Interview – Dr. Jim Loehr: The Psychology of Success

by Jelena

Jim is my mentor and a very good friend. He is someone I can always rely on to give me valuable advice in my pursuit of success. Sometimes just one conversation with him gets me back on the right path. With his leadership, I learned how to direct my energy where it’s needed the most. If I ever write a book, it will be thanks to this wonderful man who told me 5 years ago that I have to do it one day. Here is part of our interview that we had for the Original Magazine. 

Jim Loehr is the chairman, CEO, and Co-founder of the Human Performance Institute, a training company that has successfully utilized energy management technology to improve the productivity and engagement levels of elite performers from the world of business, sport, medicine, and law enforcement. Dr. Loehr is the author of 15 books including the national bestseller The Power of Full Engagement. He has also appeared on NBC’s Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, ABC’s Nightline with Ted Koppel, The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather and CBS Morning News. His work has been chronicled in leading national publications including the Harvard Business Review, Fortune, Newsweek, Time, US News and World Report, Success, Fast Company and Omni. The central theme of his work is to prepare people to get the best out of themselves in very stressful conditions when they face challenges on the physical, emotional, mental, and even spiritual level.

Today, fame and money have become the synonyms for a successful life. It is very rare to talk about the consequences of success, let alone its price.

 Nearly everyone has been affected by the false promises of achievement. We are all conditioned to believe that achieving great things will bring deep fulfillment in life, stable self-esteem, build strong character and will provide the foundation for a truly successful life. Unfortunately, the research world does not support any of these promises. – Dr. Jim Loehr

The greatest leaders of today sat in Dr. Loehr’s office and passed tests and training in search of their life’s purpose. People with wages over a million dollars (and that’s without bonuses), with the real estates in elite world destinations, private planes, personal security and other material benefits, which in the eyes of the public have been highlighted as the embodiment of success and happiness, had completely different confessions when they came to Dr. Loehr.

When they came to my office, they had the look of a person at the edge of the abyss. And each of them had a similar confession. That they were blinded by their ambition and that on their way to the top, they neglected their family and the values that were most important to them.

We often read and hear about successful people who have all the luxury of this world, but whose families have fallen apart and children have taken the wrong path. We can also see many examples of people who, for the sake of their success, neglect their own health.

Human beings are clearly designed to chase, but the secret is to chase the right thing for the right reason. More important than “what” one achieves is “who” one becomes as a consequence of the chase. Blindly chasing extrinsic goals such as money, fame, privilege, material possessions, etc., all too often leads to emptiness and disappointment.

Is there a secret formula for success?

Chasing for causes bigger than yourself and repurposing nearly everything you do to better align who you are with your most cherished intrinsic values represent two of life’s greatest secrets. In terms of personal fulfillment, more important than “what” you did is “how” you did it. 

You have spent many years studying the role character plays in life. What have you found?

I have come to believe that the single most important marker of health in human beings is ”how they treat others.” I call this ethical/moral character. Examples of these character muscles include honesty, integrity, kindness, caring, humility, patience, compassion, and gratefulness to mention just a few. Who we are in terms of how we treat others is the most important scorecard we have in life. High marks on this ledger provide the basis for enduring personal fulfillment, stable self-esteem, confidence, and perhaps surprisingly, sustained performance success.

I love the concept of “your best self”. It helped me grow and learn from many challenging moments. Could you talk about this?

Of course. There is you at your worst and there is you at your best. Both are real, not fantasy. When asked to describe both of these with one-word descriptors, nearly everyone chooses a remarkably similar context. They describe their worst and best in terms of how they treat others. At their worst, they are cold, nasty, impatient, disrespectful, unkind, short-tempered, etc. At their best, they are engaged, compassionate, honest, warm, etc., It was so interesting to discover from our data collection that we judge ourselves with this connection-to-others scorecard.

I remember like yesterday the question you asked me at the beginning of my training in Orlando. “What would you like to be written on your tombstone? What would you like to remembered for?” I have to admit that I never really thought about it before you asked me. It was such a profound moment for me.

Yes, I remember. This is something we often talk about here in the US, but your reaction was quite normal and somewhat expected. It is important to see our ambition from the other side. Do we want to be remembered as the best-selling author, the most paid businessman, the most talented and successful athlete, or as a person who had a harmonious family life, good health and has lived by the values of integrity, generosity, and kindness?

It’s not without a reason that on most tombstones it says “Beloved father, brother, mother …” and not “the richest man”. At the end of a life journey, everyone understands that health and family are the most important. Why would we go through life, valuing material success more than family and health, only to end up on our deathbeds feeling as if we lived a life of failure? It’s often valuable to reflect on who is most likely to be the recipient of your “worst and best selves.” Questions like how much of your day are you displaying your “best self” and who should be receiving your best consistent with your deepest values? Such face-the-truth questions can lead to great personal insights.

Does it mean that we need to completely reject all markers of success – starting with money, status, comfort and luxury and other “superficial” criteria – in order to be truly happy?

I could never suggest something like that with my work. I devoted my whole career to helping people be truly successful – not only materially, but also mentally, emotionally, physically and psychically. The blind pursuit of the external achievement can even when successful, result in profound emptiness. Even the best athletes, the most successful businessmen when they achieve incredible successes, start to wonder: “And what am I going to do now? Why all this?”

And the partners in the largest law firms, Ivy League graduates, parents, managers, stewardesses, teachers, all go through the same crisis. Why? Because the system that fuels such prejudices that money and fame are the keys to success is created by us. It is especially worrying that the roots of this system run so deep and wide that our children can’t help but drink from the same well. Many of them will suffer much the same lack of fulfillment that so many of their parents do. 

The next part of our conversation you can read here. 

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