Engagement: A Source of Value, Quality of Life, or Both?

How can the average person make use of such findings in everyday life? Not everyone will be thrilled about reading dense scientific articles with lengthy passages on statistical methods and procedures. No, the “modern person” uses Google and searches online bookstores to find the information he or she needs. In fact, this is what I did as well in order to find out whether engagement as a term also exists in popular science and what context it is used in there. To my surprise, my search yielded an almost perfect hit, namely a book called “The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal” (Loehr & Schwartz, 2003) Wow. It sounds like a bestseller, doesn’t it? The title reminds you of those thousands of books out there that tell you how to live. One that both top-managers, commuting to their fancy office in lower Manhattan, and people who are fed up with checking off their to-do-lists merely to realize at the end of the day that they again did not manage to do everything they had planned would litteraly absorb. But the very title, proclaiming the power of engagement, also compelled me to take a closer look - I just couldn’t resist. And I became even more curious to learn more about the specific approach after I read the inside cover, which explains that the authors had originally designed their program to enhance the performance of athletes like Monica Seles and Jim Courier, but then adapted and applied it to other settings, mostly in the corporate world, where it has been greeted with great interest. Loehr and Schwarz promise their clients no less than to become “more fully engaged on and off the job, meaning physically energized, mentally focused, and spiritually aligned” through following their program. Indeed, the book is full of sample cases that are used to illustrate the core principles and practical aspects of a typical training. So, how does it work? I will not go too much into detail here due to a lack of space and because it would become pointless to read the book. Moreover, it is certainly not the one and only way to lead an engaged life and it is written from a very Western perspective. Nonetheless, the authors make some intriguing points and suggestions that are easy to implement and apparently are capable of turning the workaholic who usually eats his or her sandwich in front of the computer screen rather than taking a proper break and feels the job leaves no time for family, friends, or other valued activities, into a more effective, socially apt, and generally more balanced person.

So, the first core principle established by the authors is that managing energy rather than time is the key to high performance. For instance, rather than cramming as much as possible into our daily schedule, we should pay attention to the quality of the time we spend on things. Trivial as it sounds, people often ignore this principle, putting efficiency at risk. The second principle contests that full engagement requires drawing energy from four dimensions of resources: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Thus, one should take care of building up strong capacities on each of those dimensions to become fully engaged instead of tripping over the slightest obstacle, becoming sick, depressed, stressed out, or left without a sense of why one is doing what one does. Third, energy capacity is assumed to decrease with overuse and under-use, so it’s not only those who never rest will trade off abilities to focus and invest effort in their personal goals or relationships, but also those who rest too much. They will become inactive and lose drive. The fourth principle is that capacities can be built up by pushing beyond one’s limits in a systematic way, similar to a muscle that can be trained by straining it systematically. And last but not least, the key to full engagement and sustained performance is the use of so called “positive energy rituals”, which are very specific routines implemented in daily life, helping to renew one’s energy periodically and then being able to expend it again. For instance, going for a five to ten-minute walk after an exhausting meeting helps to refresh one’s mind before going back to one’s desk and work more efficiently on the next task. Without such a break, it is difficult to switch to the next task and sustain concentration, because of depletion (see also Baumeister, Muraven, & Tice, 2000).

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