’d just blow over in the next storm. The problem was that the trees did not have deep roots.

We are like the trees. When we lack deep roots (firm beliefs and values), we are easily buffeted by the winds and react defensively.

Clarify your purpose

Clarifying your purpose takes quiet, uninterrupted time. Many of us feel “too busy” to search for meaning and purpose, so we just spend our lives on autopilot instead. But the time and energy you spend clarifying your purpose is an investment that will deliver more energy, productivity and satisfaction over time.

Purpose is a more powerful and enduring source of energy when its source is:

  • Positive. Recall above the positive emotions are a more sustainable source of energy than negative emotions. The same is true for positive purposes. Moreover, negative sources of energy are deficit-based, meaning they consume all our energy and attention and make it hard to look for a deeper, more enduring, purpose.
  • Intrinsic. Intrinsic motivation means we want to do something because the activity itself provides us satisfaction. Intrinsic motivation and strongly held values tend to prompt more sustaining energy and drive fuller engagement in all areas of our lives.
  • Others. Shifting attention from our own needs to something beyond ourselves, gives us a deeper sense of purpose.
The issue is not so much whether your life is providing you with a sense of meaning as it is whether you are actively using life as a vehicle through which to express your deepest values.
— Loehr and Schwartz in The Power of Full Engagement
Align your values and virtues

A value is something with intrinsic worth. It provides inspiration and meaning that can’t be taken away. The book provides a long list of some common deep values, including authenticity, compassion, excellence, friendship, perseverance and service to others.

A value in action is a virtue. For example, generosity is a value; behaving generously is a virtue. Ultimately, our values must influence our behaviours and choices we make, else they will be meaningless. If we say “family” is our greatest value, but we commit all our energy to work instead, we are not living in accordance with our values.

Transforming our values into virtues is relatively easy to do when we feel comfortable and secure. The real test comes when it entails some sort of sacrifice. One suggestion that may help is to draw up a vision statement — a declaration of intent that provides a blueprint for how to invest your energy.


Facing the gap between who you want to be and who you really are is never easy, because we inevitably fall short of our values at times.

Facing the truth is not something you just do once. It should be a practice. Self-awareness is like another “muscle” — it gets stronger when we push past our internal resistances to see more of the truth and atrophies if we never exercise it.

Facing the truth may stir up negative emotions

The authors acknowledge there’s a contradiction here, because they’ve previously said that we need to put aside negative emotions to perform optimally. An athlete that is able to temporarily shut out nagging concerns can often perform better in a competition. The same can apply to our own work lives.

Yet facing the truth often stirs up negative feelings like guilt, anger, and sadness. Pain is a signal that something is wrong, which we need to understand and address. Even if we perform better in the short term without negative emotions, ignoring them won’t make them disappear.

Like many things, it requires a balance. Setting aside negative emotions is healthy when it’s a temporary choice — to engage more fully in the task at hand — rather than an unconscious compulsion — to avoid discomfort or to protect our self-esteem. The goal is to find a healthy balance between self-acceptance and a commitment to change the aspects of ourselves that are destructive.

But facing the truth doesn’t mean we should beat ourselves up, either. Truth without compassion is cruelty.

Some truths are better absorbed over time

For example, say you lose someone close to you. If you suppress your grief, it will fester inside and take a toll over time. But if you wallow in the grief without trying to slowly re-engage in the world, the feelings of loss can become self-reinforcing and paralysing.

Grief and most other toxic emotions are best dealt with in waves. We need to let the sadness in intermittently, and then seek recovery in the form of comfort, laughter, and hope.

Our many defences against the truth

We often avoid facing the truth to protect our self-esteem and come up with many ways to do this:

  • Denial. This is a form of disengagement. It numbs us from pain, but also cuts us off from fully engaging in the world.
  • Rationalisation. We seek to justify our actions, instead of changing them.
  • Intellectualisation. We acknowledge a truth cognitively without experiencing its emotional impact.
  • Projection. We attribute our own unacknowledged impulses to others.
  • Somatising. Our bodies convert unacknowledged anxiety and anger into physical symptoms (e.g. headaches, back pain).
  • Sublimation. We channel an unacceptable feeling into its opposite (e.g. channelling greed into excessive generosity). This is a form of denial as it leaves the underlying negative impulse in place.

These defences are problematic for two reasons:

  • First, they prevent us from facing up to the truth and making the required changes.
  • Second, maintaining these defences requires a lot of energy — energy we could otherwise use to learn and grow.
Our subjective interpretations are not the “truth”

The same set of facts can be interpreted in multiple ways. Facing the truth means we must remain open to the possibility that our view of ourselves or others is not accurate.

Psychologist Martin Seligman points out that our explanatory beliefs paralyse us when they are:

  • Personal. (It’s my fault);
  • Permanent. (It’s never going to change); and
  • Pervasive. (It’s like this for everything).
    In contrast, beliefs that are impersonal, temporary, or limited are energising and empowering. For example, thinking “I am overwhelmed by anxiety” frames us as a victim, but thinking “My anxiety is trying to overwhelm me” gives us the power to take action.

So instead of becoming too identified with any single view (whether that view is good or bad), we should step back and take a more complete picture of ourselves. Meditation can also help with this.


The key to full engagement lies in positive energy rituals. These are highly specific, structured routines for managing energy.

Why are rituals important?

Positive energy rituals help us:

  • Conserve energy. Willpower is limited — every act of willpower or self-control draws on the same reserve of energy. Rituals provide us with a sense of structure and boundaries, making it easier to navigate the many choices we have to make in life. (See also Can maximisers become satisficers? If so, how?.)
  • Restore energy. Recovery rituals help us quickly restore our energy reserves, maintaining an effective balance between energy expenditure and renewal. Examples of recovery rituals include: 60 seconds of deep breathing; listening to a favourite song; calling home to check in with a spouse; playing a video game; or eating an energy bar. [I was surprised they included the video game example.]
  • Adhere to our values. Rituals are one way we can translate our values and priorities into actions. They act as anchors to help us use our energy in line with our values, especially when it’s hard to.

Case Study: Judith — Insecurity

Judith struggled with feelings of insecurity and imposter syndrome. She operated a design business and would meet plenty of potential clients, but was too afraid of rejection to ever follow up. These feelings of insecurity pose major obstacles to full performance. Getting past them requires stressing your “emotional muscle” by pushing past your comfort zone and then recovering.

In Judith’s case, she set up a ritual to make a set quota of calls to people on Monday and Wednesday mornings, measuring her success by the courage she demonstrated in making the calls, rather than whatever response she received from it.

Revisit your rituals

Many people don’t like the idea of rituals and see them as overly rigid. It’s true that rituals should give us structure to protect us from reacting to every “urgent” demand we face. We should stick to our rituals when life’s pressures threaten to throw us off track.

But that doesn’t mean we must never change our rituals. A ritual that is too rigid, unvarying and linear can lead to boredom and disengagement. Think of it like training your body — if you keep training the same body parts in the same way, you’ll eventually become bored and stop gaining strength.

We should therefore revisit our rituals periodically to check they still align with our values. If a ritual starts to feel empty or oppressive, it has likely lost its original connection to your values.

How to build effective energy rituals

Changes require us to move outside our comfort zone, so small, incremental steps are best.

It takes around 30 to 60 days to establish a new ritual. The authors set out several tips to help make the change in this period:

  • Be specific. The most important thing is to be specific about when you’ll do your ritual and what behaviour you’ll perform. (James Clear calls this an “implementation intention”. He even cites the same study.) Put it into your calendar if needed, and protect it like any high-priority appointment
  • Chart the course. At the start of each day, revisit your vision and clarify what you intend to accomplish and how to conduct yourself along the way.
  • Chart the progress. Hold yourself accountable at the end of each day. For example, check “yes” or “no” on a sheet of paper by your bed. (This is a form of “facing the truth”, described above.)
  • Reframe negative intentions as positive ones. For example, instead of thinking “I won’t eat dessert”, reframe it as “When I want to eat dessert, I’ll have a piece of fruit instead”. This is because not doing something, especially when it is a temptation or an ingrained habit, requires continuous self-control and quickly deplete our limited willpower. Positive intentions are much easier to follow through on.

Setbacks are inevitable — you’ll likely fail several times before finding something sustainable. Take care not to judge or punish yourself when you fall short. Perhaps your goal was too ambitious and needs to be more incremental; perhaps the ritual itself needs some tweaking. Refine things if needed, but don’t rely on negative emotions like guilt to fuel you.

Case Study: Sara — Poor time management and attention span

Sara was a hospital administrator, always responding to others’ urgent demands, and never feeling in control of her time. She also struggled with her short attention span, and was rarely able to give her full attention to anything.

Sara had always resisted the idea of lists and fixed morning rituals. But she ultimately came to accept that she faced so many demands in her life that she couldn’t keep track without them. It took her more than a month to get her morning mental preparation ritual into place — journaling, reflecting, creating a to-do list, and mentally preparing for the day ahead. Sara found that this ritual increased her focus and productivity.

Once her morning rituals became largely automatic, she started implementing more rituals:

  • Devoting the first hour of the work day to whichever project she deemed the most important, instead of responding to others’ emails and demands.
  • Taking an evening aerobics class three times a week, which forced her to leave work on time.
  • Going to the hospital cafeteria for a 5-10 minute break at 10:30am and 3:30pm every day.

To Sara’s surprise, all this structure actually gave her more freedom and control, filled her with a more relaxed energy.

Other Resources

The Power of Full Engagement includes quite a few questionnaires, checklists and worksheets along the way to help you put the ideas into practice. One thing I liked about their Full Engagement Personal Development Plan was that they showed a filled-out version for one of the case studies, instead of just a blank template. The book also directs you to some online resources, but their website is now defunct.

The book also employs numerous examples and case studies throughout, to draw inspiration from. I’ve highlighted a few above (briefly) but, of course, the ones that resonated with me may not be the same as those that apply to, or resonate with you.

Other Interesting Points

  • Winston Churchill was a firm believer in naps. Not naps at his desk or anything, but getting changed and getting into bed kind of naps. He claimed that you’d accomplish more because with a nap you get two days — or at least 1.5 days — in one.
  • A large Gallup survey found that the single best predictor of an employee’s productivity was their relationship with their direct superior. [The causal link could go both ways though.]

My Thoughts

I appreciated the clear and useful framework that The Power of Full Engagement provided. It helped me reconcile conflicting ideas about whether we should challenge ourselves or be kind to ourselves in a more useful way than just “it’s a balance” (I mean, yeah, it does come down to that, but I found all the rhythmic stuff helpful regardless).

I also liked that they focused on energy instead of time, because some “time management” books or gurus talk about time as if it’s fungible, which it is not. But when you shift the focus to energy, the folly of this type of thinking becomes clear.

I didn’t particularly like Loehr and Schwartz’s the writing style. It felt too vague and high-level at times, which frustrated me. To be fair, they did use plenty of case studies to make things more concrete. However, I’m still not quite sure what the authors meant when they said our mental capacity is defined by focus of energy and our spiritual by force of energy.

One thing that helped was that I’d read other books discussing many of the same or similar ideas more compellingly, so I could draw on those:

  • The overlap with Atomic Habits and Tiny Habits is probably the clearest — just substitute “rituals” for “habits”.
  • Deep Work raises similar points about breaks, shutting off distractions, and acting intentionally, not reactively.
  • The points about exploring emotional opposites and “facing the truth” sounded a lot like Difficult Conversations‘ points about exploring the full spectrum of feelings and complexifying your identity.
  • Some of the values stuff had overlap with The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, as well as Tiny Habits (already mentioned above).

It may be tempting to criticise the authors’ advice for being somewhat “obvious” given how much overlap there is with the books mentioned above. However, with the exception of Difficult Conversations, The Power of Full Engagement was published over a full decade earlier than the other books. So, if anything, it shows that Loehr and Schwartz’s ideas have largely stood the test of time.

Buy The Power of Full Engagement at: Amazon | Kobo <– These are affiliate links, which means I’ll earn a small commission if you buy through these links. I’d be grateful if you considered supporting the site in this way! 🙂

If you enjoyed this summary, I’d recommend checking out the books above, particularly Tiny Habits. The Power of Full Engagement tells you what to do, but Tiny Habits is far better at breaking down how exactly you go about it, step-by-step.

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