In the first part of my conversation with Dr. Jim Loehr, you could see where the pursuit of success leads us if we fail to build it on the strong foundations of our character. Here you can learn how to live a life with purpose and how to give energy to the time spent with others.
Jim is one of the biggest reasons why I’m such a vocal supporter of mentorship programs. Numerous times in my life he was the voice of reason and compass that helped me successfully navigate through the challenges, both privately and professionally. That’s why I often say that everyone should have their own Jim (gym) for the brain. How to find your purpose and why time has no value unless we give it our energy are the highlights of our conversation that we had for the Original Magazine.
Many believe that in order to achieve success, we need to be able to multitask. There are many courses and seminars that are supposed to teach us how to be better at it. You, for instance, contend that the time management industry is made on false promises. Can you explain more?
The central thesis of time management is that if you want to have a truly successful life, you must first determine your most cherished values and then courageously begin investing time in those things, people, and causes that mean the most to you. By doing so, you will create order and harmony out of chaos and spawn growth in the values that receive your time investment. Unfortunately, that thesis isn’t true. Time possesses no power, no force, and no valence. It simply is. Investing time simply takes you from being absent to being present – nothing more. Time has no value until it intersects with energy and when time and energy investment are aligned with an important mission, big things are possible. Energy brings life to time. It’s not how long you live that really counts, but the energy you invest in the time you have aligned with your deepest values. One of the most important life skills we can acquire is learning to skillfully manage our energy in the time we have. Investing time only creates the opportunity for the investment that makes everything happen in life – your energy!
You talk about repurposing your job, your sports activities, your life, to build your muscles of character. Can you explain what you mean by that?
If the scorecard that really matters in life is our treatment of others, nearly everything we do can be leveraged to strengthen our connection-to-others muscles. Acts of kindness at work and at home, staying fully engaged rather than incessantly checking e-mails, expressing gratefulness to others who reach out, showing compassion to those in crisis, modeling humility and patience are just a few ways we can grow our character. Opportunities for skillful investment are everywhere. This is what I call energy management.
How do you go back to caring for yourself when caring for others is most of the time our top priority?
Taking care of you is the first step in caring for others. When you neglect yourself, you seriously limit what you are capable of giving. Health is an enabler and health is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. The healthier you are in all dimensions, the more energy you have for investment in the people and causes you care most about. You’re less stingy with your energy when your reserves are high. Without good self-care, we have little to give to others. In that context, taking care of oneself is not selfish. Quite the contrary, because it is for others, it represents a noble act. Caring for others begins with self-care.
Sometimes we are not aware how much power lies in our thoughts, words or deeds. As you often tell me, we are the ones who give life to whatever we give our energy to, for better or worse. How can we learn to properly distribute our energy and direct it to more meaningful things?
Energy is life. If you want to have extraordinary biceps, you must invest extraordinary energy in those muscles. By doing so, you’ll spawn growth. One way to do that is by lifting weights. The exact same principle applies in every realm of our lives. The principle is quite straightforward – energy investment stimulates growth. If you want to have extraordinary muscles of kindness, positivity, humility, or gratefulness, you must repeatedly invest energy in those capacities and they will grow. The same applies to cynicism, victimhood, negativity, impatience, or anger. Feed them your energy and they will grow. And if you want something to die, cut off its energy supply – just don’t go there with your energy. Investing the most precious resource you have, which is your energy, in what you want, not what you don’t want is another of life’s great secrets.
How does energy investment apply to human relationships?
We show we care about someone by investing extraordinary energy in them. Investing our time is relatively easy compared to investing our energy, particularly our best energy. This is something I call Full Engagement. What people want from us is our energy, not just our time. Giving our full and best energy is really hard work but that’s how we show how much someone means to us. Remember energy is life. We take energy from our bodies and give life to another. For example, when we invest energy in writing thoughtful notes, in reaching out to check on how someone is doing during difficult times, or in being fully engaged in something you would prefer not doing but, because it is important to the person you care about, you summon your “best self.” It is particularly meaningful if we can make the energy investment when we are tired, drained, or depleted. An extraordinary interpersonal relationship requires extraordinary energy investment. When the investment stops, the strength of the relationship starts to weaken just as the muscles of the physical body weaken without investment.
What does spiritual energy mean for you? You talk about it a lot. How do we nurture it and direct it to our desired goals?
Spiritual energy for us at the Institute is simply the energy associated with your deepest values, your most cherished beliefs, and your grand purpose for living. Spiritual energy is the bedrock of passion, determination, and fighting spirit. It creates intensity and force. Tapping into this dimension of energy can take place from either a religious or non-religious perspective. Spiritual energy is fundamentally grounded in the concern for others. This is also the seat of one’s ethical/moral character.
Many leaders have such an important role and it would be very good to know how to inspire others to do good. What is the best way to facilitate positive change in others?
My best advice is to be the change you most want in others. In other words, be a model of what you want to teach. If you want kindness in others, be kind yourself. If you want engagement, honesty, humility, compassion in others, be a living example in the reality of your own life. Nothing is more powerful than being a testament to what you want to teach others by living it yourself.
You often say that we are all trying to get home in life. What is home?
Getting home is simply a metaphor for fulfilling our grand purpose in life. We all want to feel we did something significant with the gift of life that was provided to us. We won the lottery of life, something for which we can take no credit. We can, however, hold ourselves accountable for what we do with the gift. Getting home is fulfilling that mission.
People love to know what the scientific community has to say about the benefits of a strong purpose. I’ve heard you talk about it many times. Can you share with us some highlights?
Science is confirming what we have observed at our Institute for decades. Something very special happens when our lives are infused with a strong sense of purpose. Here are a few of the links:
- Living longer lives
- Reduced risk of dying by 12%
- Lower risk of suffering a heart attack by 27%
- 2.4 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease
- Diabetics more likely to control glucose levels
- Increase in natural killer cells that attack viruses and cancerous cells
- Reduction in inflammatory cell production
- Increase in HDL, the good cholesterol
- Double your chance of being drug free